Harvard Marriages – Finding Love & Commitment Early

Jane Seo of The Harvard Crimson published a beautiful piece this week on the marriages of three undergraduates.

All three couples are religious (Jewish, Mormon, Protestant) and their profiles shed light on a life few fellow undergrads can imagine. In fact, according to the 2004 census, only  7 percent of American college students are married. At Harvard, only 27 undergrads are married, as the Registrar reports to Seo. Despite their decision to opt-out of the main stream, the students all have very beautiful things to say about their decision to marry young. Loren McGinnis ’11, one of the featured students, says that he and his wife “believe that…marriage is an eternal commitment.”

McGinnis also goes on to contextualize his marriage, adding that Mormons are more likely to marry young, hypothesizing that the “early marriage age could be attributed to the high value that Mormons place on family and marriage.” The article goes on to say,

“I can go to Harvard and get as many prefixes as I want,” McGinnis says, “but the most important title I’d have in my life is fatherhood.”

McGinnis also says that marriage is a practical response to Mormonism’s rules against premarital sex—the result is that Mormons tend to have a shorter “courtship process,” he says.

Nadler, an Orthodox Jew, says that some who share his religious beliefs also tend to marry young. According to the US Census Bureau, the median age of a first marriage in the United States was 28.2 for men and 26.1 for women in 2010. Nadler says that based on his experience, he thinks many Orthodox Jews marry earlier in their 20s.

Many of Nadler’s friends were already married when he married, Nadler says. As a result, Nadler, who hopes to attend law school or graduate school in philosophy, says he was “very familiar and comfortable with having this traditional responsibility.”

While all three have learned how to navigate married undergraduate life, Harvard certainly doesn’t make things easy, as Harvard’s housing policy forces married students to live off-campus. The university does not offer married student housing, unlike many other schools.

Seo concludes her well-written piece with asking the students about the social challenges of marriage in college:

They also says people at Harvard have welcomed their decision to marry young. Although some people were surprised, Nadler says, “most of our friends were accepting and excited for us.”

“At Harvard, people find it cool that I’m married,” Westphal says. “But in high school some people were judgmental.” But he would respond, “It’s my life, it’s none of your business.”

The primary challenge McGinnis says he has faced while married has been the stress associated with raising a child. This month, McGinnis’ daughter will turn 2. In raising her, McGinnis says he and his wife sacrificed friendships and countless nights of sleep.

But both parents agreed that having a daughter changed their lives for the better.

“Just watching her run around brings joy to my heart,” McGinnis says.

Associate Prof Mark Regnerus at University of Texas-Austin would commend the three undergrads for figuring out young marriage. In his widely read 2009 article in the Washington Post, “Say Yes. What Are You Waiting For?”, Regnerus speaks to many of the themes that define the Harvard dating scene,

In my research on young adults’ romantic relationships, many women report feeling peer pressure to avoid giving serious thought to marriage until they’re at least in their late 20s. If you’re seeking a mate in college, you’re considered a pariah, someone after her “MRS degree.” Actively considering marriage when you’re 20 or 21 seems so sappy, so unsexy, so anachronistic. Those who do fear to admit it — it’s that scandalous.

How did we get here? The fault lies less with indecisive young people than it does with us, their parents. Our own ideas about marriage changed as we climbed toward career success. Many of us got our MBAs, JDs, MDs and PhDs. Now we advise our children to complete their education before even contemplating marriage, to launch their careers and become financially independent. We caution that depending on another person is weak and fragile. We don’t want them to rush into a relationship. We won’t help you with college tuition anymore, we threaten. Don’t repeat our mistakes, we warn.

Sara, a 19-year-old college student from Dallas, equated thinking about marrying her boyfriend with staging a rebellion. Her parents “want my full attention on grades and school because they want me to get a good job,” she told me. Understandable. But our children now sense that marrying young may be not simply foolish but also wrong and socially harmful. And yet today, as ever, marriage wisely entered into remains good for the economy and the community, good for one’s personal well-being, good for wealth creation and, yes, good for the environment, too. We are sending mixed messages.

This is not just an economic problem. It’s also a biological and emotional one. I realize that it’s not cool to say that, but my job is to map trends, not to affirm them. Marriage will be there for men when they’re ready. And most do get there. Eventually. But according to social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs, women’s “market value” declines steadily as they age, while men’s tends to rise in step with their growing resources (that is, money and maturation). Countless studies — and endless anecdotes — reinforce their conclusion. Meanwhile, women’s fertility is more or less fixed, yet they largely suppress it during their 20s — their most fertile years — only to have to beg, pray, borrow and pay to reclaim it in their 30s and 40s. Although male fertility lives on, it doesn’t hold out forever, either: Studies emerging from Europe and Australia note that a couple’s chances of conceiving fall off notably when men pass the age of 40, and that several developmental disorders are slightly more common in children of older fathers.

We can’t continue to view marriage as a transition of loss. While an undergraduate marriage isn’t for everyone, these three students illustrate that marriage, in the long run, is a transition of gain. Ultimately, there will never be a moment in our lives when marriage fits perfectly; marriage can’t fit to us, we must fit to marriage.

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