While Facebook stalking this week instead of writing that Dean’s Date paper, you might come across pictures of Rachel Price ’07 in a wedding dress. These photos won’t be from an impromptu trip to the Salvation Army to giggle with friends about being married some day: these are from that actual wedding day. On December 16, 2006, the first weekend of winter break, Rachel and Rick Apple ’05 were married in Nashville, Tennessee at a church brimming with evergreens, crimson roses, ruby red apples, and many of their Princeton friends. After honeymooning at Grand Cayman and spending the holidays with their two families, the Apples have moved into married housing at Spelman to begin their life as a new family.
How does such a story happen at Princeton, a place of ambitious over-achievers angling for that first quintile GPA and prestigious summer job by day and getting, like, totally wasted at the Street by night? Not only did Rachel and Rick stay together after he graduated her sophomore year and took a travel-intensive consulting job, but they also got married in the middle of her senior year. I asked Rachel the obvious question: “Why now?” With a quick smile, she fired back: “We wanted to be married!” After Rick proposed on April 16 of last year, which was Easter Sunday, they started thinking about possible dates. While they did consider waiting until Rachel graduated in June, they quickly realized that to add wedding planning on top of Rachel’s thesis, graduation and Reunions was absurd. Plus, they wanted to be sure that as many of their Princeton friends as possible could come and be a part of the ceremony, making June a doubly inconvenient time.
So December it was. Rachel knows that being married in college is a sacrifice and will make her experience at Princeton unique among her peers, but “the blessing of marriage out-weighs this.” Rachel and her new husband, however, have always been a bit different. As “very Christian,” a rather funny phrase students on campus often use to describe practicing Christians of all stripes, the Apples have a distinct attitude towards dating that goes beyond hooking up at the Street and maybe getting Frist pizza together later. At the beginning of their relationship, Rick told Rachel over coffee at Café Viv, “I’d really like to date you,” with dating defined as “pursuing the possibility of marriage in a God-centric relationship.”
Because of her engagement ring and changed status on campus, Rachel started hearing about and running into other people in similar situations. While most of them are seniors, she did meet a 21-year old freshman on the hockey team who was also married, Bradley Schroeder. As members of the Mennonite Brethren (a modern branch of the Amish faith) who grew up in Drake, Sasketchewan, Canada, Brad and his wife Casadi also experienced long-term separation when Casadi lived for Bolivia for a year and Brad played junior hockey for three years. They also had the same philosophy toward dating, believing that these separations were God’s way of maturing them as a couple and preparing them for marriage. Though they handled the distance “painfully” and Brad proposed to Casadi before knowing if he had gotten into Princeton, they now live in a Bloomberg kitchen-suite and share a meal plan. Casadi even babysits for some of the University deans.
While this “God-centric” dating concept might seem totally foreign and antiquated to many students, it hints at why the preponderance of married students on Princeton’s campus seems to be highly religious, whether Christian, Orthodox Jew, or Muslim. Perhaps, living a religious life that often emphasizes self-sacrifice and putting another above one’s self creates the right mind-set for marriage earlier than most at a school like Princeton, where so much of our time and energy is focused – not entirely without good reason – on doing what needs to be done for just our self. As the Bright Eyes song “First Day of My Life” puts it: “I’d rather be working for a paycheck than waiting to win the lottery.” Religious students perhaps enter college pre-disposed to make the compromises necessary for marriage, instead of waiting for lightning to strike.
Many Princeton students, however, do assume that the bolt of true love will strike them during their four years at Old Nassau. On the bus ride to our drop-off point during my OA trip freshman year, several of the older leaders were dispensing their wisdom to us freshman about romance at Princeton. “Oh, yeah,” they would say, “people here either just ‘hook-up’ or are in serious relationships. But you know, 70% of Princeton students marry other Princeton students.” Suddenly, the atmosphere on the bus changed. Sneakily, we all began eyeing each other across the aisles, in our oh-so-attractive old t-shirts and hiking shorts.
Surprisingly, this myth of 70% (or 92% if you are one of my unnamed but crazy seminar professors) was more than a horror story told by our intrepid OA leaders. The marriage statistic rumor has certainly achieved certified campus myth status among students. Often, the story goes, this 70% don’t actually meet or date while students at Princeton. Rather, it is at Reunions that matches in Orange and Black heaven are made. I don’t know how many of those people have actually been to Reunions, but if I’m supposed to swoon over the drunk and sketchy 28 year old i-banker trying to freak dance with me on the 5th Reunion dance floor while DJ Bob spins 50 Cent, I’d prefer to be one of the 30% who marries out of the fold, thanks.
Beyond one example of a current and a former Tower Vice President who hit it off at last year’s Reunions but are neither married nor engaged, I was never to able to find in my highly extensive and thorough research any more instances of the supposed Reunions love connection. Of course, Princetonians can also find other Princetonians at the myriad number of alumni clubs around the world and alumni events that I already get e-mails about. Plus, the Princetonian-marrying-Princetonian cycle could self-perpetuate itself through Princeton weddings. What more romantic spot to find that fellow Princeton alum a few years out of college, ready to be settled and looking for someone with similar backgrounds and interests?
Yet, even these opportunities for Tiger lovin’ can’t account for a marriage rate of 70%. Determined to discover the real percentage behind the campus myth, I turned to the alumni office, thinking that they surely keep tabs on these sorts of things. Eventually, I got in touch with Princeton spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96. To my surprise, Ms. Cliatt told me in an e-mail that actually, “Arriving at a truly accurate count of Princeton graduates who name as their spouses other graduates is difficult because we must rely on self-reporting, and alumni have no obligation to tell us of their partnership status.” Still she did have some numbers to give me. From a total of 63,639 living alumni since the first co-ed class of 1970 as of December 2006, a whopping 4,630 have reported their partner as an alumnus as well. Instead of 70%, that amounts to a staggering 7.3%. Even with a generous margin of error of 20-30 points, the Princetonian marriage statistic myth fulfils the prime characteristic of any urban legend: extreme exaggeration. If we include all 85,658 living alumni in the calculation, the number drops to 5.4%.
Perhaps it has to do with the kind of people who come to a school like Princeton. Over winter break, several of my hometown friends in serious relationships began talking about how they have started discussing getting engaged and the very long term with their “partners.” Yet, the opposite kind of conversation often seems to happen at Princeton. While we like the security of boyfriends and girlfriends and special friends, we don’t want to invest too deeply in them. There are so many other things we “need” to be doing: excellent academic work, traveling abroad, securing jobs and fellowships, and fulfilling all of those dreams of excitement and adventure we’ve had since we first entered an accelerated pre-school. Where does the life of someone else, whose needs will influence every decision you make, fit in with all of these plans and carefully scheduled aspirations?
The Reunions myth plays into this idea of a timeline: after being a few years out of college, having started the career ball rolling and sowed our wild oats, now we are ready to look for someone who will appreciate our intellectual quirks as well as our sense of humor and fine eyes. Yet, as every story with an ounce of romance tells us, love doesn’t happen according to schedule. As Harry says to Sally in the sappy classic “When Harry Met Sally,” “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of the life to start as soon as possible.” Maybe the religious couples on campus, through their different faiths’ common focus on God’s plan over our own, don’t have such a “schedule,” but rather a readiness for that right person. While many students may not follow a particular religion or even understand those who do, perhaps they can still appreciate the high moral value placed upon self-sacrifice as necessary for a sustainable and meaningful relationship. Being open to such a relationship while at college might even put some of us in that 7.3%. As my favorite Prince Charming said, “The readiness is all.”