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Reunions & unions: Love in the Orange Bubble

A large stone chapel looms against a sky lit up with blues, pinks, yellows, and purples.
University Chapel at sunset.
Timothy Park / The Daily Princetonian

There is a legend that 50 percent of Princetonians — or 75 percent, depending on who you ask — end up marrying other Princetonians. This myth has been told on Orange Key Tours, written about in the New York Times, and passed through many students, though no one can pinpoint exactly where it came from. 

Around 50 Princetonian marriages take place at the Princeton University Chapel each year. To exit those heavy oak doors as a wedded couple is a privilege granted only to Princetonians or someone marrying a Princetonian. The venue is available for students, staff, faculty, alumni, emeritus faculty, and the children of each of those categories, according to Reverend Alison Boden, Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel.  


“That [policy] is only to make sure the chapel is available to Princetonians who want to use it,” Boden said, “or all the world would love to use this space.” 

When couples write to Boden to book the chapel for their weddings, they often include personal anecdotes from their relationship. 

“Sometimes, they’ll just tell me about how much the chapel meant to them as undergrad[s] or grads, if they met here,” Boden said. “All the time they spent here either just giving themselves a break from Firestone in the evening and just sitting there, chilling, praying, or getting themselves centered. Other times they tell me how meaningful the place was because of all the religious services they went to or they sang in the choir.”

Students’ experiences at Princeton can lead to relationships that last beyond the day they walk out of FitzRandolph Gate. The campus holds a special place in the hearts of those who find the love of their life here. But what is it like to find true love in the Orange Bubble, and how common is it? With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, I spoke with four Tiger couples to find out. 

‘There’s always the cute boy in the parking lot’ 

“We just kept bumping into each other throughout college,” said Liz Hoffman ’93 when describing how she and her husband, Mark Hoffman ’93, met all those years ago. 


The pair first crossed paths in a Spanish class during the first semester of their first year. 

Their first date was at the Garden Theater, where they watched the movie Glory, a civil war drama. Despite the movie being “not super romantic,” as described by Liz, the pair walked home together and shared their first kiss beneath Joline Arch. They officially started dating in the spring of that year. 

After a few months of dating, they decided to go separate ways at the end of the year. “We both remember the talk at the [SPIA] fountain which resulted in the friendzone,” said Liz. “It was a mutual understanding.”

 Mark remembers it differently. “She broke up with me,” he said. 

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Looking back on the experience now, they agreed it was the right call. It allowed them to spread their wings and experience different parts of Princeton separately. The two found different friend groups and joined different eating clubs, with Liz in Charter Club and Mark in Campus Club. 

“It was nice because we were able to share a lot of things, but then also have our own experiences,” said Liz. 

Though they went separate ways, they continued to run into each other and remained friends throughout their time at Princeton.

Liz recalled a time senior year when she and her mom were moving her back into her dorm in Little Hall. As they were carrying heavy boxes in the rain, they ran into Mark. “I introduced them, and they just chat[ted] and chat[ted]. No one was helping me move in, and I [was] getting kind of annoyed,” said Liz. 

“I knew what I was doing,” said Mark. “I should’ve been helping her move her heavy boxes in, but I was having a nice conversation with her mom … You always gotta make sure that the mom is happy. ”

After that introduction, any time Liz would complain about her love life to her mom that year, her mom would respond with: “Well, what about that cute boy in the parking lot? There’s always the cute boy in the parking lot.”

“And so now I like to joke that this was an arranged marriage by my mom,” said Liz. 

Near the end of senior year, with a lot more time on their hands, the pair found their way back to each other. “I want to give hope to all the seniors everywhere that there is life after your senior thesis,” said Liz. “You will have a lot more time. We had a lot more time.”

They both agreed it was after they turned in their theses when things started to get serious between them again. Attending the P-Rade together was a moment that really stood out to Mark. 

“As the P-Rade goes by, we’re standing there in front of Clio Hall, and she takes my hand,” said Mark. “I was over the moon. I remember thinking: ‘I’m not gonna let go of her hand.’”

And he didn’t. After a bit of long-distance dating post-graduation, in which Liz’s mother always asked “Why couldn’t you have dated this boy when [he] was in the next dorm,” the pair got married. Many of their Princeton pals attended the wedding.

The two now live in Seattle with their three kids — two of whom now also attend Princeton. Their son, Ryan Hoffman ’25, met his girlfriend, Nina Boudet ’25, the second week of school and they became best friends for their first six months at school before dating.

“Nina was my first close friend when I arrived, and I’m insanely lucky that such a genuine friendship has become so much more,” said Ryan. “I can’t believe I met my future wife only two weeks into Princeton.”

The name in the Hoffman’s family joint email address is “5 tigers.” 

“It is kind of remarkable that Mark and I stayed in touch all those years, but I think it has to do with the size of Princeton,” said Liz. “There are some Princeton elements that are unique to Princeton. I think that kind of lends itself to staying in touch, staying connected.”

‘The kind of phone calls people who fall in love have’ 

Though the couple does not remember exactly how they first met, Pythias Temesgen ’09 and Natalia Temesgen ’08 remember a few interactions that kickstarted a long and valuable friendship during their time at Princeton. While Pythias was working as the Frist building supervisor, Natalia worked at the Frist Welcome Desk, and they crossed paths frequently during this period. 

“I remember meeting Natalia my [first] year at Frist, and making small talk, thinking she was really cool,” said Pythias. 

They recalled the day Natalia got fired from working at the Frist Welcome Desk. 

“She got the email [that fired her] when she was asleep, and she rushed to Frist before reading it. It was super awkward,” Pythias said, adding, “and then I lost the [building] keys for like three hours and didn’t tell anyone.” They both laughed, reflecting on the mess of that day. But that was how they remember it starting: at the Frist Welcome Desk, interacting as employees, before becoming friends. 

When Pythias was named president of the Black Student Union, Natalia was head of the Black Arts Company and a part of Expressions Dance Company. The pair would frequently trade emails about happenings within both of those groups. 

Later, when Natalia’s then-boyfriend was unable to go to Cap and Gown formals with her, it was Pythias who tagged along. 

“We have the photo from that night in front of the Cap stairs,” said Natalia. “We looked like babies, beautiful babies though.” 

It was the summer after Natalia’s junior year when things started to change. “We went from being sort of in the same friend group networks to being really good friends,” said Pythias. 

“I remember the summer before my senior year, we would talk on the phone a lot,” said Natalia. “This would be the kind of phone calls that people who fall in love have. You know, two hour phone calls, but we both just enjoyed each other’s minds so much and made each other laugh.”

When asked when Pythias started to like her, he answered, “from the very beginning. I don’t think there was ever a time when I was not thinking [she] was incredible.” Despite bringing the idea of a relationship up a few times with Natalia, her response was often the same: “Don’t be ridiculous.”

It was after they both had graduated that that response changed. On Pythias’s birthday, he visited her in New York. When asked what he wanted for his birthday, his answer was “to go out with [Natalia].” Her first instinct was to shut it down, to use their friendship as an excuse, but something made her consider it this time. 

“I remember it took maybe a couple days to think about it,” Natalia explained. “I talked to some friends about it, and I prayed about it. I took it very seriously.” The primary concern was ruining their years-long friendship. After much thinking, she came to a conclusion. 

“I think I trust our friendship enough that this can’t break our friendship,” Natalia noted. “I think that even if this is a mistake, we can still be friends. So let’s just try it.” 

“Even though our road has been a little bumpy, there’s always been a through line of ‘well, how do I improve, and how can we help each other do that?’” said Natalia. She noted that maybe this was a reason a lot of Princetonians marry other Princetonians — a certain reflective quality that always pushes them to be more. 

“It’s not nerdiness, per say, but just a sort of aspirational quality of thirst for [knowledge],” she said. 

In 2012, they got married, and in 2013, they welcomed their first child. 

‘He looked so classy, like a vintage postcard’

The Princeton University Chapel is a meaningful location for Shelby Brainard ’22 and Katherine Brainard ’19. It’s the spot where Shelby would play the organ while Katherine studied, the spot where they would worship, the spot where Shelby proposed, and eventually the spot where they were married.

The pair met for the first time during a first-year-only study break that Katherine, a senior at the time, was crashing for the free acai bowls. Shelby had just returned from a Bridge Year in Indonesia, and he immediately caught Katherine’s eye. 

“I saw this guy standing there with a vintage Princeton sweater through the doorway of the Mathey Common Room, and I made a comment to my friend. He looked so classy, like a vintage Princeton postcard,” said Katherine. 

As luck would have it, Katherine’s friend knew Shelby and introduced the pair. What’s more, the pair also shared a Christian ethics class, were both part of the Christian Union (formerly known as Princeton Faith and Action), and both lived in Mathey. 

“We just started bumping into each other a bunch and got along really well,” said Katherine. 

For their first date, they went to Teresa’s Pizza for dinner, the Bent Spoon for dessert, then to Princeton’s swing dance club to end the night. 

After a few months of dating, Shelby created a scavenger hunt around campus for Katherine. It was based on all the places around campus that were meaningful to them. The game included places like Murray-Dodge Café, where they spent hours hanging out and playing chess, and Tower Club, where Katherine was a member. The date ended at Joseph Henry House, where Shelby had set up a candle-lit Italian dinner. 

Shelby returned to this theme for his proposal. The proposal started at Nassau Hall and toured around the campus, stopping at all the places that were significant to the couple. At each location, a close friend or family member would greet Katherine, “reading from a scroll [her] life story in fairytale language.” 

At each stop, she also got a word. By the time they reached the last location, the chapel, the words added up to one sentence: “Katherine, will you marry me?”

Shelby had originally planned to propose in Prospect Garden, but rain spelled a change of plans. He shifted his plan, complete with a trio of musicians, to the chapel. The pair got married in the exact spot where Shelby proposed. 

“I think you go through the fire while you’re at Princeton, in that it’s a place where you’re really refined. You are pushed to your limits, and what’s beautiful about your Princeton relationships and friendships is that you’ve done it together.” said Katherine. “I think it gives you a better understanding of your spouse. You are able to understand them on a deep, deep level only a Princetonian can truly appreciate.” 

‘What if we got married right now?’

Haley Choueiri ’25 was sure she wasn’t going to become a part of the 50–75 percent statistic her RCA told her in her first year. But two years later, I sat across the table from her and her wife, Reema Choueiri ’25, as they recounted their love story to me. The two met through a mutual friend who connected them via Instagram. After a few weeks of exchanging DMs, they switched to texting, which turned into a first date at Junbi. 

Their first date was seven hours long. After leaving Junbi, they didn’t want to say goodbye. So, they walked three miles along the towpath into another town, just chatting away. They had dinner before walking the towpath back to campus.

They started dating a few weeks later when Reema elaborately asked Haley to be her girlfriend through a Spotify playlist that spelled out, through songs, the question: Haley, will you be my girlfriend? 

“We walked across the middle of [Poe Field] at night, and it was so romantic, and the stars were out,” said Haley, speaking about that experience. 

Nearly two years later, the pair is married and lives in married housing on campus as they finish out their junior year. 

“It first started out as a joke,” said Haley, “We like to travel a lot, and we’d see the county magistrate office, and I [would be] like ‘What if we got married right now?’ And then eventually, it wasn’t a joke anymore.”

Reema proposed a year after they started dating, on a hike that overlooked New York City. 

“When you know, you know,” she said, smiling. 

The uniqueness of their marriage is not lost on them. Whenever she mentions her wife in class or somewhere else, she gets a variety of responses, often shock. 

“But it’s been really heartwarming to see the reaction and reception from other people. [They] really root for us,” added Haley. 

Haley also shares details about married life while in college on her Instagram profile. She’s posted wedding photos, answered questions about married housing, and more. 

“I think a lot about our presence on social media,” she said. “Sometimes that’s a source of stress and targeting for queer people, but then it also can be a source of strength for the community and representation a lot of people need and love.”

They got married in Haley’s hometown of Fayetteville, NC over the summer. They had time to honeymoon and relax in Reema’s hometown of Charlotte, NC, before returning to school for their junior year. 

“I love telling my friends I have a wife,” said Haley. 

The 50–75 percent: How common are Princetonian marriages?

Dean Boden, who oversees all applications for chapel weddings, said she only sees a handful of intra-Princeton marriages. 

“[Applicants] definitely tell me in their letter that they met while at Princeton, but that’s a minority of people,” said Dean Boden. “I would say a majority of people are [cases where only] one has a Princeton affiliation.”

I asked the couples what they made of this myth. Some had heard it for the first time when I told them, while others were familiar with it. However, few of the couples agreed that the statistic was actually that high. 

Pythias and Natalia said they would lower the statistic to around 20–30 percent, Mark and Liz placed the figure around 20 percent, and Shelby and Katherine predicted it was in the 7–10 percent range. Haley and Reema were more optimistic, suggesting the statistic might be around 50 percent. 

While the Choueiris admit they may be biased in thinking the statistic is 50 percent, they do have a hypothesis to back it up. They proposed that in coming back to Reunions, many alums reconnect and boost the figure.  

The Hoffmans observed this when returning for their 30th Reunion. 

“There seemed to be a lot more people who had married other Princetonians than at the time [as undergrads],” said Mark. 

So, maybe this supposed group of 50–75 percent of Princetonians aren’t finding each other on campus, but after, in life post-graduation. Whether true or not, this myth acknowledges something special about Princeton. The small, tight knit undergraduate body can give way to some long-lasting relationships. Pythias expressed that these special relationships make the Princeton experience all the more worthwhile. 

“Folks are attracted to Princeton I think for the same reason why a bunch of Princetonians marry,” Pythias said. “It’s because it’s so undergraduate-focused, and it’s so intensely about this small, tight knit group.”

Katie Thiers is a staff Features writer for the ‘Prince.’

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