As shocking as this may seem, there are entire journals devoted to the study of leisure. Leisure, as in, how your time is spent when you are not working or doing chores. At times, recreation research is published in leisure journals as recreating is something you do during your free time. I was looking for a specific, recreation article in the Journal of Leisure Sciences when I came across a paper entitled: “An Exploration of Women’s Leisure within Heterosexual Romantic Relationships” by Herridge, Show, and Mannell. I saved the article and tucked it away for reading during my own leisure time. Summary of their findings: dating really screws up women’s leisure time.
The overall point of the study was to see if ideologies about femininity and romantic love influence or structure women’s leisure time. Stereotypes about femininity and women’s roles in romantic love generally expect women to be the accommodating partner who is more willing to compromise and sacrifice for the “good of the relationship.” Additionally, traditional views expect women to be the “carers” of the relationship; those who ensure that all is well and good in the relationship.
In order to explore these ideologies and leisure the researchers looked for volunteers at a Canadian University. Their sample ended up consisting of 13 females who had been in heterosexual relationships for at least 6 months (average of 2.8 yrs). The 13 participants ranged in age from 19 to 24, all were anglo-Canadian (never seen that on a survey before…), and all held fairly traditional views about femininity and romantic love. The women participated in a verbal interview with the researchers and their responses were coded to draw conclusions and determine themes.
This seems a bit obvious for anyone who has been in a romantic relationship, but the women operated in two “leisure spheres”; couple/partner leisure (time spent with their partner or partner and partner’s family) and non-couple leisure (time spent with family, friends, or alone). The women in the study made couple leisure their priority and spent most of their leisure time with their partner and less time with friends and alone. However, that does not mean that the women were completely happy with this shift in leisure time.
The women felt pressure from conflict that occurred with organizing and sharing couple leisure and also conflict between couple leisure and non-couple leisure. Basically, the women felt that planning couple leisure was their responsibility (being the “carers” of the relationship) and the women wished that their partners were more involved in planning activities. Additionally, the women felt uncomfortable when hanging out with their partner and his friends (who ofter just played computer games or surfed the internet according to the participants) or their boyfriend’s family. The boyfriends also felt uncomfortable hanging out with the women’s friends. The conflict occurs because of how the different genders respond to the uncomfortable situation of “sharing” friends: the women would suck it up and stick around and hang out with her boyfriend and his friends while the boyfriends (according to their partners at least) would mope, complain, and hamper their girlfriends leisure when spending time with her friends.
During non-couple leisure time, when the women were away from their partner, they still felt pressure. According to a few of the participants their boyfriends were possessive and did not want her hanging out with her friends (especially in settings when other males would be around – such as at bars or dance clubs). The women also felt that since they started to date their boyfriend that they had lost friends or had more conflict with friends about leisure time.
The ideologies about femininity, women being more willing to compromise and sacrifice, are especially obvious with how most women responded to this conflicts in leisure. Most of the women were accommodating to their boyfriends; doing what their partner wanted, spending extra time with their partner, and leaving their friends/family leisure when their boyfriend was not having a good time. Overall, the participants’ ideologies about their role in the relationship and about romantic love led to the women putting their romantic relationship at the center of their leisure activities despite the negative influence this had on their personal leisure. So in conclusion, the romantic relationship became a constraint on personal leisure for the women – potentially more so than for their partners.
Now, the study had a super small sample size and is not very generalizable considering the participants were all college-aged women with traditional ideologies and the researchers only examined heterosexual relationships. However, the findings highlight some of the interesting dynamics of romantic relationships and how stereotypes of femininity and cultural views of how a romantic relationship “should be” can have negative impacts on the personal lives of the partners in that relationship. The authors were good to point out that couple leisure is definitely important and good for a relationship overall (so I guess I am not going to turn around and break up with my boyfriend so I have more time to knit and bake). However, couples should be aware that when one partner is compromising or sacrificing more so than the other partner, or when friends and personal time begins to be neglected, conflict can occur with negative consequences to the relationship overall.