Love Lingers Here: Enduring Intimate Relationships VII. The Marker Event—Establishing A Commitment as A Couple
Sheila indicates that her concern about having children is more about “emotional” than “financial” commitment. When it comes to Dave, she still feels that she can walk out at any time and doesn’t have to really commit to him. It is a different story when it comes to having children:
It takes a lot to emotionally commit to a child for the rest of your life! What if you don’t like the kid, what if you got tired of taking care of someone all the time? You can’t just walk away. What if the child has problems? These problems are always there. They don’t go away. Things can go wrong. You have to live with that, and I don’t know that I’m willing to take that chance.
The pervasive distaste for commitment on the part of both Sheila and Dave, as well as their mutual distrust and fear of dependency, also impacts on the way in which they perceive their lives together. They have a small group of friends, whom they rarely see. They get up together, commute together, eat together and shower together on a daily basis. Yet, they strongly insist that they spend much of their time apart from each other and are actually very independent. Dave suggests that “we go our separate ways a lot,” while Sheila indicates that “we’re not together that much.” In a rather defensive manner, Dave suggests that “she’s doing homework and I’m working on the house, so it’s not like we do everything together.” This perception of independence and autonomy was typical of their statements about themselves. Yet, the way in which they live on a day to day basis, and the locus of conflict in their relationship speaks to a high degree of unacknowledged mutual dependency. It appears as if the basic caution and mutual mistrust that both partners carry makes it too threatening to allow conscious awareness of how much they do depend on each other.
Clearly, both Dave and Sheila are intelligent, educated and committed (like many young men and women) to autonomy, independence, and freedom from the constraints of “typical” relationships. They describe their values in the same way that they describe themselves as a couple — atypical and nonconventional. Home becomes a haven where they can freely feel their “atypicality.” Much as they have avoided making any formal commitments to each other, they have remained detached from the world around them. Ironically, this detachment, or even alienation, from the external world drives them closer together and toward more interdependence. This is the interpersonal condition that they both fear. Bright enough to be aware of the potential flaws in this type of relationship, but emotionally unable to transcend it at this time, Dave and Sheila collude in intellectualizations, rationalizations and denials which allow them to create a portrait of their relationship as innovative and mature. We still don’t know if they can simultaneously sustain their strong interdependence and their mutual image of a highly flexible “drifting” relationship. Hopefully, they can hold both. But it won’t be easy.