The stretch of Elm Street in front of the Yale Station post office, with Lanman-Wright Hall looming above and traffic zooming by, is not the most romantic part of campus. Except for Rebecca Nadal ’09 and Sean Riordan ’09.
In the fall of 2005, Nadal introduced herself to Riordan just outside that post office. In December of 2008, with mailboxes as his witness, he proposed to her on that same spot. Down on one knee with a ring in his hand, romantic in spite of his surroundings, Riordan said this: “I thought the place where you first entered my life would be the perfect place to start the rest of our lives together.”
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Much is made these days of the idea that college students supposedly don’t date. For a small but proud few, though, Yale is not only a place to date, but also a place to tie the knot.
Nadal and Riordan, both rowers who say their Catholic faith is a quiet but important part of their lives, have been dating since the spring of their freshman year. They will get married in November — Nadal, an anthropology major in Trumbull College, at age 22 and Riordan, an economics major in Morse College, at 23 — and they don’t think that’s too soon.
“I think some people feel like they need to develop their independence, live on their own, make their path,” Nadal said in an interview last week. “But I feel like, if you know yourself, if you know what you want and what’s going to make you happy and what the best path for your life is, you should take it.”
It’s difficult to know how many Yale graduates take the path of early marriage, because the University does not keep such statistics. Nationally, according to a recent study by researches at the University of Texas at Austin, around 25 percent of women and 16 percent of men marry before they turn 23. This number has been falling in recent years, as couples increasingly choose to postpone marriage.
Dr. Pepper Schwartz GRD ’74, a sociologist who studies marriage, said it can be more difficult — but not impossible — for people in their early 20s to have fulfilling marriages.
“The younger you are, it’s not that you don’t have the equipment to be happily married, bur rather that you don’t know yourself as well as you will,” Schwartz said. “If I were going to advise such a couple, I’d say, ‘Why not get engaged and give yourself a year or two?’ ”
Eli Segal ’01 and his classmate-turned-wife Shana Segal ’01 followed that advice exactly. They met and began dating during their first year at Yale, but they didn’t get married until five years after graduation.
“It made sense for us,” Eli Segal said by phone from Philadelphia, where the couple now lives together. “I think we both let each other figure out what it was we wanted to do with our lives, and then tried to figure out how to best make that work together.”
But Nadal and Riordan and other Yale couples planning to get married early don’t necessarily need to worry that they will regret their decision later. After all, University President Richard Levin met his wife, Jane, in a freshman English class at Stanford in 1964. They became engaged during their junior year and married a week after graduation.
“It was much more common in our generation than it is in today’s students,” President Levin recalled in an interview Wednesday night. “I had three roommates my senior year, and all of us got married within a year of graduation. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find four suitemates at Yale who have the same experience today.”
Finding such a suite today is actually impossible, but Charles Drucker ’08 and Mary Ellen Leuver ’06 had a courtship not all that different from the Levins’. The two met during Leuver’s senior year at Yale, which was Drucker’s sophomore year. They were in section together for the “History of Psychiatry and Psychology.”
It was not a talkative section, but the two — like President and Mrs. Levin — hit it off in the classroom. They married on March 14 of this year.
“Charley and I got to know each other this way,” Leuver recalled in a video posted to the Web site of The New York Times alongside their wedding announcement. “Every single week in class, he and I had a two-person discussion on the history of medicine and psychology.”
Nadal and Riordan have also had many two-person discussions, since they said they “spend almost all of their time together,” whether at crew meets or at Mass at Saint Thomas More. (They do not, however, live together yet.)
Even when they are apart, they’re thinking of each other. Riordan paid for Nadal’s engagement ring in part with money he made while at the poker table of the Queen Mary 2 ocean liner over vacation.
Their friends, even those for whom marriage remains a distant consideration, love seeing them together. Christine Glandorf ’09, a fellow rower, called them a “happy, loving couple,” adding that they’re “not too cutesy together,” either.
Glandorf recalled the surprise party that Riordan organized for the night he proposed to Nadal as one of the highlights of her time at Yale. She — as well as the rest of what she called “Team Rebecca” — is looking forward to the couple’s November wedding.
So are their parents. While they cautioned their children not to rush into anything, they were also, as Rebecca’s father, James, put it, “expecting it.” Sean and Rebecca had been dropping hints, after all, and they had been virtually inseparable since freshman year.
After graduation, the couple will move to the Washington, D.C., area. They’re not sure of their jobs for next year yet, but they are sure of their plans for the weekend after Thanksgiving.
On Nov. 28, at the Long Beach Museum of Art, Nadal and Riordan will finish what they started at Yale Station. The couple had hoped to marry in New Haven at the end of the semester but wanted to delay the ceremony so that Nadal’s sister, who is in the military, could attend.
The happy families, Riordan’s mother, Mary Beth, said, will sip cocktails as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean.