Balancing love and learning

When college students walk down the aisle, they expect a diploma. But some students walk down a different aisle before graduation, exchanging vows instead.

Students who wed before they walk face a distinct set of challenges, yet a number of advantages often ensues as well. An article released by the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2006 describes a study published by a graduate student at Cornell University. The research found that married male students were 75 percent more likely than singles to finish their degrees within four years, while married women were 25 percent more likely. Although the pressures of marriage are inevitable, a couple’s individual strengths determines the fate of their union.

Kelley Rose, 26, and her fiancé David Vitoria didn’t talk to each other for years after dating in high school. In December 2006, Vitoria reconnected with Rose via MySpace, and by April 2007, the two were engaged.

“After not seeing each other for so many years, it was one of those things where we both just knew,” Rose said. “My parents were ecstatic.”

Since then, she and Vitoria have moved in together.

“We consider ourselves already married,” she said. “I couldn’t live without him.”

From an economic standpoint, Kelley said, “I think it’s smart this day and age to live together before you get married. It really helps figure things out.”

Like most undergraduate brides-to-be, the mass communications major struggles with balancing schoolwork and planning for a wedding.

“Planning is what’s hard – you get little bits and pieces done, but it’s hard finding time with school because by the time you call places it’s either too early or too late,” she said.

Inevitably, though, students getting married realize their priorities shift, and time needs to be set aside for their significant other. In order to stay focused, “don’t forget why you’re getting married,” Kelly said. “You’re in it for the marriage, not the wedding.”

Sophomores Jacky DuBois and James Lockhart speaks from a much younger perspective. After dating since their sophomore year of high school, James proposed to Jacky on an airplane in front of her mother. Almost immediately, their parents wondered how the two teens would make ends meet. What mattered more, however, was that all parties realized Jacky and James were rightly paired.

Finishing school, however, is a priority on both of their lists. Jacky, an education major, and James, computer engineering, live in an apartment together with two other roommates.

“Living together helps. We have our separate spaces, but we are still always close,” Jacky said, offering advice to younger engaged students who face the pressures of early commitment.

Coming from different backgrounds sometimes raises unexpected issues. James, an agnostic, met some tension with Jacky’s family and their Christian beliefs.

“It’s definitely made me more accepting,” Jacky said. “We are really making this into a reality, and it takes an effort on both sides to understand each other’s differences.”

Despite the couple’s four-year dating history, the wedding news shocked most of their friends. Still, the two anticipate a stable life together. “We understand that it’s a really big commitment, and that you have to be willing to work through everything and accept all the other person’s accomplishments and flaws.”

In basic studies of sociology, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs describes how humans prioritize basic desires. The universal model is arranged in the following order: physiological needs (food and shelter), safety needs (security and protection), love and belonging (friendship and intimacy), esteem (confidence and respect), all leading to the final goal of self-actualization (morality, creativity and acceptance).

Based on this chart, it seems arguable that married students can achieve self-actualization sooner than their non-committed classmates because of the structure, intimacy and protection that a marriage provides. Dr. Laurel Graham, a USF sociology professor, addressed this argument.

“There has been an idea floating around that married couples are less likely to live in poverty; it is based on some faulty statistical interpretation work, however,” she said. “People may save a bit on mortgage and utilities and maybe food by being married, rather than living as singles in two separate households, but, when a poor woman marries a poor man, it isn’t likely to bring them out of poverty.”

Financial reasons are not the only grounds for young marriage.

“Also, we are living in a time of economic and geopolitical uncertainty. Some soldiers are marrying before they leave for Iraq or Afghanistan, for example, to have that little bit of extra security. With a recession looming ahead of us, it might seem like the time to secure the home fort and make the emotional commitments that go into a marriage,” she said.