Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.
This is an update of my April 2, 2004 post, On Marriage. Two years have passed, those balancing acts of academics and adoration, of schoolwork and sex, of friendships and family relationships. I have learned more than I expected and have changed my views on some issues; it is these thoughts I would like to share with you.
At age 19, I married my husband. I had finished my freshman year at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts; my husband, Ian, had completed his sophomore year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the same city. We met my junior year in high school, not at school but on a trip overseas—to Spain. We fell in love in Seville over Easter, two kids tentatively wondering whether the other person’s palms were sweating, too. Two years later, Ian Ferguson took me to Picnic Point near Mukilteo, Washington, and as we stood on a log looking at the Pacific Ocean he asked me to marry him.
Now, almost three years later, my wedding band isn’t quite as shiny as it was on August 9th, 2003. I scratched it running wiring along a brick wall, lifting weights, living life. We went into it with our eyes open—no illusions, thanks to my parents’ insistence on finding a good marriage counselor. She recommended books by Les and Lesley Parrott and John Gottman, but she also taught us about ourselves and how to deal with conflicts in marriage. Looking back, the techniques we learned in premarriage counseling have proved some of our strongest allies in the constant battle to keep our marriage alive. Our other allies include our families, which set a precedent for both of us of what successful, 25- and 30-year marriages look like, and our shared faith, which provides an underlying basis for our life together.
Yet even two years ago, I needed Ian to constantly reaffirm my value as a person. His unfailing love and affection showed me a shadow of the love and affection God feels for me, His child. Yet it took my trip to London, when I was forced to assert myself as an individual, to provide me with the evidence I needed to internalize my value. I proved that I can work alone and succeed; I don’t need Ian…I choose him, and he chose me. We support one another through hard times in ways that single college students cannot understand.
Marriage is not only possible in college, it enhances the college experience in ways that a single college student cannot ever understand. Ian and I support one another in innumerable small ways, making life just that much easier at times. Where single college students suffer through nights of Easy Mac or Cup O’ Noodles, we ate stroganoff and salads. Where single college students agonize over their exams alone, we have a constant listening ear and open arms. Where single college students have to seek out companionship, we need only glance from our monitors to be with our best friend. Where single college students have to struggle with parents recognizing their independence, we took the ultimate step in independence and have never looked back.
When Ian went through his senior year last year, I took care of nearly everything. For a year, it felt like I saw my own spouse less frequently than his lab partners—many of whom had no idea he was married. Although I’m a willful person and I have felt the pressure of feminism as much as anybody, I undertook to make life as easy on Ian as possible. I made dinners out of turn—we agreed to cook every other night—and I washed up afterwards, although we agreed that the cook doesn’t need to also wash. I walked to the grocery store and kept us stocked on the necessities. I scrubbed the toilet, the shower, and the sink. I vacuumed and maintained a moderate level of tidiness. I listened to his frustrations, refrained from asking too many pressing questions, and generally tried to be that quintessential 1950’s housewife (barring the gingham dress). That’s not to say I liked it, or that I succeeded at all well. Often enough I’d have a hard day with classes or with my own project, and Ian would receive the brunt of that frustration. Although I had maintained the apartment and our relationship, our closeness—our passion, even—had been fading in an agonizing way. We had become extremely amiable roommates who slept in the same bed.
This mere amiability passed away with my trip to London. We had some long, serious discussions on the phone and when I returned home, we found our passion rekindled. This sparked the joke that all we needed to maintain a healthy marriage was to spend one year out of every four apart!
I entered my senior year in college in August, and Ian began his year of graduate school. The year has, in some ways, been a mirror-image of last year. Now I have my endless hours on campus in meetings, attending to job commitments, listening to lectures, or studying diligently. Although I completed my senior capstone project in October, I work three jobs as well as taking a full load of classes. Ian has taken up the slack: now he vacuums, cooks, buys groceries, and scrubs the bathtub. Without his quiet, steady, active support, I could not succeed the way I have.
It is this support that I have come to see as the key feature of our marriage. We make up for each other’s deficiencies, but we also compliment each other’s strengths. We laugh together and sit quietly together. We have shared some of the most formative moments in life together, and that will remain a strengthening bond throughout our lives.
Don’t misunderstand me. Married life as a college student is hard, probably harder than single life. Nobody expects you to be married, and often as an undergraduate Ian felt embarrassed to tell acquaintainces he had a wife. It illicits strange looks and endless questions. People ostracize you, thinking you want to spend every waking moment with your spouse (trust me, this is not the case. Much as we love one another, everybody needs breaks, even from the best partner). My Clark friends stopped speaking to me when I moved into an apartment with Ian, leaving me essentially devoid of friends for a year. When I transferred to WPI, my new friends felt awkward around my husband. They didn’t want to come over because it felt strange to meet Ian.
Sometimes married life as a college student has been lonelier and more difficult than I ever expected. While you have the one best friend constantly available, other friends become a precious, prized commodity. Having a women’s slumber party becomes a logistical nightmare of trying to find a place for my husband all night. Looking for a job becomes an exercise in painful compromise when one person want to return to Seattle and the other finds a high-paying job in Massachusetts. Yet I cannot easily share that pain with confidants because they feel uncomfortable hearing about stresses in our marriage…and I feel uncomfortable talking about them. It’s not easy having to tell people that I have to check in with my spouse before taking off spontaneously.
Life is certainly no chair of bowlies as a married college student. Yet, in the end, I believe it has some significant benefits: consistent emotional and moral support of a quality even parents could not provide; opportunity for personal growth and maturity that could otherwise remain underdeveloped; ready availability of a partner in times of need and hilarity. It isn’t for everybody, but can be both doable and enjoyable.