Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
The other day in Analytic Reasoning I gave an example in class in which I mentioned “my husband.” Today a prominent senior in the class, Margaret, approached me in the UC and asked how marriage and college meshed as she was interested in tying the knot before graduate school. The discussion we had prompted me to blog once again on this rather sensitive topic.
Are marriage and college academically compatible? I cannot extrapolate for everybody, of course, because marriage is such an individual experience. However, in my experience they are perfectly fine academically. Living in an off-campus apartment may have contributed, but last semester I achieved my first straight-A semester—a surprise, I must say, but not an unwelcome one. Having the constant support of my husband, as well as the stable and study-conducive environment, probably increased not only my study time but my self-esteem. Perhaps I needed the year to adjust to college standards, and I would have gotten the same grades if we’d remained dating; but I can say that at least marriage did not hurt my academics. I feel but cannot verify the fact that the support available in the stable, loving environment that Ian and I created for ourselves actually resulted in my achieving higher grades.
Marriage is the most affirming experience I have encountered: what could make you feel better about yourself than to know somebody who doesn’t need to has chosen to love you forever? It’s a tiny illustration of God’s love for us, a poor metaphor for Christ’s sacrifice—poor only insofar as God’s love is infinitely greater than any human love can be. In terms of human love, though, marriage is the greatest profession of it possible; looking at Ian and knowing that he chose me for all our lives is inexplicably reassuring. Even if you’re perfectly confident in yourself and never feel a little bit worthless, still knowing that this person has chosen you for good… It’s amazing.
Marriage is a partnership, and in all partnerships people find themselves disagreeing. Margaret asked how we resolved arguments, and I wanted to laugh: what alternative have we? Leave the disagreement hanging? There is no “I’m going home now,” because that apartment is our home; and even leaving cannot solve the problem because we’re together forever. We must resolve disagreements just like you have to fill out your taxes. Maybe you don’t want to; maybe you choose to evade the issue and not pay up…but in the end the IRS is probably going to find you. And if the IRS doesn’t, you cannot escape your own conscience. The same with when we fight: there’s this horrible feeling in the air, this conscience nagging at both of us if we put it off so that in the end we have to work things out. Disagreements are one situation I found pre-marriage counseling an enormous help with.
Pre-marriage counseling—sounds bad, doesn’t it? Somehow implies that the relationship already has trouble, that this potential marriage is pretty risky if the people in it do not seek serious help. WRONG! I cannot overemphasize the value of pre-marriage counseling. First off, it may not be with a therapist: we talked to two pastors, one in Massachusetts and Jayson, the pastor who married us. What do you talk about in pre-marriage counseling, you might ask? Answer: every- and anything. We covered topics ranging from easy ones like “Who do you expect to do the taxes in this relationship?” to “How would you react if you found out your spouse was having an affair?” to “Under what circumstances would you consider divorce?” (Answer: are there justifiable circumstances? I don’t think so.) Pre-marriage counseling is less about talking through your personal issues than trying to anticipate possible potholes or bumps in your future life together and smoothing them out before they ever come up. It’s preventative medicine, not emergency surgery. We did talk about such personal issues as how my anorexic past could effect our relationship, but talked about it with an eye on the two of us and who we are as a couple, not on “fixing” my problems; that was reserved for other times and other counselors.
I cannot see any ways in which the pre-marriage counseling hurt our relationship and there have been numerous times that Ian and I drew from skills we learned in those sessions to resolve an argument or make a difficult decision. If you and your boyfriend/girlfriend are serious about marriage, please please please don’t convince yourself you don’t need to do pre-marriage counseling. You don’t know your significant other as well as you think—I guarantee it. Pre-marriage counseling helps you know your future spouse’s fortes as well as their foibles.
What drawbacks are there to marriage? Well, financially supporting two people costs more than supporting one. Paying for college is difficult individually; once married, the costs are essentially doubled. Aside from monetary issues, interpersonal relationships do change. People treat you differently in a subtle way when they find out; often they think they need to “give you space” to be with your spouse. Yes…and no. Everybody needs friends of their gender, friends who can understand those “girl things” or “guy problems” without a long explanation. It’s unhealthy to rely entirely on one person for your emotional support and to do so will jeopardize your marriage. On the other hand, some people are fine with only having a few people in their lives; for such people, loss of outside friendships may not be so hurtful.
Additionally, marriage requires the spouses to be adults. I know it sounds strange; naturally only adults marry, right? Consider this: that many people who have lived an adult number of years may not have gained that maturity required. Once wed, you have entered into the most crucial relationship of your life, one that cannot be discarded if you find it against your liking. You become accountable to another person and you must consult another person before making major decisions (definition of “major” will vary). Marriage isn’t for people who love freedom and making stupid, spontaneous decisions that can only be saved by frantic last-minute maneuvering. Finally, marriage in college is an eminently lonely situation. Your friends’ closest experiences may be in terms of a serious dating relationship, which cannot even begin to emulate marriage. Dating can be ended for any number of mundane or serious reasons—marriage for nothing. Your closest confederates are your parents or other adults who have been married for more years than you’ve been alive; you have no “peers.”
At Clark University marriage is, for some reason, looked down upon as somehow giving up…something inexpressibly more valuable than some measly guy. People fear commitment and fear seeing people exercising that commitment; they fear seeing normal heterosexuals in such relationships as if somehow it threatens the tenuous grasp homosexuals have on marriage. Clarkies want freedom, the ability “experience” other people, and the idea of having sex with just one person (of the opposite sex!) seems appalling to many of them. Whatever the reason, many people at Clark dislike marriage and dislike those who enter into the state of being wed. Maybe it’s just that most Clarkies are too immature to be able to imagine finding one person so wonderful and valuable that you’re willing to commit your life to that person. Whatever the cause, it’s a difficulty to walk around just feeling disapproval for an action you’ve taken (add being a Christian to that and boy! I just need to find me a more conservative technical school right up the road, thank you for visiting and don’t come back any time soon.)
Summing up: despite the drawbacks, for Ian and me, the choice to marry was the right one. I don’t think either of us will ever regret marrying halfway through college; God made us for each other, and the choice to wed young didn’t negate that. Life isn’t easy as a married 19-year-old, but every problem is worth all the work we have to put in to solve it. You get to live with your best friend, secure in the knowledge that friend won’t ever waver in his/her love for you. And honestly, who doesn’t want that?
– KF –