Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.
I would know this even if I didn’t have a calendar. After all, February is when my social media timelines are flooded with Valentine’s Day articles. Gift listicles, creative date night ideas, funny V-Day testimonials, pictures of heart-shaped everything.
I don’t read most of them (unless they have to do with books, of course). My husband and I are creatures of habit. We celebrate February 14th with fondue, a bottle of wine, and a good movie (plus a chocolate overdose for me). But this year I noticed that one type of article kept popping up on my feed. Questions to ask before you get married. Some articles offered three questions, others 13. But all of them dealt with the so-called Big Subjects that should be addressed by a couple before they tie the proverbial knot.
I suppose it makes sense: a lot of couples do get engaged on Valentine’s Day.
Most of the questions were interesting. However, none of them dealt with one of the most important aspects in any reasonable person’s life: books.
And if books are a big part of one’s life, then it stands to reason that they are also a big part of one’s marriage. In fact, I can think of a few couples who are currently dealing with bookish-related drama.
And so, in the spirit of the most romantic day of the year (at least according to the world’s unofficial consumerist calendar), here are three bookish questions to ask your significant other—with stories about couples who’ve been there.
Can you respect your spouse’s favorite genre?
Analia is a die-hard fiction reader. She appreciates the importance of studying the classics—Candide by Voltaire is a favorite, and she has read Austen’s Emma at least half a dozen times. But her passion is contemporary fiction: Swing Time by Zadie Smith, Difficult Women by Roxane Gay, Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. Her partner, Tess, is also a voracious reader. And, naturally, Analia knew that Tess loved romance novels.
“I just didn’t expect her to display them on our living room shelf,” Analia says.
When she asked Tess to keep the “books with the sweaty, shirtless men on the cover” someplace private, a fight ensued. Tess was offended by the idea that Analia considered her own books to be worthy of display while treating Tess’s books like second-class citizens.
“When she criticizes my reading choices, it feels like she’s criticizing me,” Tess says.
Behind Analia and Tess’s story is an important lesson: While liking the same genre isn’t necessary for a happy and healthy relationship, it is crucial to determine if your partner respects your reading choices.
Have you considered the C-word? Communal assets, that is.
Jessica and Richard are opening up not one, but two joint accounts.
“Savings and checking,” Richard says. They’re getting married in May. “We talked about it and we want to be partners in the full sense of the word.”
That Jessica and Richard are in love is about as obvious as a circus parade. And it’s great that they are able to talk about money—a subject that’s often treated as taboo among couples—in such an open and trusting way. It is sensible. Mature.
But it’s also just money.
What about books?
When it comes to books, do you believe that sharing is caring? Or are you a supporter of the “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” philosophy? Even otherwise generous people can be extremely possessive with their books. (I know I am.) And even if you’ve already decided to take that huge step and combine your libraries, have you discussed your views on handling books and lending books to third parties? Will you be upset if you open up a favorite book and find your partner’s annotations scribbled all over the margins?
I pose these questions to Jessica and Richard. (I know, I’m stirring the pot.) Their answers?
“I’m happy to share my books with him, but not with other people,” Jessica says. “And neither of us are annotators.”
“I’d be okay with lending books to friends—as long as we keep track of who has what,” Richard points out. His tone is gentle, loving. “And we’ll buy new books, and these will have always been ours,” Richard continues. Then, he adds with excitement, “We just got an autographed copy of Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Eagan!”
I see a light flicker in Jessica’s eyes. “But…what if we split up?” she says. “Who keeps it?”
They exchange an uneasy glance.
Looks like they have a few i’s to dot before the big I Do.
Can your non-reader partner handle your time-commitment to books?
Flor is a multitasker.
“I can make dinner, talk on the phone with my mom, and watch The Bachelor all at the same time,” she says.
“She can,” Blake says. “It’s like she has eight arms. And her mom talks a lot.”
Blake and Flor have been dating for three years. He lives in Vancouver, she lives in Toronto. Long-distance relationships can be tough, but Flor and Blake make it work. Thanks to savvy spending and frequent-flier miles, they see each other at least once every two months. Sometimes once a month.
“I miss her all the time when she’s not with me, but when I go to Toronto or she comes to Vancouver, we do everything together,” Blake says. “We have so much in common.”
“It’s why we fell in love,” Flor adds.
The love between them is palpable. Their social media accounts are filled with pictures of the two of them having fun: kayaking, rock climbing, snowboarding, cooking lessons, paint night. It would be a little annoying if it weren’t so genuine.
So when I hear that Blake has received a job offer in Toronto, I am thrilled for Flor. She’ll finally be able to share not only a city, but a condo with the man she loves.
“It’s great news,” Flor tells me, but there is something dancing behind her eyes. A hint of doubt, a smidge of insecurity.
I ask her about it.
(I know: I’m very nosy—but I wouldn’t have good stories if I minded my own business.)
“I worry that he won’t be okay with my reading time,” Flor confesses. “He’s not a reader. He reads the newspaper in the morning, but he doesn’t read during his free time.”
Flor reads every day. She set up a reading nook in her tiny condo: suede armchair, colorful accent pillows, a woven basket with a cozy blanket. Right now, she is reading The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King.
“When I’m reading, I’m reading,” she says. “I don’t talk on the phone, I don’t text, I don’t cook. It’s the one thing I do that takes up all my focus. It’s like meditation for me.”
I get that, I tell her. But, surely, Blake knows this. They’ve been dating for years.
“I don’t read when I’m with him,” she explains. “Our time together is so precious, it’s just easier to read when I’m by myself. I literally spend every Sunday that I’m not with him with my nose glued to my Kobo. Last week, I binge-read Science in the Soul by Richard Dawkins.”
Flor is worried that Blake will want to watch TV during her reading time. Or listen to music. Or Skype with his parents.
“This is Toronto: our condo is 600 square feet. What if I can’t handle the noise?” she says.
Her choice of words is telling: he hasn’t moved in yet, but she’s already referring to the space they will share as our condo. That alone is a very promising sign.
When she asks me for advice I tell her to talk to him about her concerns. Openly and honestly. They love each other, and they can make it work.
Love conquers all, I tell her.
Love and state-of-the-art noise-cancelling headphones.