Marital bliss: College couples prove age is just a number


As the institution of marriage moves into the twenty-first century (what's the decade to be called? The aughts? The naughts?), research has indicated that the age of brides and grooms is rising; that the traditional budget breakdown between brides' father and groom's family is receding in favor of financially secure couples shouldering the cost themselves; that women, focusing on a career and education, forgo having children until their 30s.

But despite any trends showcasing older brides tying the knot– the 2006 Wedding Report found the average age of brides sitting right around 26 years old, with grooms 28– a small, yet growing percentage of newlyweds are of a different age bracket: college students. According to The Wedding Report, the average age of brides between 1930-1950 was 23; today, that stat seems to be reviving, as Charlottesville's own UVA campus is buzzing with newly engaged students balancing an ambitious courseload alongside the stereotypically overwhelming task of planning a wedding. Meeting with florists and cake makers in between chem lab and statistics? Researching bridesmaids dresses on the elliptical at the AFC? Skipping out on lacrosse games to scrutinize various venues on the weekends? Is such a task possible– let alone desirable? Three engaged couples let us in on how it's done.


Elizabeth Manley & Matt Diehl

Elizabeth and Matt met in an admittedly stereotypically "college" way: at a frat party. But one real date and three years later, Matt bent down on one knee during an August 2009 weekend in the Chesapeake Bay.

"We didn't really talk about marriage for the first two years of dating– and then one of [Matt's] roommates got engaged, and we started talking about marriage in general," Manley remembers. "I didn't want to be engaged my third year at all, he wanted to be established in a job, and I told him that I wanted to have a year to plan an October wedding– so I knew that if it was going to come, it'd be in the summer."

Manley, currently a fourth-year English major at UVA, and Diehl, a 2008 UVA graduate now working with Clark Construction in Washington, DC, immediately embarked upon Manley's desired one-year engagement, planning for a September 2010 wedding in Northern Virginia. Balancing a long-distance engagement as Manley finishes up her final semester in Charlottesville, the young couple did not have to face many naysayers when they announced their upcoming nuptials. 

"Most people know Matt and how we are together, and they know I'm going to be graduating," Manley explains. "He had asked my dad, my parents love him and his parents didn't have a problem with it– my parents were married younger than I am."

But between staying physically fit, fitting in homework and classes, and interning for technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, Manley has found that scheduling in blocks of time for planning is the best way to mediate the different obligations ruling her time. A traditional budget– the bride's parents paying for the wedding, the groom's paying for the honeymoon– alongside planning a wedding in her home region of Northern Virginia help Manley and her mother keep a healthy distance have helped her from becoming too overwhelmed.

"Now that the novelty has worn off, I have accounts on different websites that help you plan and have timelines," she says. "To focus on what I have to do this month really helps, and I can do a lot of it on the weekends, go home for appointments."

The couple never initially expected to marry young– although Manley occasionally joked in high school that she'd be "married by October 2012." But after three years of dating and watching peers take the plunge, Manley and Diehl found many aspects of their lives– from a shared religion, family values, and life goals– pointed to marriage as the next logical step for their maturing relationship. A mutual desire to enjoy married life before bringing children into the picture, along with a shared background of unbroken families, alleviate any fear of divorce, notes Manley.

"Communication is such a huge part of young people getting married," she says. "We've been through a lot together– he's my best friend, and I can't imagine anything else."


Caroline Higgins & Jon Languasco

For newly engaged couple Caroline and Jon, tying the knot is the final way to demonstrate their long-standing and passionate commitment to one another– a tie they've been binding for five years.

"A lot of people don't understand my relationship with Jon. What a lot of people don't realize is that I don't want to date someone like me, an engineer," Higgins explains. "I'm not in a rush to get married this summer, but this is our message to the world that we are serious."

Meeting in high school– when Higgens was a freshman managing the swim team Languasco was a part of– the duo began dating a year later and never looked back– even when Languasco moved 600 miles away to Atlanta when Higgins entered her senior year of high school.

"When his family moved to Atlanta, we had to decide how serious we were," Higgins remembers. "We were long distance for two and a half years, a really big part of our relationship."

When Higgens decided to attend UVA over a school in Georgia, the couple knew something would have to give. Soon after the biomedical engineer settled in Charlottesville, Languasco made the move up north to reunite the high school sweethearts permanently. Over the third year's Thanksgiving break, the 22-year old Languasco proposed.

"His parents got together when they were our age, so he grew up in that type of environment," she says. "A lot of my friends weren't too surprised because they knew we had been together so long– I know they're now waiting for me to plan an awesome wedding."

The couple set their hearts on marrying in the summer of 2011, after Higgins graduates. While just entering planning mode, the artistic couple are utilizing their expansive imaginations to create an "all-out" affair with detailed elements, an outdoor venue, and an Ace of Cakes grooms cake. And although the bride's parents will be shouldering most of the costs, Higgins plans to pay it back once she begins a job. Currently balancing a demanding major, a sorority, participation in UVA's photography club, and an executive position on the Society of Women Engineers, the third year hopes to utilize the summer to research venue options.

"I have a blog and a power point with different venue options– it's the engineer in me," she says.

The key to establishing a marriage-bound relationship? According to Higgins, co-habitating before walking down the aisle is the most important way to test the waters of a serious relationship. Living together for two years, the pair has established the foundations for a lifestyle they hope to continue into married bliss– and by marrying young, the couple will have the opportunity to travel, find compatible jobs, and enjoy life before kids, without the pressure of age influencing their decisions.

"I think a lot of people don't realize, especially when going into a marriage, that they aren't used to a person's quirks or habits– you have to be around them 24/7," Higgins says. "People who get married young, like at age 18, are defying their parents or still in that honeymoon phase– we've taken our relationship from childhood love story to real."


Eric Scofield & Kathleen Bracken

High school sweethearts epitomize the quintessential UVA student– ambitious, well-connected, and talented. It's not just that the fourth year pair have already found post-graduation careers, are leaders in their extracurriculars, or are actively engaged in the Charlottesville community. Kathleen and Eric, set to be married July 2010, have taken the challenge of wedding planning and mastered it.

"You get to a point where you've accomplished so much, but there's still more you need to do," exclaims Bracken in mid-January. "We're 90 percent done, at a very comfortable place where the stress levels are low."

Their lives have intertwined from the earliest, and traditionally most awkward, days of middle school. But it wasn't until after moving to different high schools in the same county that Scofield asked Bracken on a date to the local Regal cinema– a location that would serve a more meaningful purpose exactly five years and six months later. On their way to dinner to celebrate the anniversary, Scofield stopped the car in the Regal parking lot and gave Bracken a home-made goodie bag– a tradition for the pair whenever Bracken would travel. Upon unearthing a ring box nestled among magazines and candy, Bracken was shocked to find an oversized candy ring inside. It wasn't until she made eye contact with Scofield again that she saw the ring he had really meant to give her.

"It's definitely the next natural step," Scofield says. "Neither of us has had the desire to explore other people; we're very compatible, we've been best friends for six years."

The duo met with some initial hesitation  early in the engagement; while Scofield's parents had a love story similar to theirs, meeting and marrying young, Bracken's parents had waited until their late twenties to marry. When Scofield approached Bracken's father to inform him of his intentions, the senior Bracken had many questions.

"I had an answer for all the questions he asked me about the future, where we'd live, jobs, finances, ideals, religion," Scofield says. "[Kathleen and I] had discussed those things at length, so they were questions I was comfortable answering."

The expansive history the couple shares is the main factor in their confidence to take the plunge into married life. After deciding to attend UVA together and major in the same field– systems engineering with a minor in business– the two prioritized "school, work and our relationship" above all else. Sharing extracurriculars, but leaving room to explore individual interests was a choice that allowed both to grow stronger in their own lives, as well as in the relationship– although for the first few years, marriage was never mentioned.

"She definitely had the 'independent woman' mentality, where she thought she would just work for a few years," Scofield says. "Coming to the same college and experiencing the same things has been helpful."

"We do a whole bunch of stuff together, but also have separate areas, which I don't think other couples have," Bracken agrees.

The bride had to promise her parents that she would reserve planning the Northern Virginia wedding for 250 guests for school breaks only– and has stuck to that time frame, while still balancing her schoolwork, ski team, and book club alongside teaching Sunday school at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. Scofield, an active groom, made the couple's wedding website from scratch, planned the entire honeymoon, and managed to excel in his duties as the president of UVA's club soccer team, the historian for his fraternity, a position on the Fourth Year Trustees board, and volunteering with children through Madison House. On top of it all, the couple has paid for the wedding's "smaller" expenses such as the dress and flowers, to take some of the budget off Bracken's parents.

"It wasn't a goal of mine to be married by twenty-three," Scofield says. "But at the end of the day, she is my best friend and having that foundation is very crucial."