The picture would bring out that the quickness with which couples "fall in love," and the extent to which they are romantically in love during the courtship, does not foretell how they will feel about each other after they have been married for awhile. The length of time that partners dated, how slowly they became committed, how much conflict they experienced in their relationship, and how ambivalent they were premaritally would instead be brought into focus to foreshadow how they feel about each other later. The final element that might be included, one that completes the story and brings it full circle, would show how women's premarital ambivalence, although unrelated to the course of premarital commitment, nonetheless is a precursor of decline in wives' marital love and husbands' marital satisfaction.
The story could be rendered to create a sense of pathos, with the audience slowly realizing that when cupid's arrow is poisoned with ambivalence that love weakens with time, leaving the lovers to wonder, as the song goes, where their love has gone. This picture may not win an Academy Award, but its details will correspond to the reality of most Americans, at least to the extent that what happens to them is similar to what occurred with my research sample. It is perhaps not surprising that celebrated movie courtships -- such as that of Elaine and Benjamin in The Graduate ( Nichols, 1967) -- rarely yield sequels. Love can conquer all, at least long enough for some couples to marry, but it is difficult to imagine the heroine's ambivalence about Benjamin as having been set aside, never to surface again. We know what happened When Harry Met Sally ( Reiner, 1989): There was a slow uptake and a lot of missed signals, but eventually their friendship grew into romance and they were married. But what would the sequel show? Would Harry and Sally II be a story of calamity, chaos, or contentment?
This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health grant MH-33938. The author would like to thank Gilbert Geis and Catherine Surra for providing helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.
Baxter, L., & Bullis, C. ( 1986). "Turning points in developing romantic relationships". Human Communication Research, 12, 469-493.
Bender, P., & Newcomb, D. ( 1978). "Longitudinal study of marital success and failure". Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 46, 1053-1970.
Berg, J., & McQuinn, R. D. ( 1986). "Attraction and exchange in continuing and noncontinuing dating relationships". Journal of Personality and Social Personality, 50, 942-952.
Bergman, I. (Director). ( 1974). Scenes from a marriage [Film], Stockholm, Sweden: Cinematograph AB.