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Happy graduation ... and congratulations on your wedding.
By Justin Feil
As this past spring semester began to wind down, fellow students in- quired with increasing frequency about my summer plans. I always replied, "I have to take one summer class to officially graduate, so I'll be working at the gym and also covering sports for the Summer Pennsylvanian until that's over." It could have grown quite monotonous if it weren't for one small detail I threw in nonchalantly at the end: "...and I'm getting married."
My casual attitude never worked once. At Penn, regardless of the person's class, race, or gender, I got the same reaction to my wedding announcement -- bewilderment. Even my closest friends, who for years had pestered me about the possibility of my marrying my long-time girlfriend Michelle Howell, Nu'95, seemed shocked as I called them one by one in early November with the news that we were finally engaged. I could understand their initial shock, but I was surprised by their second-guessing. "I couldn't imagine getting married at this age," they said, and "Is she pregnant?"
For Michelle and me, the timing of our wedding made perfect sense. We were engaged four years after we began dating -- plenty of time (for us) to realize that we wanted to be with no one else. We were both 23 years old, and we felt that marriage would not stifle our professional careers, as is sometimes argued. I was expected to graduate officially in July, and with my apartment lease expiring at the end of August, we weren't going to live apart anymore. I have yet to see a relationship that was strengthened when the couple kept their distance; yet neither of us felt that just living together would help determine if a marriage would work. For us, living together before marriage would have cheapened the thrill and excitement that accompany everything new about getting married.
As much as we wanted to marry each other, we tried not to accept that our college lifestyle would change, but it definitely has. The changes in our lives began even before our marriage, with our engagement. This past school year, I spent selected nights in a different world from my Penn classmates: out with Michelle meeting with her pastor, looking for a reception hall, and organizing wedding details. I never did get used to calling her "my fiancee" -- partly because of my fear of the impending double take and the need for subsequent explanation -- and coworkers recently have caught me referring to Michelle even now as "my girlfriend."
Nowadays, we try to coordinate our schedules to maximize our time alone, when in the past we may have played it by ear. At the same time, we are fighting our friends' friendly backlash against our marriage by trying to maintain significant social schedules with the closest of them. It doesn't always work out neatly, but we have to compromise if we want to go out together. We don't argue much, but when we do, there's no buffer zone -- that is, separate apartments -- to which we can retreat.
Having children is the next step that will be mind-boggling to my college friends, but we discussed the subject even before our wedding. We wanted a few years to enjoy as just a married couple, but we don't plan to wait too long before having children. Both of us have acknowledged that our lives are more likely to change significantly when we do have children.
Overall, the changes in our lives at this point have been welcome. Neither of us waits by the phone for that wee-hours call from the other to learn that he or she is indeed home safe from a night out on the town, and we both have a much clearer idea of our daily schedules. There isn't any more guessing about what section of campus or even Philadelphia the other one might be in. While some believe that marriage -- the ultimate commitment -- will stifle their ability to see the world, for us, exploring new places is something we've found that we enjoy doing more together. And we have a feeling of independence from the rest of society and support for each other that is unique to our now five-year relationship.
Getting married immediately following graduation certainly wouldn't be right for everybody. Michelle's pastor was quick to caution us about today's 50 percent divorce rate. But marriage isn't something to avoid, either. Though my friends were stunned by the timing of the engagement and marriage, I don't think any of them seriously think we made a mistake getting married right out of college. For Michelle and me, August 2, 1997, a month after I had finished classes, was perfect.
Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 9/25/97