Thesis due dates seem to be set-in-stone, immovable, life-or-death situations. But Michele Tyler ’12, an anthropology concentrator, wasn’t able to turn in her thesis at Burr Hall on its due date. That’s because on that day she was across the country, in her home state of California, trying to get her husband a green card.
Michele got a two-week extension and was happily living the post-thesis life when I met up with her and her husband Lawrence, whom she met through a mutual friend during her semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, the spring of her junior year. After discovering that they had similar music tastes at a metal rock club, they began dating, and when her time in South Africa was up, they started planning seriously for the future. Lawrence moved to the United States and got his visa: They got engaged. Over fall break, they were married at a courthouse, with a more elaborate and traditional wedding planned for this summer.
Michele and Lawrence seem to be an exception, an anomaly. Princeton kids don’t get married while they’re still in college, right? Not necessarily: There is a small but significant minority of students who are already married or engaged. This group, mostly seniors, has the unique challenge of maintaining their relationships on top of classes, independent work, extracurriculars and job-hunting. And these couples have to put in effort beyond the amount required for your average long-distance relationship. Whether it’s leaving town for a wedding dress fitting or an immigration interview, these students have made a commitment to their future that, for many of the rest of us, seems unfathomable.
For some, being engaged this early seems perfectly normal and fits in with their culture and faith. Phil Miller ’12 said he was “always interested in getting married soon.” So it wasn’t much of a surprise to friends and family when he and his fiancee, Jamie, announced their engagement over winter break. Phil was intrigued by Jamie when he heard she was leading Bible study groups — he said he “was searching for a woman who was Christian and really wanted to serve in that way.”
Other couples met through common religious grounds as well: Jennifer Lopata ’12 met her fiance, Ethan Ludmir ’11, through the Center for Jewish Life. “In the communities we come from, getting engaged at around this age is not uncommon,” she said. Genay Kirpatrick ’12 grew up in the same church as her future husband; they “dated on and off throughout high school and reconnected last summer.”
The reaction that many of these couples get from friends, family and acquaintances, however, is often surprise and disbelief. Sara Nason ’12 was recently engaged to the boy she began dating in middle school, where they had lockers next to each other. They’ve spent four years dating long-distance. In her view, the reason people are often surprised to hear they’re engaged is that “a lot of people have [tried long-distance dating], and it hasn’t worked out for them. So people are impressed that we’ve managed to succeed.” According to Kirpatrick, “I think just given the nature of Princeton, most of the questions I got were along the lines of ‘Are you still going to get to do what you want to do?’ and ‘What about your career?’ ”
Many of these couples are making major sacrifices, such as moving halfway across the world to be with their partner. On the other hand, some of these relationships mean staying close by. Victoria Solomon ’13 is engaged to a Princeton graduate she met when she was a prefrosh. He’s two years older than she is, and during his job hunt being able to stay in the area was an important consideration for him. He currently works for Princeton Satellite Systems and has an apartment about 10 minutes from campus. As Nason says, “Having two people [in a relationship] makes everything more complicated.” Coordinating grad school and job prospects means that these couples are often faced with fewer options that work for both people, which can become a source of stress. Yet for these couples, the prospect of finally beginning life together is an exciting and compelling one.
Despite the differences in the ways they met and the backgrounds they come from, all of the couples said their major challenge is balancing a strong and often long-distance relationship with the busy life of a Princeton undergrad. Solomon argued that all serious relationships impact social life and that becoming engaged really just “legitimizes” spending copious amounts of time together. She laughed and said, “It’s almost like an extracurricular activity.” Miller noted that visiting his fiancee in Virginia every couple weeks definitely takes time away from opportunities on campus, but added that when his fiancee visits Princeton, he often ends up doing things he normally wouldn’t by himself, like going to see the show “Pippin” a couple weekends ago.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the argument: “I can’t date at Princeton because I don’t have time.” Princeton is known for the hookup culture that also pervades many other college campuses, a product of the sexual revolution, access to birth control, the sheer availability of the opposite sex, the freedom we never had in high school and alcohol — much has been written about the reasons behind this phenomenon. But students at Princeton, and others at schools like ours, often add another reason to the top of that list: lack of time. A quick, no-strings-attached hookup gets the job done with as little effort as possible. If that’s your style, cool. But couples like these offer a different perspective on making relationships fit into your schedule — it just takes a little bit of time management and a lot of love. As Nason says, “We’re both pretty stubborn — we weren’t going to give up on it that easily.”