Forming and Formalising Relationships
Given the emphasis that many of our couples placed on the ordinary, and the enduring nature of the relating ideals and values that they had grown up with, as discussed in Chapter 3, it is perhaps unsurprising that they should choose to ‘marry’. However, while the majority of partners saw their entry into civil partnership as an expression of their free choice, a minority felt that they had little choice but to formalise their relationship so as to protect it. At the heart of couple and individual narratives of marriage are stories about romance, love, mutual care and commitment that attest to the enduring centrality of the couple to the relational imaginary. These are stories about self and relational investments in couple projects and of the affirmative power of formalising commitments. They are also stories of convention and its disruption. While the majority deployed some of the conventions of marriage in ceremonialising their relationship, the fact that they were same-sex couples could also disrupt such conventions in practice. Same-sex unions could trouble the heterosexual relational landscape and at the same time bolster the couple as the ‘natural’ focus of adult relational life.
This chapter focuses on the formation and development of commitments that lead to ‘marriage’, and on the ceremonialism that surrounds the formalisation of relationships. In line with romantic notions of love, many couples linked the formation of their relationships to chance and fate while others emphasised reason. In practice, romance and reason were often intertwined when it came to ‘finding’ the right partner to commit to. Decisions to marry were most often cast in the language of love and confirming commitments, even where legal ‘rights’ seemed a primary motivator. Generally, relational rights were presented as a secondary, and in some cases a relatively insignificant, consideration. While most couples emphasised that they married to confirm their mature commitments to each other, ceremonies themselves often represented a critical moment where familial and personal community inclusion and the reality of the marriage were mostly affirmed but sometimes negated. Given the emphasis that young partners placed on love, we begin the chapter by discussing the links that sociologists have made between love, power and the broader social order.