Love Lingers Here: Enduring Intimate Relationships VII. The Marker Event—Establishing A Commitment as A Couple
Many of the younger couples we interviewed identified the point when they moved in together as the marker event. Typically, this commitment to live together comes prior to marriage, or even instead of a formal marriage ceremony. Glenda and Roy knew that they were a couple when Roy asked Glenda to move in with him. They soon bought a trailer, moved it onto family property and began to live together. To both of them, this “gradualist” strategy made sense. Glenda, in particular, was cautious, having just stepped out of a failed marriage. For both Glenda and Roy, however, it also made sense to make things legal, so within six months they began to plan their wedding. By the time they were married, Roy and Glenda had been living together for about a year. Their story of a multi-stage commitment and “moving in together” as a marker event seems to be the new dominant narrative in many 21st Century societies, having replaced the traditional story of courtship, engagement, and marriage.
When asked about their marker event, Ben and Karen answered in unison, like Roy and Glenda, that they knew they were a couple “when we moved in together.” However, while Roy and Glenda’s decision was described as a. “logical” process and an expression of the caution both partners felt in moving to a stronger, more enduring commitment, i.e. marriage, an unexpected change in Karen’s life precipitated their decision: 111′ came home (from the south part of the state) to find that my roommate had rented my room. Ben let me stay with him until I found a place and seven- and one-half years later I still haven’t found one. That’s how we became an official couple. I needed a place to stay and I never left.” This fortuitous event enabled these young people to make a commitment to one another without ever really acknowledging that they were doing so. This may have become a rather common strategy among young people since the early 1970s.
According to Fred and Alice (a furniture maker and French-born secretary) the realization that they were a couple came when they were at a Labor Day party. As Fred said, “We were dancing our asses off.” To which Alice responded: “We started picturing ourselves and knew we were in love.” The marker event often involves this sense of a couple standing outside of themselves and recognizing that somehow, they are a couple (“picturing ourselves as a couple”). Rogers and Hammerstein identify this reflective process in Oklahoma! when Curly and Laurey sing about the fact that other people are likely to look at them and come to the conclusion that they love one another. In the case of Curly and Laurey, both are too shy to acknowledge that they themselves see that they’re a couple. A more contemporary version of this same theme is offered by Bonnie Raitt in “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About.” Bonnie Raitt’s lover is much less shy than Curly and Laurie. Fred and Alice were also less shy and knew at that moment that they had just formed this third entity — the “picture” called a “couple.”