Harriet matriculated as a married womanHarriet Rouse

In almost all ways, I am just your regular undergraduate-soon-to-graduate: I’m 22, fun loving, often disorganised, and have no mortgage to speak of. Except, I’m married, and I have been for the three years that I have been a student at Cambridge. I matriculated as a married woman and (by the grace of God alone) I will graduate as a married woman. I am thankful that I have had the privilege of undertaking a degree with my husband by my side, yet, as my opening remarks betray, I have found it a continual challenge to reconcile the widely polarised caricatures of ‘married woman’, and ‘Cambridge student’.

I still remember the reactions it garnered, in Fresher’s week. I’ve had people respond in disbelief, or, in peculiarly Cambridge fashion, presume that I nabbed myself a ‘college husband’ right out of the starting block! Often people forgot all tact in the shock of the revelation, for, as I have learned, it really is so unconventional to ‘do Cambridge’ as a married student.

At times I have felt like a rare breed, with no other members of my species to socialise with. This is because people are getting married later and later – ‘marriage’ in my generation holds connotations of financial security, career and generally ‘sortedness’. I’ve lost count of the times peers have remarked how ‘sorted’ I am. The truth is, I am only sorted in one more way than the rest of you – having a lifelong partner. Subsequently it’s been a challenge reconciling my two stereotyped identities: student and wife.

 I have been first and foremost a wife in a university which requires that one be first and foremost an ‘enquiring mind’

Brilliantly, this challenge sped up the already intense process of sharpening my understanding of who ‘me’ really is. I know my identity lies in my God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that within the love of God I am free to grow and flourish beyond stereotypes, labels and expectations; doing Cambridge as a married student, and all the misunderstandings that has generated, has been a catalyst for this knowledge.

Principally, Cambridge University has a profoundly individual culture, and the college system can pose problems. From my experience, college life as a married woman is a uniquely Cambridge clash. As a married student I have never lived in halls: instead I have lived in the same college-owned couples flat with my husband for all three years of my degree. Integrating into college life is near impossible in a big college like Trinity when one doesn’t live in and among one’s fellow students.

It has, perhaps paradoxically, sometimes been a lonely journey having (in my marriage) a first priority other than my degree. Arguably few Cambridge students have split priorities, or straddle two worlds. For many, Cambridge University becomes the only thing of meaning. It has certainly been interesting observing the inability of some students to relate to my non-student husband. But I have known not only the difficulty, but also the great joy, of being committed to another person in this deeply individualistic generation and throughout this, normally transient, phase of life.


Mountain View

Our relationships are vital to our mental health

College living is not family living and I can’t be the only student to yearn for the rhythms and fellowship of family life at university. The support of a spouse, the perspective of a family, and the stability of lifelong fidelity are the most glorious things I feel blessed to have known as a student, and these are all things to some extent lacking from the conventional Cambridge student experience.

In these last three years, I have been first and foremost a wife in a university which requires one to be be first and foremost an ‘enquiring mind’. This has felt at times like an almost impossible struggle, but it has also been a statement of faith: that life can be lived differently, that there is perhaps a ‘more excellent way’ than the enticing but ultimately empty promises of ‘freedom’ from relational commitments and obligations that university often seems to offer.

I dearly want to encourage anyone reading this who thinks that marriage and Cambridge are incompatible to see beyond the transience and fear, and dive head first into your own adventures. My time at Cambridge University has been irrevocably different, and undeniably enriched, because I did it married. Whatever unconventional path you take, know that though yours may be the steeper learning curve and the path less trod, yours may be the richer experience.

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