Midterms and in Finals: Student Couples Work to Balance School and Love

I once read on the back of a shampoo bottle that two of every five married couples wed their first love. Being a student, it’s hard to imagine planning a wedding on top of doing my regular schoolwork and being involved in extra-curricular activities.

Enter Josh Oulton and Christina Van Starkenburg, who took on the task of planning a wedding while going to school and working. The couple met when they were in Grade 11, about five years ago. The relationship progressed slowly: Oulton waited nearly five months before making their relationship official. Van Starkenburg had never planned on getting married while attending school. Originally, she wanted to wait until after graduating so she could plan and find a steady job. But after high school, Oulton chose to work for a year while Van Starkenburg enrolled at Laurier Brantford. Their almost eight-month separation helped Van Starkenburg realize engagement wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Their long-distance relationship ended when Oulton started attending Laurier Brantford, too. In October 2009, he proposed to Van Starkenburg on a bridge just off campus. After he proposed, months of preparation began – not only for their wedding, but also for moving in together and finding jobs to cover the wedding costs.

“At the start of the wedding planning, I expressed to Christina how very important it was that I was not one of those side-line grooms,” says Oulton, who did the best he could to keep involved with the preparations.

They did much of the work during the summer while both of them were home in Pembroke where the wedding would be taking place. But when they moved back to Brantford, things became more complicated. Holidays were the only times they could plan or attend important appointments. One snag came when the man responsible for making their cake became sick four weeks before the big day, and they had to find a new baker in a hurry. They were wed on February 11, 2011.

So, how are they affording this on top of school with Canadian weddings costing on average $20,000 to $30,000? Oulton, who just got his security license, is looking to get a job at a local bar as a bouncer. Meanwhile, Van Starkenburg has already taken on two jobs and is looking for a third. On top of this, she has cut back her schedule to only one course a term and works any other time she can whether at the Brantford Aquatics Club or at the Writing and Study Skills Resource Centre on campus. She plans on working at both after their marriage.

According to a 2006 StatsCan survey, men, on average, marry at 30, and women at 28. So why do some couples choose to get married sooner than others? Well, for Lyndsey Edwards*, a fourth year Concurrent Education student, and her fiancé, it had a lot to do with their religious practices. Edwards and her husband, who met in high school, were married in May 2010, just after he had graduated from Queens University.

“We’re both Christian, so when you start dating, it’s to find a suitable marriage partner,” says Edwards. “So from that perspective we both knew what we were getting into.”

Planning her wedding was stressful for many reasons besides going to school. With her fiancé living in Kingston, they both needed to work on communicating well in order to get things done. What was even more difficult was trying to balance her seven courses while planning a wedding.

“School has deadlines you have to meet,” Edwards explains. “And planning a wedding is the same.”

Life hasn’t changed much for Edwards since getting married, except that now she is a wife and student – and she works about 25 hours a week on top of that. Even though she has cut her course load down to four courses this term, just getting to class is a challenge now that she lives in Kitchener. She attended classes in Brantford last semester, but is taking her final courses on-line.

With so many marriages ending in divorce these days, it can be easy to view the commitment as simply something to be discarded, like my purple shampoo bottle with its marital statistics. But it comes down to deciding you want to spend the rest of your life with that person. And if love conquers all, like I’ve always been told, than even the largest snags seem petty in the end.

*names have been changed

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