Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships–V. Exploring the Founding Story
What difference does a setting make? First, the setting helps to define the common experience and value base that is shared by the couple right from the start. By going to the same church or attending the same school, partners begin their relationship with certain shared assumptions about what is important in life. Similarly, when they meet at work, partners begin to build their relationship around career-related concerns. This is often appropriate, since couples are increasingly likely to be dual-career for many years. The identities of both men and women are increasingly linked to job and career.
Second, if the setting is a local neighborhood, then men and women are likely to know much more about each other before they start courting one another than is usually the case if they meet at work or through a dating service, or at a local bar. Kit describes how she met Dave when they were working in the same area of a large computer hardware company: “we were talking together just casually at work, and he asked me to sew a button on his vest. I don’t know if that was to just get more acquainted or I said I would be happy to and gave him back his vest at coffee. We talked about how our divorces were going. I had just gotten divorced and he was going through one. In fact, he retained the lawyer I had. It did not start out as a romantic thing at all.”
Ah, the glories of contemporary romance! Kit and Dave typify many contemporary relationships. If they are going to meet at work, then they must be careful about shifting from a job-related to a more personal relationship—this is particularly the case given recent concern about sexual harassment. Men and women must find new signals to indicate, in appropriate, non-harassing, ways that they want to shift from work to courtship. Dave did this by asking Kit to sew the button on this vest. Under many circumstances, this would be considered terribly chauvinistic. Why do men go to women for their sewing and why can’t they learn to do this themselves! Yet, somehow Dave made this an O.K. thing to do, and Kit interpreted his request as a potential statement of personal interest in her. They further pursued their common attraction through yet another indirect vehicle, a discussion about divorce. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common basis for shared experience among people who are attracted to one another. In talking about their divorces, Kit and Dave once again moved away from work-related conversation to a more personal domain, yet in a way that preserved their independence so that neither became too pushy or inappropriately forward in their advances to one another.