Love Lingers Here: Enduring Intimate Relationships VII. The Marker Event—Establishing A Commitment as A Couple
While commitment is at the heart of most marker events, we found that there weren’t many men or women who identified a formal event as the indication of commitment. Rather, like Christine and Rebecca, the commitment often is forged and expressed through some more informal and private event. For Curtis and Marilyn, it was the purchase of an automobile together — their first joint financial venture. As Curtis stated, “we knew we’d made a five-year financial, legal commitment and that did it!” Even Nancy, the partner to John (the man who shuffled through his paper while his wife spoke and identified their marriage ceremony as the marker event), identified a nontraditional, personal event as their marker. During John’s response, Nancy had remained silent. When the interviewer asked her about the point when they became a couple, Nancy remained silent for a short while. She finally indicated, “I don’t know. Do you mean ‘couple’ in the sense that thought alike? We still don’t think alike.” After some discussion, the question was clarified to mean when they felt bonded together. Then she readily answered the question:
I think there were two phases to it. One, when we started going steady, and that sort of flowed on into marriage. But the second phase, the real commitment, I’m ashamed to say, did not happen until we went into business together. That was after our last child was born. We were driving around, taking care of business together one day. I suddenly realized that he was my best friend.
The difference that makes a difference among enduring couples can take many different forms and can be identified differently by each partner in a relationship. It is clear from our interviews, however, that this marker event is important, both because it suggests a new level of commitment for at least one partner in the relationship and because the nature of the marker event often helps to create an identity for the couple and becomes part of the couple’s psychological covenant.
Finding an Identity as a Couple
Our marker event stories suggest that few of the rules regarding commitment that applied twenty or thirty years ago are at the forefront among younger men and women of the 1990s. The whole concept of engagement and marriage now feels out of date and a bit formal for our current tastes. Yet, we still have the expectation of a couple’s identity beginning with some formal announcement and the commitments that attend this announcement. Most of the men and women we interviewed identified rather unconventional moments as memorable with regard to the formation of a new identity as a couple: declaring love for each other for the first time, being identified as a couple by their friends, moving in together, buying their first piece of furniture together, moving to a new town (away from their parents) , having their first child, sharing the death of a parent, sharing a major life success, or realizing after fifty years that dancing together is fun.
Much as Tevia’s inquiry to his wife, “Do you love me’?” seems to be moot in Fiddler on the Roof given that they have spent a life together, so the question of love and commitment may seem a given for many real-life couples who have forged a life together. While many of the marker events imply increased commitment of each partner to the relationship, they speak even more forcibly to the forging of this new identity — this new entity — the couple. It is in the daily activities of the couple that their shared identity is defined, not in formal ceremonies or public pronouncements of mutual commitment.