Taking classes and getting engaged

Most people don’t expect to meet the person they will spend the rest of their lives with at Colonial Inauguration. But senior Jody Elliott and her fianc?, senior Jeff Schrimmer, are not typical college students.

The couple, together now for three years, met at freshman orientation and lived on the same Hall on Virginia Avenue floor as freshmen. The beginning of their relationship was typical among most college students; they met through Elliott’s roommate, who often studied for economics with Schrimmer.

“I really didn’t like him at first,” Elliott said.

But one day, he asked her out to dinner and they ended up dating. Months later, they were seriously discussing marriage. They were engaged in August and are planning a July 2005 wedding.

Elliott and Schrimmer’s engagement is an uncommon phenomenon on college campuses, with both men and women waiting longer to get married than they did in previous generations, said Barbara Whitehead, a marriage and family expert at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Today, on average, a woman will marry at 25, while a man will marry at 27, according to a 2000 report by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers. In 1970, a woman married at 21; a man exchanged vows at 23.

“People are putting marriage at the end of the sequence of early ‘adult life things’ to accomplish,” Whitehead said.

Waiting longer to marry is an even more pronounced trend among college-educated Americans, with women marrying around age 28 and men around age 30. Since women are far more likely to attend college than they were a few decades ago, their careers often force them to put off walking down the aisle.

Elliott and Schrimmer are planning to do what Whitehead said couples did more commonly in the 1960s: “grow up together,” make sacrifices for each others’ careers, and be ready to change locations for a spouse.

Schrimmer agreed that he has given up certain things for his relationship. He said he usually passes up day trips or vacations with members of his fraternity, Sigma Nu.

“To me, Jody is more important than any social obligation I might have,” he said. “You have to realize that when you’re in a committed relationship, you have to be there for each other.”

Young people choose to get married today in part because of the so-called “divorce revolution,” which, said Whitehead, affected the generation that married right after World War II. Many people were compelled to marry at young ages after the war, but also divorced at higher rates. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 60 percent of marriages dissolve in divorce.

“We know that this generation of young people is always concerned about risks of divorce, because it’s prevalent,” Whitehead said.

Despite these trends, Elliott said that she would rather marry someone she loves now than worry about statistics. She and Schrimmer are very compatible because both their families are “really strong in values and traditions,” she said.

Other students who are engaged said they are willing to lead a different lifestyle. Senior Kahana Smisek, who is getting married next September, said some people think it is unusual that she is engaged.

“For some people, I know it’s somewhat shocking, considering a lot of my peers are thinking more about what bar they’re going to go out to on Thursday night than actually growing up and being an adult,” she said.

But most students said they do not feel they are ready to settle down and get married.

“I would not get married this early, because I do not think I am at a point in my life where I know enough about myself to make such a monumental decision,” junior Jenna LaPrade said.

Junior Aya Johnson said she thinks people often want to get married to have a “sense of security,” and that people get married right after college more often in small towns because people in larger cities are more independent.

“I know a lot fewer people here who want to get married than people at home,” said Johnson, who is from Minnesota. “Where I’m from, it’s normal to get engaged in college. Most girls go to college with the intent of getting their ‘Mrs. degree.”

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