Weinberg fourth-year Sophia* planned her wedding from Jones Residential College during her first year at Northwestern. She crafted the decorations by hand and altered her dress in her dorm room. She even made her veil in the lounge on her floor, carefully pinning together tissue paper, lace and tulle.
Sophia met her husband, Alex, in high school. They biked 12 miles each way to see each other outside of school. As they headed into adulthood and college, marriage felt like the logical next step in their relationship. When she got to college, though, she found that other students weren’t on the same page.
“It was honestly kind of hard to make friends at first,” she says. “It seemed like the kind of life event that ended up separating me from the place a lot of my peers were at in their lives.”
Popular culture often depicts college relationships as temporary flings or hook-ups— stepping stones for the more “real” experiences to come. Despite this, some Northwestern undergraduates are challenging the narrative: walking down the aisle before they walk across the graduation stage.
“I would get very mixed reactions when I told other students that I was married,” Sophia says. “Sometimes students would react with huge surprise, especially when I was still 18, and then other times they were almost a little condescending.”
Medill fourth-year Ramenda Cyrus** met her husband, Raphael Frontan, 24, on Tinder fall quarter of her first year. She took trips on the train to visit him on the north side of Chicago. When Frontan decided to join the Navy after just under a year of dating, he asked her to marry him.
“At first, I was really freaked out by it — the whole idea of it,” she says. “But I eventually came to the conclusion that it would be a really good thing for us.”
They married in 2017, when Cyrus was 19. Since then, their relationship has been long-distance, with Frontan stationed in California.
Cyrus says she can feel obligated to explain herself; people often think she’s crazy when they find out she’s married. When she brought him to a party with other Northwestern students, the two received underwhelming responses when her classmates learned he was in the Navy.
“I felt odd about it because it was like, would it be better if he went here to you? Would you be more enthusiastic?” Cyrus says. “I feel like after that, they stopped trying to get to know him.”
To Cyrus, social class has also influenced that perception. She says she comes from a very poor background, and that her husband struggled financially when they were dating. For them, finances were a driving factor in deciding to marry.
Generally, Americans are getting married later: according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of first marriage has increased steadily over the last century, hovering around the late twenties and early thirties today. Dr. Alexandra Solomon, a Northwestern professor known best for teaching “Building Loving and Lasting Relationships: Marriage 101,” offers a few reasons for that.
“Marriage has gone from being a cornerstone to a capstone,” she says. “Marriage was the first thing you did when you step into adulthood. Now there's a shift towards getting all of your ducks in a row, and then sort of settling down.”
According to Solomon, Northwestern’s culture specifically may discourage students from getting married. Students are generally expected to try to experience as many things as possible — clubs, internships, travel and more — instead of settling down. Students may also have been raised in families where education was emphasized over relationships. These norms may not be conducive to dating, let alone marriage.
Weinberg fourth-year John Girmscheid agrees. While he’s been with his fiancée, Lura Quandt, since their senior year of high school, he doesn’t know many Northwestern students who are in long-term relationships, let alone married. They’ve known each other since middle school and dated at a distance all through college: him in Evanston, her at nearby Wheaton College.
“We saw each other most weekends,” he says. “We tried to make regular times that we would call each other just so we felt like we were a part of each other's lives and we had more than a texting relationship when we weren't together.”
Girmscheid proposed to Quandt this past New Year’s Eve in Chicago. He says both of their families were excited and supportive — after all, his parents married when they were young, too. They planned on getting married in July, but COVID-19 forced them to push their wedding back to August with a smaller guest list. He says his Northwestern friends were happy for him, too, even if his choice was different than the typical.
“A lot of Northwestern students really focus on dating more after college,” he says. “It did feel a little bit weird, being in that situation. It’s also exciting because since I was one of the few people in that situation; people were excited for us.”
Like Cyrus, Sophia’s husband joined the service — the Air Force, specifically — after about a year of marriage. Their relationship has been long-distance ever since. After graduation, she is planning on commissioning as an Air Force officer and hopes to be stationed with Alex sometime in the next year.
She acknowledges that marrying young isn’t for everyone, but she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“For us, we just knew, and we had so much that we wanted to give each other,” she says. “And we really blossomed with the opportunity to grow together and help each other through young adulthood.”