Monday, June 21, 2010

The Pair and the Third Persons

Each member of the pair usually carries into the period of the engagement one or more other pair relations. In an earlier day, characterized by a stable, sacred, primary society, an engaged person had broken off all companionate relations with eligible members of the opposite sex, usually well prior to the engagement. In our mobile, anonymous, touch-and-go society, it is not at all uncommon for people to carry along in some fashion or other these pair relationships which had been formed prior to the engagement.

Indeed it is often the case that pair relations with "outsiders" get started during the engagement. These "outside" affairs received a great deal of public attention during the war and were generally thought of as purely wartime aberrations, but like a good many social phenomena they seemed products of the war because they have been much more visible. In actuality these quasi-subsidiary pair relations have become a typical adjunct of the engaged pair relation.

It must not be imagined, however, that the only pair relations having important consequences for the engaged couple are those with other potential mates. Here again what are commonly supposed to be peculiar attributes of the (in this case, "disloyal") love affairs are for the most part attributes of the dyadic relation itself. A young man engaged to be married may have a strong pair relationship with his mother, his father, a brother or sister, a friend of his own age and sex.

While none of these possibilities represents in our society an appropriate heterosexual love object for him, yet pair relationships with one or more of these will have consequences for relations between his fiancée and himself -- consequences most often not essentially different from those engendered by an outside love affair. The pair relationship between any persons tends typically to have an exclusive, all-or-none quality with respect to the emotions and loyalties of the two people. Hence the coexistence of another pair relationship involving only one of the partners tends to constitute a threat to each relation unless and until some form of accommodation is evolved.

In our attempt to understand the course of dyadic development in the engaged pair, it is important to note the ways in which outside dyads impinge on the relationship between the two. There are three general types of interaction possible in this social configuration: (1) In the first, there is compartmentalization, purposeful or not, of the two or more dyadic relations. (a) If purposeful, one person in each of the pair relationships attempts to keep one pair relation hidden from the person involved in the other. (b)

On the other hand, the dyadic relations may lie within two different "social worlds," so that the compartmentalization is gratuitously afforded by the nature of the social situations. (2) In the second general type of interaction, the two pair relations are quite socially visible and tend actively to compete for the loyalties and attachment of the one person common to the two. (3) In the third type, one of the persons either (a) attempts to "move in," or (b) is pulled in, to the other dyadic relation to form a three-person group, a triad.

In order to avoid strengthening the popular impression that interfering outside love affairs are generically and qualitatively different from other dyadic relations in affecting a couple's rapport development, we will illustrate each of these general types with a single case in which examples lie outside the realm of what is commonly spoken of, with much innuendo, as "the triangle."

A young woman, Roberta S., was employed as stenographer by a brilliant young woman lawyer, Miss P. In the course of three years, this had become much more than an employment relationship. The two had come to discuss virtually all their personal affairs with one another and had developed a high degree of rapport and solidarity. Roberta became engaged to marry George R., a young businessman in the city whose business activity happened by chance to be peculiarly open to the scrutiny of Roberta's woman employer.

Although he knew of the employment relationship George was quite unaware that many of his business affairs were visible to the lawyer or that there was a close personal relationship between the lawyer and his fiancée. Roberta for her part kept secret the fact that she and her employer exchanged mutual confidences. Miss P., a somewhat older single woman, leaned heavily on Roberta for counsel and mutual support. More or less unconsciously she regarded the approaching marriage as a direct threat to her own emotional security, for it would deprive her of her confidante. Consequently she tended to use to his detriment the information about George's business. Consciously she recognized that this might be true and occasionally attempted to compensate for this unconscious tendency by trying to take "an unbiased view" toward the young man in question. All in all, however, her relations with Roberta were such as to intensify the alternating positive and negative feelings in the latter with respect to both pair relationships.

Roberta had had an earlier most platonic attachment with a professor while at college. She had done brilliant honors work in psychology, her major field. Her work had come to the attention of Professor B., the head of the psychology department when she was a junior, and in her senior year she had been given a research assistantship, an honor usually reserved for graduate students. As a product of this year's work a paper under their joint authorship was published in one of the psychological journals. Despite Dr. B.'s extreme protests Roberta turned down the invitation to return to the university to do graduate work as a fellow, and hoping to enter law school later.

Three years later, the university received a sizable foundation grant with which to pursue research in the very area in which she had been most interested. Dr. B. pleaded with her on several occasions, and with her fiancé George R. more than once, to postpone the marriage for two or three years in order that she might return to the university as a graduate student to help with the research projects. Though this proposal was turned down, the final decision came after much discussion and alternation feelings which had significant impact on the rapport of the engaged couple.

A third triadic relationship which affected this couple involved Roberta's father. She was the youngest of three children and the only child to continue to live at home with her parents. She was throughout childhood the special favorite of her father, a prominent professional man in the community. When she became engaged to George, her mother, who had professional ambitions for her daughter, had been rather cool to the idea of this match, but her father had been quite pleased. During the course of the engagement he had many genial talks with the couple. On three or four occasions he had motored them to Chicago to see plays and had managed in one way or another to accompany them to see several "Big Nine" football games.

He frequently discussed their future plans with them and in these discussions he always seemed to evolve ways of injecting his own role into their future lives. He and George seemed to "talk the same language." It was inevitable, however, that the young couple's plans occasionally conflicted with his. When they went places without him or when they made plans for marriage that conflicted with his plans for them, he characteristically felt hurt and became cool and aloof. When this happened he would turn to his wife for emotional solace, support her arguments in opposition to the marriage, or in other ways show his petulance.

In sociological language we might say that he tried very hard to make the developing dyad into a triad, an attempt which was alternately welcomed and rebuffed, but these alternations in the moods reflecting them had repercussions in all of the dyads involved in this particular affair. In this sketch, we have, for simplicity, ignored the outside dyadic relations in which the young man in question was enmeshed. Suffice it to say that the couple finally developed considerably stronger pair rapport than that which characterized any of the other pair relations in which each of them was involved.

It must be apparent by now that the developing pair relation between the two engaged persons does not take place in some vague, inchoate context of "outside social relationships." Instead it weaves itself, in large part, into the texture of other highly personal attachments, particularly dyads, which have distinctive patterns and "boundaries" of their own. As any two-person relation develops in this kind of configuration, it is bound, from time to time, to take on the character not of a dyad but rather of a triad, in that partners in other pair relations get involved in one way or another in the intrapair interaction.

The striking characteristic of the triad is that it tends to be an unstable social grouping. Anyone who has observed the behavior of a group of three children playing together over an extended period must certainly have noticed the tendency of that group to devolve into a dyad plus an outsider. This is as surely true of adult triads as it is of triadic play groups among children.

The principle of least interest, first enunciated by E. A. Ross and more recently elaborated upon by the late Willard Waller, probably operates with greater effect in the three-person group than it does in the two-person group, in the analysis of which Waller made such widespread application of it. It is very rare that a three-person group is characterized by an equality of interest and loyalty among all three members. There is, almost inevitably, one person among the three who wants to bring the other two together, while the other two, though they may be almost equally paired with the first, have only moderate and varying degrees of interest in one another, mitigated by the jealousy they may feel toward each other over their desires for exclusiveness with the first. Or, as in the instance of Roberta's father, in the case cited above, one person of the three may be trying to "crash" the exclusiveness of the pair relation existing or developing between the other two.

Again, one of the three may dominate each of the other two, individually; in fact he may use as a principal device for domination the playing of the affections of one against those of the other, with all that may involve in the way of disequilibria of loyalties and attachments. In any one of these instances it must be apparent that the person characterized by the least interest in the other two is in a position to exploit one or both of them. In fact, he who has the least interest in either of the other two is in a position to use on that person the most potent control device of all -- that of exclusion -- provided he sufficiently possesses the loyalty of the third person.

It is in the nature of the triad, then, that its existence is tenuous, its structure unstable and precariously balanced. Its cohesion is constantly threatened by potential jealousy and intrigue, by power plays and ostracism. Note that whatever comes to operate as a symbol of identification for only two of the three is automatically an exclusion symbol for the third. Certainly "the course of true love never did run smooth," not because that is the nature of true love but because that is the nature of a developing dyad of any sort, caught in a welter of other dyads for whom the new relation is but a threat of third-person disturbance to the rapport of pair relations.

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