Sometime ago I read one of Ryan O’Connell’s “How to Be…” pieces in Thought Catalog about the dating habits of 20 somethings. Buried in the caustic, somewhat self-effacing essay, he noted that music for some inexplicable reason matters a great deal in dating. A person’s taste in music can be a dealbreaker, a central reason that romance between two people ends or never even starts. I admit I agree with O’Connell. Music is as much a deal-maker as it is a dealbreaker for me on dates. Feel free to call it snobbery or elitism but there is no way in hell I could date someone who names Smash Mouth or Sugar Ray as their favorite bands. Just thinking about it makes me die a little inside.
But why? Why do I (and presumably others) place such an emphasis on another’s taste in music? My sense is that for those who experience music in a more profound and pronounced way, the musical taste of a prospective mate matters for two reasons: their taste suggests their ability to connect (or at least appreciate) your connection to a song or band and it signals their potential to share in a mutual experience of a song or live concert.
Before I can talk about why I care so much about it, I think I should try to describe how I experience music. Bear in mind this is a brief post, so my description is going to be a bit simplistic. I tend to experience music in three ways. There are some bands I experience in an intellectualized way, which means that when I listen to them I tend to think about the technical aspects of the song, changes in time signatures or clever uses of effects pedals. Conversely, there are other songs I experience in physical, visceral way. They are songs that are not particularly inventive or clever but I want to dance to them or run to them. My body responds without irony: the tapping of a foot, the clapping of hands, melodic moments without the pretext of over-intellectualism. The bands that I love the most-the ones whose music hits me at the core of my being-create a musical experience that combines the intellectual and visceral.
There are of course people for whom music means nothing. The sort of people who say things like “Oh, I don’t listen to music” or “I’m not into music.” I admit that I have a hard time connecting to those kind of people. To be fair, there are other, less profound reasons for dismissing someone based on their taste music. The first that comes to mind is the hassle of having to listen crappy songs on repeat when you’re in the car or making dinner with your significant other (see Sugar Ray’s “Fly”). More importantly, I struggle with connecting with people who utter statements like the ones above because their comments close off a space for us to connect and share an emotional, non-verbal experience. They close off a space to share in something that is a very constitutive part of who I am and how I experience the world. In short, it’s a dismissal of me.
And this is what I think is at stake when people dismiss a potential love interest based on their taste in music. Generally speaking, most people want to intellectually, emotionally and physically connect with a potential love interest (“friends with benefits” are another beast entirely). Music can be a powerful way to connect people to one another on each of those levels. A song or a concert can allow a love interest to access an intimate connection point between you and a song- a connection to your ability to express and emote. Music can also create to spaces to share a mutual experience between two people, further solidifying (or creating) existing emotional, intellectual and emotional connections. Maybe what’s at stake is more than just musical snobbery. Maybe what’s called into question is intimacy between two people. Or maybe it’s really just about pre-emptively removing the possibility of having to listen to “Tubthumping” before getting ready to have dinner with friends.