Married ... with classes

While fewer young people today are choosing to head to the altar, some undergrads manage to balance classes, a social life and a spouse

Students Andrea and Jonathan Shapero married in August and now live together off campus.
Students Andrea and Jonathan Shapero married in August and now live together off campus.
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Jacqueline Alvarez, CompSci ’07, shows off her ring.
Jacqueline Alvarez, CompSci ’07, shows off her ring.
Photo: 

In the eyes of Queen’s University, Andrea Shapero, ArtSci ’07, is living a double life.

According to QCARD, Shapero, 21, is Andrea Schwartzman. But to her friends, family and every other institution besides the University, she’s Andrea Shapero.

The reason for the name change?

Last August, Shapero got married. While she has adopted the last name of her new husband, Jonathan, 24, a fourth-year Queen’s medical student, she said she hasn’t yet filed the paperwork to change the name on her school records.

“[In] everything outside of school right now I go by Shapero,” she said.

The pair met at a Hillel wine and cheese in January of 2004, during Shapero’s first year at university. That September, Jonathan proposed and they were married nearly a year later in Toronto in front of 250 guests, including several of their Queen’s friends.

“It was a really big wedding and we actually sang the Oil Thigh at the [reception], and two of my bridesmaids were my friends from Queen’s I met first year,” Shapero said.

Since their wedding last summer, they’ve been living in an apartment off campus with their Siberian husky, Akira, and commute to campus by car.

Shapero said one of the biggest differences between being a single or married undergraduate student is priorities.

“Instead of a night out at Stages, we’re more content to have a nice dinner out and rent a movie,” she said.

She added that she hasn’t met many other married undergrads.

“Last year in my women’s studies course I met two other girls who were engaged, and I’ve met older students who were married with kids—but I haven’t met many,” she said.

According to Statistics Canada, this scarcity of encounters with other young married couples isn’t surprising: fewer and fewer people in their early 20s are choosing to settle down.

In 1970, the average age of brides was 22.7 years, and the mean for grooms was 25.1. By 1990, those numbers grew to 26 years for women and 27.9 years for men.

Shapero said she understands why relatively few people choose to marry in their early 20s, but she added that for her, it was the right decision.

“Not everyone our age is ready to get married,” she said. “I think a lot of people my age shouldn’t get married. ... People want to be young and they want to party and enjoy everything university life has to offer.” Shapero said future security was one of the reasons she opted to settle down. She called her husband a “stable guy” who has a profession already mapped out.

“I know that my husband’s a really solid person, and we both have really well-defined goals,” she said. “I felt pretty secure making the decision.” Shapero said her friends and family were supportive of her decision to get married, even though it means she will be spending the last year of her undergraduate degree at another school.

This month, her husband will find out where he will be placed for the duration of his five-year residency. Shapero knows Kingston isn’t an option, and is ready to finish her degree at whichever university is in the city where her husband will be placed.

“Our families were really, really happy [we were getting married], and we’re both Jewish and that was a big reason why our families were so comfortable,” Shapero said. “We have a lot of shared family values.” Shared values also brought another young student couple together. Lauren Jeffs, 22, and Curtis Jeffs, 23, met in their first year at Queen’s at one of the monthly meetings run by Praise and Power, a student-run Christian worship group.

Lauren, a ConEd ’06 student, and Curtis, ArtSci ’06, began dating in November of their second year and got engaged in August of 2004.

They were married a year later in an outdoor ceremony in front of 170 guests.

Curtis said he once envisioned getting married in his late 20s, but fate intervened.

“After a few months of dating, I guess [it was] the age-old ‘you know when you know’ idea,” he said.

“For us, logically, it made sense to get married ... we realized we could do most of [our] dreams together. Financially it made sense—the reality with student debt, we weren’t going to have that much more money in five years from now. ... We decided to go for it.”

The couple now lives in an apartment in John Orr Tower on West Campus, where David Wright, director of Queen’s Apartment and Housing Service, said student couples have priority over single students in the line-up to acquire one of the 123 one-bedroom apartments in the tower.

Wright said the An Clachan housing complex near John Orr Tower also gives first priority to student couples, particularly students with children. Built in 1970, An Clachan has 260 one, two and three-bedroom apartments.

“It used to be called the Married Students’ Quarters when it was first built,” Wright said. “There are a lot of children there, over one hundred kids, from newborns to students who go to high school. ... The demand from families and couples hasn’t changed a lot.” While none of the residences on campus can accommodate student couples, Mandy Daniel, admissions manager for Residence and Hospitality Services, said most residence buildings do have one-bedroom apartments for dons, which are suitable for couples.

“We have had dons that were married that we’ve accommodated,” Daniel said. “Typically it’s the senior dons who get apartments.”

Margo Seymour, ArtSci ’06, is one senior don who shares her apartment in Chown Hall not only with her husband, Ryan, ArtSci ’05, but also with their six-month-old daughter, Cora.

“I was a don last year, and I found out I was pregnant and I got married in the middle of that year, and then I re-applied to come back,” Seymour said. “[Queen’s has] a few apartments throughout residences and they were very, very accommodating.” In addition to her responsibilities as a don and taking care of Cora, Seymour is currently a part-time student taking three courses, while her husband is also taking a few courses.

Seymour said the couple has structured their class schedules to make sure one of them is always home with the baby.

Her husband is hoping to attend teacher’s college in New Zealand or Australia later this year. After he becomes a teacher, Seymour plans on going back to school to study obstetrics and gynecology, or to become a midwife. Seymour said she and her husband find ways to balance taking care of Cora with their homework.

“While she’s napping or in the other room with Ryan, then I’ll do my essay,” Seymour said. “I’ll breastfeed her across my lap and do a reading for one of my courses. Being a part-time student seems to be more compatible with having a baby than working outside the home.” Seymour and her husband met at a house party in her second year at Queen’s. Seymour said the couple didn’t plan on getting married and starting a family in their early 20s, but she is pleased with how things have worked out.

“I always expected it to be later on,” Seymour said. “I always liked to travel so I thought I’d be traveling for the next 10 years before I settled down. “It’s been challenging because I’ve had to reassess my plans and slow down, but it’s been really nice slowing down and enjoying watching Cora grow up.” Seymour said she feels fortunate to be a don, since it cuts down on living expenses and the students on her floor have been very understanding. Plus, she said babysitters are never in short supply.

“A lot of our friends and fellow dons have been really great helping us out,” she said.

Seymour added that her classmates and professors are usually surprised to find out she’s a mom.

“I took a seminar course last term and at the end we had a little get together at The Grad Club and I put [Cora] in her sling and brought her along and people were like ‘you have a baby!’” Seymour said.

Children may not be in the immediate future for Alicia Benotto, ArtSci ’06, but marriage definitely is. Benotto, 22, got engaged last August and is now in the midst of planning her May wedding. Benotto met her fiancé, who is a student at the University of Ottawa, through the Canadian Armed Forces Regular Officer Training Program three and a half years ago. The pair will graduate this spring and then will be stationed at Canadian Forces bases somewhere in Canada as part of their program. If married, they stand a better chance of being stationed together.

“I don’t think if I wasn’t in the military I would consider [getting married],” Benotto said. “I would want to live together first.”

Benotto added their decision isn’t unusual among their military friends.

“In the military, all the people I know are getting engaged or are married,” she said.

A career in the military isn’t in the cards for Andrea Shapero, but she said she is hoping to work after graduation.

“I want to use my history degree in some manner and get a job,” Shapero said, but she added that her past plans to go to law school have been influenced by her marriage.

“We want to have kids and we’re trying to figure out when would the right time be. And I don’t think law school would work for me and I have insecurities about whether law school is right for me,” she said. “It’s definitely made me realize where my priorities are and can they realistically be achieved.” Shapero said that when she tells her professors and fellow students she is married, she sometimes feels judged for considering staying at home instead of becoming a lawyer.

“It’s my choice, and even if later down the road I decide to become a stay-at-home mother, it’s still my choice and I’m a highly educated woman,” she said.

“It’s wonderful to be in a society where you can make highly educated decisions about whether or not to stay at home.”

Jacqueline Alvarez, CompSci ’07, is a mature student at 37 who got married for the second time last September after living with her husband-to-be for two years.

Now happily married, Alvarez was 24 when she was wed for the first time. She got divorced eight years later.

She said she and her ex-husband divorced because they had “different priorities and different ideas of where life should take you.” However, she said her current husband has been very supportive of her decision to leave her job and go to university.

“In our situation, the fact that he’s working means I can go back to school,” she said. “We cut down our budget. It’s a time of growth for me and if he decided that he needed to do something ... he could follow that.” It was important for her to pursue her goal of going to university, she said, and also for her husband to understand that desire.

“Don’t sacrifice yourself for that person, don’t sacrifice what’s important to you,” she said. “You have to be true to yourself. Marriage should never take your dreams away from you—it should fuel them. It’s like you have another person’s strength to keep you going.” Alvarez said she believes students just starting their university careers should consider waiting a few years before tying the knot.

“If you’re very young and just starting university, put it off, because if you’re meant to be, it’ll happen,” she said. “If you grow apart and don’t end up getting married, you’ve saved yourself some anguish.

“University is a time of transition. Why not wait till you’ve had a job for a year? Why does it have to be right now?” Seymour also has advice for fellow twenty-somethings contemplating taking the plunge:

“There’s no need to rush, but at the same time there’s no need to delay it because society has been telling us that you should wait. Do what’s right for you.”

On marrying young

(according to a 2004-05 survey conducted by the Vanier Institute of the Family)

Martial composition of 18 to 34-year-olds

1975
61 per cent married
33 per cent never married
Five per cent divorced or separated
One per cent cohabiting

1990
48 per cent married
36 per cent never married
Three per cent divorced or separated
13 per cent cohabiting

2003
27 per cent married
47 per cent never married
Four per cent divorced or separated
22 per cent cohabiting

Perceived ideal age for males and females to marry (averages)

Nationally
Males: 26.3
Females: 24.9

18 to 34-year-olds
Males: 26.6
Females 25.6

35 to 54-year-olds
Males: 26.5
Females: 25.2

55+
Males: 25.9
Females: 24.1

Top five things people like about marriage

1. The relationship, 35 per cent
2. Sense of security, 15 per cent
3. Partner’s traits, nine per cent
4. Sense of family, five per cent
5. Children, two per cent

Top five keys to a happy and lasting relationship

1. Honesty, 23 per cent
2. Communication, 20 per cent
3. Love, 12 per cent
4. Patience, 10 per cent
5. Respect, eight per cent

—Source: Vanier Institute of the Family

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