Wedding chimes and testing center lines: The insider on student marriages
By Gabrielle Shiozawa and Kate Parrish
Many college students can relate to this line from the hit 90s show “Friends.” This is especially true for students at BYU, where the perceived culture, influenced by values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, revolves heavily around getting married and starting a family from a young age.
Yet as of Fall 2021, only 25% of enrolled BYU students were married. This is much higher than the percentage of married college undergraduates across the United States — 7%. But this is still much lower than what some might expect from the BYU culture, which promises a “ring before spring.”
BYU professor Tammy Hill, whose expertise comes from being a licensed marriage and family therapist as well as from personal experience as a wife, mother and grandmother, said she sees a major cultural shift happening at BYU as well as in the Church.
“It used to be, ‘Hurry off your mission and just get married!’ But I don’t think things are pushed that way anymore because it’s not necessarily the best thing for everyone to do,” Hill said. “I think people are getting smarter.”
Hill also pointed out a narrative shift in the way women are treated in the Church, as it is now much more culturally acceptable for women to work outside the home and have more independence than it once was.
“I’m grateful for that shift,” Hill said. “I think it’s a lot healthier.”
While Hill appreciates the direction the marriage culture is moving, she does worry that more and more people see marriage as a “capstone” rather than a “cornerstone.” A capstone marriage, Hill explained, is more of an afterthought — one might go to school, travel, and go to graduate school before even considering getting married “as the cherry on top.”
A cornerstone marriage, on the other hand, is when one puts marriage as a central building block in their life — “You marry in your 20s and build a life together around sacrificing for each other to fulfill your dreams, going to school, traveling together, having children together, buying a home together,” Hill said. “It’s a process that really helps strengthen the foundation of marriage because you’ve got a story to tell that you’ve created together.”
Hill also sees other concerns holding students back from getting married, such as high rent for married-student housing, the challenge of creating friendships as a couple and high divorce rates in the United States.
In response to the latter issue, Hill said BYU students tend to have five factors that significantly lower their risk of divorce: (1) being married in their 20s rather than in their late teens, (2) having a strong religious foundation, (3) receiving a college education, (4) not entering their marriage with a child from a previous relationship and (5) not coming from a home with divorced parents.
“I think it’s important to not be afraid of the statistics, because there are a lot of things you’re doing right now, each person on this campus, that are significant,” Hill said.
Six married college students — five of whom attend BYU — added their insights on what makes their relationships work.
Makenna and Chandler Allred met briefly while serving Church missions in Wisconsin. Chandler returned home before Makenna, and when she got home, he messaged her over Facebook to ask her out on a date.
The couple found that they had similar goals, which helped them see the possibility of a future together. They dated for six months and were engaged for three months before getting married.
Makenna shared a few perks of marriage: “We have more ‘us’ time, we’re in control of our own space and it’s a lot easier to prioritize dates than it was before.”
Marriage also provides “a safe environment to talk about your day and get perspective about what happened,” Chandler said. The pair said they are also able to help each other out by bringing lunch or textbooks to their spouse at work or school.
“It’s like we’re on a team doing college together,” Chandler said.
As for social challenges, Makenna said there is sometimes an unspoken expectation when your single friends want to hang out.
“Sometimes they will assume you’ll just bring your spouse or there will be weird tension during girls night about not wanting to keep you too long,” Makenna said. She said this is usually just a miscommunication and she is always interested in spending time with friends.
Chandler said he felt social pressure to get married within the Church, but emphasized that it’s not necessarily a bad pressure. Makenna added that people generally mean well and that there is a social and cultural expectation to get married young.
Still, Makenna added, “It’s interesting how people have a perspective and make assumptions without knowing the relationship or any context.”
Makenna also really enjoyed taking a longer time dating Chandler. “You’re never going to regret dating someone for a long time, even if you do know they’re the one,” she said.
The Allreds both agreed on the importance of seeing one’s significant other go through a hard time and learning to communicate before getting married.
“It’s beneficial to see how they react to stress, who they turn to and how,” Chandler said. He added that this perspective teaches one what to expect when trials come up and gives insight into how to solve problems as a team.
“I know how you (Chandler) are when you’re hungry and grumpy,” Makenna said. “Seeing people in different phases is a good foundation for marriage.”
Ashley and Kadin Warner have a unique take on being married in college, because they spent their first semester of marriage 1,308 miles apart in Provo, Utah, and St. Charles, Missouri.
Being long-distance isn’t new to this couple, though. The Warners met in Summer 2020 when Ashley was teaching virtually at the MTC and started assisting with a new initiative to help missionaries who were relocating because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kadin had been serving in Brazil for six months, and Ashley tutored him virtually once a week for about a month.
“He was diligent and focused on the mission, which, to me, was super impressive,” Ashley said. “He was a super hard worker, and I just loved that.”
Later, the pair connected over Facebook. The first time they saw each other in person was more than a year later during Thanksgiving break 2021.
The Warners got engaged in April 2022, were married two weeks later in May in Las Vegas and immediately moved to New York for Kadin’s work. Two months later, they were sealed in the Provo City Center Temple.
Spending the Fall 2022 semester apart was an unfortunate necessity — BYU is one of the only two universities to offer Ashley’s major, experience design & management, and Kadin plays for Lindenwood University’s Division 1 volleyball team.
“You get married because you really want to be with someone, so that’s a hard part,” Kadin said of going long-distance. “But we still felt like it was the right thing to do, and I stick to that.”
Ashley took 21 credits that semester and will take her last 11 credits virtually in Winter 2023 so she can move to Missouri to be with Kadin. She plans to graduate in April.
Ashley said being married took away the pressure and time commitment of the Provo dating scene, including the emotional energy being invested on getting to know new people all the time.
“Now it’s just the two of us working on a future together, so that’s super nice,” Ashley said. “I would not be able to take 21 credits if I was just dating someone.”
Kadin pointed out that when hard times come in a dating relationship, that’s when breakups tend to happen.
“But in marriage, you’re able to take hard situations and build off of them,” Kadin said. “It’s an opportunity to get closer rather than being worried about this person not liking me anymore. The mentality is that ‘We’re going to take this thing on together.’”
The couple talked to a therapist who pointed out an unexpected benefit of being long-distance.
“Even if you’re together 24 hours a day, all the time, there are still certain social needs that you guys can’t fulfill for each other, so it’s good to learn to be dependent on other things,” Kadin explained. “We’re learning how to be more self-reliant and relying on other people as well, which is a unique thing that I don’t feel a lot of marriages get to have.”
Their therapist also said that in the Church community, people often say that the first year is the hardest. This is mostly because couples isolate themselves once they are married.
“It’s impossible for one person to fulfill every single one of your needs,” Ashley said. “You need to reach out to other people and keep your friendships strong.”
Ashley has done this by cultivating friendships with friends in Provo, which “in turn strengthens our marriage because I’m able to receive support and meaning that adds into our relationship,” she said.
Kadin said going long-distance has also improved their communication.
“When you’re long-distance, you need to learn how to really talk and communicate because that’s all you can do,” Kadin said. “And Ashley is a really good person to talk to.”
As for the best part of marriage, he added, “I was just excited to learn how to love someone so much.”
Like many Provo residents in the dating scene, Samantha and Zach Sweetin met through Mutual, a popular Church dating app. They were engaged after three months of dating and married three months later.
The pair are quick to admit that they got married quickly, but they both said they have been able to grow exponentially through the changes. Additionally, Samantha’s father got sick and passed away just a few months before the Sweetins were married, and she and Zach became closer through that challenge.
Two of the most important keys to marriage the Sweetins emphasized were the ability to grow together and the need to communicate effectively with each other.
“When you get married young you’re forced to mold together and grow together,” Samantha said. “I know that no matter what, he’s always going to be there for me.”
Being married as a college student forced Zach to make changes in his life. He said that before getting married he would “go to his room and plug away on homework.”
Zach said the increase in responsibility has changed his GPA because he has more on his plate to juggle — school, a job and being there for Samantha.
Samantha and Zach both said they did not feel any cultural pressure to get married at a young age, but they did feel a pressure to always be in a relationship. Although neither of them were looking to get married soon when they first met, they both had marriage as a future goal.
“I was doing a little bit more of the planning, looking and waiting for the opportunity to present itself,” Zach said.
Samantha said if she could give advice about getting married in college, she would encourage people to “not stress about the future.”
“Life is still malleable when you get married young,” she said. “You might feel pressure to have a perfect life or perfect marriage, but relationships take time to grow.”
Samantha’s parents were together for 30 years, and she said she saw her parents continue to learn and grow together every day.
“Growing pains are normal and okay — just make sure to communicate,” Samantha said.
Zach said he has been able to learn a ton about himself, communication and life through his marriage.
“You’re always growing when you’re married,” he said.