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‘Tying the knot’ won’t tie you down

Each time I entered Sociology of the Family class this semester, I learned about college-aged adults’ perception of marriage.

I learned more from my peers, however, than I ever could have learned from a textbook.

Eavesdropping on conversations in a large lecture hall can provide interesting insights into the inner workings of a college student’s mind.

Through this practice, I learned in just a few months that I have entered a minority status at this University – I’m a full-time college student, and I’m engaged to be married.

The comments I overheard regarding this topic in a semester’s worth of classes are both entertaining and disheartening.

“We met our new roommate today,” I heard one girl say on the first day of class. “At first we were worried because we saw on Facebook that she was engaged, but it turns out she’s actually pretty cool.”

I shrugged it off, assuming she was an outlier opinion; but I now realize many others in the class shared similar views.

“Everyone in this class is either engaged or married,” a guy commented a few days later. “What the heck? We’re in college!”

The list of comments goes on.

Pinpointing the motivation for these students’ frustration was an intriguing challenge, but after compiling what I learned in class, I think I may have figured it out.

According to my instructor, a significant majority of high school seniors want to get married someday – about 70 percent of males and 80 percent of females, based on one survey.

When someone takes a step toward that desired status at a young age, however, they are considered an anomaly, based on cultural shifts that have increased age at first marriage for the past 50 years.

In 1960, the average age at first marriage was 20 for women and 23 for men, according to the United States Census. Currently the average age at first marriage is 26 for women and 28 for men.

Marriage has become a “capstone experience,” decreasing in practical value and increasing as a status symbol. It’s a flashy, pricey subject, as depicted through a slew of marriage-themed reality TV shows and engagement rings that grow in size each year.

Contrary to the stereotypes, however, most marriages probably don’t emulate the scenes from “Say Yes to the Dress” or “Bridezillas.”

I think seeing these deviations – for instance, a young, engaged student – confuses people.

The beautiful thing about engagement, however, is it can mean multiple things for multiple couples.

My fiancé and I plan to wait until I graduate college in a year to begin our marriage plans, but many couples are engaged for only a few months before their wedding and others are engaged for several years prior. Wedding plans can be big or small. Engagement rings don’t necessarily have to include diamonds.

Americans no longer live in an era dominated by formal, rigid romantic courtship – options are available, and definitions are flexible.

Yet, for some reason, many people tend to put relationships and lifestyles in “one size fits all” restrictions, judge those who think outside the perimeters, and assume they are destined to fail.

Sure, college-aged couples face many challenges – most significantly balancing time, work and a social life against their relationship – but I doubt any of us bought an engagement ring or said “yes” thinking the end result would be a bad thing.

My fiancé and I have been together for four years as of Dec. 27, and I still love him as much as I did during our early months of dating. Our relationship is by no means perfect, but I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

I’m happy. I’m in love. I’m in a stable, years-old relationship characterized by respect, encouragement and trust.

Why wouldn’t I say “yes” when I opened a fortune cookie on my birthday and it read “Will you marry me?” inside?

Several people have told me waiting longer to get engaged and married might make my life easier in the long run. They say I’m “too young” or don’t understand the challenges I’ll face by “limiting” myself in college.

Frankly, the only challenge I’m tired of facing is defending myself once people spot the diamonds on my finger.

Other engaged or married college students can consider this column a shout out. If you’ve ever been discouraged by a comment you’ve heard, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone, and you’re not doing anything wrong.

After all, life does continue once we finish our four (or five) years at this University.

My engagement ring symbolizes that, for once, I’ve actually planned something a little ahead of schedule, and I couldn’t be happier.

Respond to Alissa at

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