When I first heard my mother say she was told to go to college to get her MRS, I didn’t ask. I was eight, and an MRS sounded like a perfectly legitimate educational degree. Only years later did I make the connection between MRS and Mrs. — between marriage and worth. Many of us still associate early marriage with the belief that a woman should put marriage before college or career. This lasting legacy, along with the political battles fought over marriage today, makes it a fraught and distant concept to college students. That is a problem. We should take marriage at least as seriously as we take our career considerations.
Before I proceed, let me clarify that by discussing marriage I do not mean to enter debates over who in this country can or cannot get married. I mean to critique the reality that, despite being young adults, the idea that we would consider such a serious relationship commitment at this time in our lives is seen as backwards, dangerous and absurd. Maybe you think I cannot use the word marriage without dragging in its political associations. Okay. That certainly has merit. I still think it is the most convenient word to use in this context.
But back to why we should totally talk and think about marriage in college.
If we don’t think proactively about what is important to us, we might drift into relationships we never really wanted. Guys, we’re adults. Or at least we want people to treat us like adults. And despite living in dorms and eating in dining halls, we are making some very important decisions about our futures, our education and our career interests. So why are we so terrified of thinking about marriage?
Who you decide to spend your life with, or whether you even want that type of relationship in your life, is the most important decision you will ever make. The people we choose to spend time with are the people who form us. Consider the significance of your friend group in dictating your values, life choices, even your personality.
But bring the consideration of marriage into a college conversation about dating and hooking up and the response will be confusion, laughter or outright disdain. Our dismissal of those who think about marriage suggests that we want this monumentally significant issue to take care of itself, one way or another, and hopefully when we are more grown-up. But this future self-reflection may never happen.
An April 2012 New York Times article (“The Downside of Cohabitating Before Marriage”) discusses some reasons why the divorce rate is higher among couples who live together before marrying. One theory is that couples who move in together without a clear commitment, like an engagement, sort of evolve into marriage without ever deciding, actively, that this is the person they want to spend their life with. A couple may move in together without articulating what this step means for their future, and then after seven years of living together, a wedding sort of happens.
This is not a shocking possibility. Marriage is not like college. There is no marriage application deadline, no marriage tours or giant single festivals where future spouses court us with pizza and organized lectures featuring famous people. As a result, it is possible to push off facing this very important decision. My friends are, I think, typical in their indifference: Fate, love, whatever — it all works out. This is a dangerous attitude. We accept that talking about career options and leading meaningful lives is an important conversation. How we want marriage to factor into our lives is equally important.
Our years in college are when we do a really important chunk of thinking and forming. College seniors are vastly different from high school seniors (as if the prefrosh last week weren’t enough of a reminder). Over these four years we assess our values, try out our passions, consider our futures. Ideas abound. Marriage is not an issue to make absent from these formative years of personal thought and growth. The future is scary, but not knowing what values you want to guide you is even scarier. Who, were, what, if, when and how we get married should be a serious question.
Shira Telushkin is a junior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .