Theoretical Frameworks for Personal Relationships

By Ralph Erber ; Robin Gilmour | Go to book overview
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Chapter 3
Courtship Antecedents of Marital Satisfaction and Love

Ted L. Huston University of Texas at Austin

Most young adults are inexorably drawn toward marriage like, depending on their level of optimism, moths to fire or plants to the light. "It's like [the idea of marriage] was something that was born in my head," said a participant in a study of courtship ( Greenblatt & Cottle, 1980, p. 10). Men and women are older today on their wedding days compared with a generation ago, but there has been only a slight decline in the percentage of the population that marries ( U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989; see Surra, 1990, for a review). American society, like most other industrial nations, is replete with strings that first pull individuals into the marketplace of marriage and, eventually, draw them into marriage. The cultural forces at work during mate selection and marriage were eloquently described by Erikson ( 1976), who, in writing about life in an Appalachian community in West Virginia, suggested:

No act in life seems more private, more intimate, than the decision by two people to get married. . . . People "select" their mates now, whatever that may mean. But there are . . . spoken and unspoken encouragements that pass among families and friends beforehand, as well as a million other hints and suggestions that become a part of the marriage scene afterward. While we do not know much about those subtle chemistries, it is clear enough that marriage . . . is something of a community affair. It is validated by the community, commemorated by the community, and every married couple in the world knows something about the pressures exerted on that union by interests outside of it. (p. 281)

Nonetheless, mate selection in most Western cultures is seen by its participants as a voluntary transition, a choice mutually undertaken. Individuals become

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