By Jessie Morton
It always comes up in conversation somehow, within the first few weeks of a new semester. “What did you do this weekend?”, “Do you live on campus?”, “Are you seeing anybody?” All of these are innocent, friendly questions that classmates ask each other as they wait for class to begin or finish. School has never been the hub of my social life, but that doesn’t mean I want to sit by myself and never make friends or have a study buddy — even if we never cross paths after the semester except for the occasional invite on LinkedIn. It’s these friendships that have been the most enlightening about our culture as a generation, and a university, especially when other students find out that I’m married.
I’m nearly finished my fourth year, I’m 23 and in August I’ll have been married for a year. Being a married undergraduate student has thrown some people for a loop, and others don’t bat an eye. I admit, I’m an anomaly. In every other way I am the statistically probable SFU student, except in my relationship status. A US Census in 2003 stated that around 7% of university undergraduates are married. I’m not going to stand here and say it’s for everyone; we made our choice for our own reasons and those reasons don’t to apply to everyone. I’d assume the percentage of students in committed relationships, and those living with partners without being married jumps significantly.
From here, people can have some polarizing opinions about my life. They range from “you will regret not playing the field” to “true love does exist!”
Now, we expected all these comments and opinions to some extent. They came from family members, friends, mentors, co-workers and classmates. What we didn’t expect, was the people closest to us to have some of the strongest opinions. I’ve always perceived strangers to be the most judgemental people. Because they don’t know you personally, understand your circumstances, or see your history they are quick to judge things that are unfamiliar as negative, and are inherently skeptical of others lives. But in this circumstance, some of the people closest to us had the harshest opinions, and my school acquaintances were some of the most open-minded, despite being from different backgrounds, religions and families. They were curious, positive, excited and respectful. Everything a cliché university student should be really.
Like I said, my school friends are not close friends, so why would they bother caring about some classmate’s personal life to the extent that they would form an opinion or say crappy things? I guess that’s the positive thing about being in an urban society with a wide range of people — there is no norm to follow. People are used to you doing you and don’t bat an eye when you are different from them, because that’s what is expected. Variety is the spice of life and if a semester friend has a different world-view from you, it doesn’t affect you. You just glean a new perspective and move on with your life. This in comparison to the people in your life who know you and your story deeply, they have an opinion because they care. Care equals conflict, or so I’ve found inlife.
Contrasting with the social response to matrimony at a young age came institutional and structural hiccups. From a married student’s perspective, it’s not that university doesn’t have a space for us or allow us to exist, but the most common issue I run into is the lack of information that pertains to me. What benefits does my spouse receive under my health plan? How do I change my name and what implications does that have on my experience with the school? Is there a social space or niche for married couples? While all of this information obviously existed, it was sometimes a pain to find it. Worse, was to find out it didn’t exist. I’ll admit, this didn’t happen often, but when I was curious about the possibility of living on campus (cheap housing am I right), that was soon kiboshed. As far as the SFU residence website goes, there are no options for couples who aren’t graduate students, as all bedrooms are listed as single occupancy only. So market rate off-campus housing is our only option.
In terms of events and clubs, while none of them are relationship specific, one of the main reasons people join is to meet people. Some of our family told us we were missing out on the university experience by not being active in clubs, societies and events, and that we would regret sacrificing experiences like this for each other and for the sake of strengthening our relationship.
I would argue that we haven’t missed out on experiences, just chosen different ones. I mean, I’m writing for the school paper, that counts as involvement right? What I won’t argue against is that my school experience has been vastly different from others in the sense that while studying I planned a wedding, traveled abroad for our honeymoon, and I had a constant partner through it all. My biggest rebuttal to people who say I’m missing out is that maybe I am, but I’ve always got someone in my corner. I no longer pay for rent and groceries alone, I have someone to listen to me read 35 page psych studies out loud because that’s how I retain the most information. Yes, sometimes I wish I had more “me” space, but that’s what the library is for (not that I ever find space in there). All that matters at the end of it all is that we made the best choice for us, and we did. So for now, I’m happy with being an anomaly, and people’s comments don’t come home with me.