college students across the United States are looking at the calendar and getting ready for a booze-fueled spring break, some students are planning a different kind of vacation bash: their weddings.
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It's not uncommon for teens attending small religious schools to forgo the typical drinking-and-partying college experience and instead focus on finding their soul mates. At Walla Walla University in Washington state, the idea of "dating to marry" is so much the norm that students have dubbed the school "Western Wedding University."
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"A lot of people come here and they try to get married," Alyssa Seibold, a junior, told the Whitman Pioneer. "Because of the community that we are in, I feel like people can find someone they are compatible with because we all come from similar backgrounds."
It's a nickname that the school embraces, too, thanks to its devout Seventh Day Adventist roots.
"We hope that if God is leading you to come to WWU, that you can find a home here; a place to know others and God, as well as to be known," the school's chaplain, Pastor Paddy, writes on the campus ministries web page. "The ways to get involved are endless, we just want to see you engaged (in ministry or to someone of the opposite gender :-), remember we aren't called Western Wedding University for nothing."
But some students are no longer satisfied with the idea of going to school to find your spouse, even if they grew up with the idea that early marriage is preferable. The pressure to get married before graduation can be intense, leaving some young adults feeling like they've somehow failed because they haven't found their life partner before their senior year. Others wonder if wanting to be single means they must give up having a contented, Christian life.
"Coming to Walla Walla only made things worse. I mean come on... Western Wedding University? It's almost expected that once you're here you must begin the search for a 'special friend'," wrote Andrie Iwasa on her blog last year. "I actually began to feel a little depressed as I watched all the lovey couples flocking across campus… My life wasn't complete because I didn't have a boyfriend. I had let social pressure begin to mold my outlook on relationships."
"Between the 'freshman frenzy' and the race to the 'ring before spring,' I find myself wondering if we aren't putting too much pressure on ourselves to 'find a mate and graduate'," writes WWU student Jaclyn Archer in an essay for the school's newspaper, the Collegian. Though Archer admits that she is "blessed enough to be in a fulfilling, long-term relationship" herself, she calls on her fellow students to "revitalize the casual dating scene."
"It's healthier than jumping from relationship to relationship, it fosters friendship and clear thinking, and frankly, it is a lot of fun," she writes.
Economic experts point out that young people are delaying marriage because of a bad economy -- the average age of first marriage for men in the U.S. is 28.7, and 27.5 for women, each about a year later than in 2007—but at smaller, conservative schools, young men and women see an early engagement as a sign that they're on the right path in life.
"Believe it or not, we'd been dating for seven-and-a-half years when I finally wised up and proposed," wrote Paul Bowers on his blog, Married in College. He and his wife tied the knot just before their senior year at the University of South Carolina. "As Christians, we both believe that a self-centered life is a wasted life … When I stopped constructing my sentences around the subject 'I' and started to ponder 'we,' virtues like patience, charity, and forgiveness took on a new light."
At Whitman College, located in the same town as WWU, the emphasis on getting your "Mrs." degree may not be as strong as it is at Western Wedding University but it's still an accepted and, in some cases, expected, part of the college experience there.
"We basically decided that if getting married wasn't going to be an option, we wouldn't be dating," Alecia Kaer, a junior at Whitman, told the Whitman Pioneer. She and her fiancé will be getting married in March, over spring break. "We decided to make love a choice, not just a feeling."
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