"Have you been married, or ...?": Eliciting and accounting for relationship histories in speed-dating interaction

2013-10-04T09:20:34Z (GMT) by Elizabeth Stokoe
Studies of personal relationships have often been conducted in the laboratory, on the self-report questionnaire, or in the interview. In contrast, this article studies relationships via a corpus of 30 British speed-dating encounters between 30–45-year-old heterosexual couples, in which talk about previous relationships was pervasively relevant. The analysis examines how talk about prior relationships, and current relationship status, was occasioned and accounted for. The first section shows that, in the overall structure of the date, talk about relationship histories was located after talk about other matters (e.g., occupation, place of residence). Second, relationship history questions contained design features for managing the delicacy of answering them (e.g., trail-off “or” turn endings), as well as paired categorial items (e.g., a question about children was answered in terms of one's marital status and vice versa). In the final section, the analysis shows that and how participants treat some relationship histories as more accountable than others (e.g., being never married). The analysis revealed a more general set of accountabilities: of being single, of being previously unsuccessful in relationships, of being unable to meet people in natural settings, and, therefore, for attending speed-dating events. Overall, the article demonstrates the importance of examining the richly detailed brief encounters of social life, in order to better understand people's understandings of, troubles with, and goals for their personal relationships.