In her interview of Alice (a thirty five year old secretary) and Fred (a forty year old furniture maker) one of our colleagues began (as did many interviewers) by asking how they met. The two of them have probably been asked this question many times before. We propose that their answer (both individually and collectively) is important not only as part of the social convention, but also as a way of defining the central governing principles of their relationship for many years to come. Alice responded first to the interviewer’s request. She said to Fred: “Well you go first.” Who is designated in a relationship as the story-teller—or at least as the one who tells the founding story? In many cultures, a central role is played by the storyteller. Status and role are often defined by the nature and purpose of the stories that one is allowed to tell to other people. Similarly, in the case of couples, it is often quite revealing to note who is allowed or at least encouraged to tell particular stories about the couple. The founding story is especially important, and we found that this person is often the one who also takes primary care of the relationship (the third entity).
In the case of Fred and Alice, Alice asked Fred to begin and he indicated that “we met in Madison. I was living in Milwaukee, but I was in the Madison area visiting a friend and that’s where we met.” Frequently, in heterosexual relationships, the male plays the role of geographer and chronologist of the relationship. He identifies location and time, but leaves the rich details of the actually meeting of the two up to the female member of the couple. This was the case with Fred and Alice, for Alice went on to mention that:
I also was visiting someone in the Madison area and ‘Living in Milwaukee. When I met Fred at this mutual friend’s house, I remember us playing a lot of checkers. And I’m really good at it so I was impressed with how good he was. What attracted me to him was that he was a very good communicator and a good listener. He was a contra¬diction. He had long hair and sold dope, just like my old boyfriend and yet he was intellectually interesting.