Love Lingers Here: Enduring Intimate Relationships VII. The Marker Event—Establishing A Commitment as A Couple
We did find some people who looked to engagement and marriage as the primary marker event. John (the husband of Nancy) suggested that a formal statement of commitment made through the announcement of an engagement or the enactment of a marriage ceremony implies a lifelong commitment and should be entered into with great care. Other couples, however, often looked elsewhere for a sign of commitment. Christine and Rebecca suggested that the notion of commitment is the cornerstone of their relationship even though they have not participated in any formal marriage ceremony. A key marker event for them occurred at the point that they decided to give this commitment some real substance by putting some boundaries around their behavior. Specifically, in the seven years since Christine and Rebecca began their relationship, Christine has been involved in many other relationships, including an open marriage with a man.
From a more contemporary, nontraditional perspective, sex rules with regard to consummating a relationship. Movies that are more “up-to-date” than Father of the Bride, tend to define the moment of commitment by directing the camera toward the bed and two naked figures pledging their love for each other while smothered in passion. Such a scene seems to be almost a prerequisite in European love stories (such as classics like A Man and a Woman and Cousin Cousine), and is also common in dramatic American films (for instance, such powerful movies as Coming Home or Witness) and film satires (for instance, the Pink Panther series). Yet, we found that the marker event is usually not sexual engagement. In many cases sexuality was actually a deterrent regarding commitment. One or both members of the couple wanted to avoid sexual relationships because they believe that sexuality interfere with establishment of a “long-term relationship.
Jim, for instance, didn’t want to consummate his relationship with Dora before they were married: “she was too good a friend . . . I didn’t want to risk our friendship with sex. Sex complicates things, even though I knew I loved her from the start.” Dora did want to consummate their relationship: “I was carnivorous. After he said no, I staged a seduction and even discussed it with other people.” Jim was surprised to hear of Dora’s conspiracy. They did hold off for a while, which helped Jim move more slowly and thoughtfully to their long-term commitment to one another.