Sex & Relationships

Help! My Boyfriend and I Are From Different Worlds

Our wicked-smart sex and relationships columnist, Kate Carraway, to the rescue

Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez in Crazy/Beautiful (Photo: Touchstone/courtesy Everett Collection)

The different worlds of Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez collide in Crazy/Beautiful (Photo: Everett Collection)

Dear Kate,

My boyfriend of six months and I are from very different worlds. Our backgrounds, past experiences, and career paths are as different as can be, which makes our perspectives different on almost everything. We’re in love but we don’t always get where the other one is coming from, if that makes sense. I’m extremely worried that we’re not meant to be. The sex is great, though!  —J. M.

Yesterday, when I was thinking about this, I semi-randomly tweeted that there is “tremendous freedom in being with someone who doesn’t understand you” (also can you believe I just quoted my own tweet?), and one of my favourite Internet-boyfriends, a.k.a. a total stranger, disagreed and tweeted back that he feels judged by people who don’t understand him, because “it usually means they think I’m weird.” My thing is maybe cynical, but I feel like a guy just naturally getting it—“it” being your references, your assumptions, your priorities—is so much less important than the D-grade-diamond dude-quality of being genuinely interested in finding everything out, from zero.

As such: I think that being with someone way, wildly, measurably different than you is the business, if you get lit up by adventure and newness and being challenged and occasionally infuriated by another person; since you’re already in love with your boyfriend à la Crazy/Beautiful slash Mad Love slash Romeo + Juliet (if you haven’t seen this star-crossed trifecta, Netflix or iTunes them immediately), you probably do.

Functionally, there are a few things that you definitely should have in common with the person you’re in a relationship with, like, values: Do you know what he thinks about, say, human rights? Or whatever of your politics means the most to you? What constitutes a “good” person or whatever isn’t the most thrillsy topic of conversation outside of a first-year philosophy seminar, but if the different “worlds” you come from (I reject, btw, this idea that most of us come from some specific, definable, knowable “world”) have left you with principles and ideals that are fundamentally in conflict—the real, important stuff, I mean, not the details—then you might have an actual problem. (Can you break up and keep great-sexing him, is my next question…)

Another thing that you have to at least vaguely agree on with the person you’re dating is leisure time, a.k.a. “fun.” Free time—true free time, not five-minute social-media windows between meetings—gets crushed in adultland, and especially adult-relationship-land (it’s busy, squishing two people’s whole lives together!), crushed like youth itself (whoah). So, perhaps weirdly, leisure choices—what is fun, what is pleasurable, what is involved in a solid long weekend—come to define and structure relationships more than, I dunno, anything? (My number-one first-date question, were I someone who asked those instead of saying the most alienating shit possible instead, would be about what they like to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Like, I would know everything.)

Difference can be easier in a dating scenario than between friends because the intimacy can cover for and build on your differences, but harder because there’s no relief: the stakes are higher, the tension thicker, and then the destructive tools of real-life difference like money and domestic boringness and overarching expectations will do their work, anyway.

That, right there, is probably why that stuff of “different worlds” doesn’t end up being all that relevant, even if you’re an actual Capulet and he’s an actual Montague, or you’re a maid and he is Manhattan (I never saw that movie, sorry): it seems to be the ways in which two people handle the inevitable-in-everything differences (with kindness, or with scumbaggyness) and never where they came from or what they came to be. You’re both making big emotional efforts to understand the things you don’t immediately “get,” right? Because that effort is all there is.

To that end, have you looked up your kid-friends on Facebook lately? If not, let me give you a preview: they’re different. Definitely, some people still grow up in one context and stay there, but a busted economy plus social mobility plus who gives a f**k means that there’s less and less meaning in all of that. If you grew up and fell in love with this particular guy, who is the sum of his experiences and choices, you definitely have more in common with him in some crucial way than a rando whose background more superficially approximates yours. I like that guiding principle of “if it’s not true love or great sex it’s not worth it” or whatever, and can’t think of how many other ways you could have been meant to be.

More great advice from Kate:
Help! My Friend Has Become a Selfie-Obsessed Monster
Help! My Girlfriend Is Always on a Diet
Help! My Boyfriend Is Better Looking Than Me
I’m So Tired of Hearing About My Friends’ Boring Babies.
I Have Proof My Friend’s BF Is Cheating. Do I Tell Her?
My Best Friend’s Life Is Perfect. Can I Tell Her to Stop Complaining Already? 
How Young Is Too Young?
Is Long Distance a Dealbreaker?
When Do I Need to Disclose My Dismal $$$ Sitch?
How Can I Curb My Tinder-Rejection Sads?
When Should My Guy & I Talk “Numbers”?
Can We Be FWB When He Wants More?
Is It Ever OK to Date a Friend’s Ex?
How Do I Get Over a Guy?
Why Aren’t I More Obsessed With My BF?
Should I Propose to My Guy?