College marriage: ’til graduation do us part

“I have one final question to ask… will you marry me?”

Lily Ford

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If someone had told me, exactly one year ago, that I would be hearing these words on my birthday this year, I would have laughed in their face. Hard. Sure – April Ludgate was only a few years older than me when she hastily married Andy Dwyer, but I was yet to experience the powerful force of spontaneity in a relationship like theirs, even though I have many Leslie Knopes in my life who would definitely try to stop me.

The SHOCK! plot twist of this column is completely ruined by its title but – you guessed it! – I'm talking about my college marriage. The wholesome union between two (or three, or more) undergraduates to let each other know that yes, we will be trying our very hardest not to corrupt some innocent, little fresher babies at the start of next year.

Imagine a naïve 18-year-old student sat at her desk last summer, researching the experience of Cambridge to come. It had been an uphill battle, and I had just about accepted my fate: weekly essays, picking up a language, what seemed to just be an hour-long roasting by a supervisor every few days. I patted myself on the back for what I had achieved so far and confidently assured myself I would not be panicked by how abruptly my life was going to change. This is it. You can do this. Until one afternoon, when I spotted a single comment asking what appeared to be an absurd question: "by what point are we expected to be college married?" Well, I thought, you bloody can't do that.

I was baffled and spent the next two hours reading about Cambridge college families, so obsessively engrossed that my cup of tea had gone cold. I would have college parents of my own – brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts & uncles – it all seemed oddly surreal. Is this one of many bizarre traditions that I, now a Cambridge student, would have to just get used to over the next three years?

"The thought of having to somehow convince two experienced second years that they had an even partially cool college daughter had me shook"

I could just about manage the workload, but finding a college spouse to put up with me and my moaning? That's more work than any of my supervisors could give me. Not to mention I would have college parents of my own, and the thought of having to somehow convince two experienced second years that they had an even partially cool college daughter had me shook. Talk about a drama queen.

College families seem so strange because it just isn't part of the normal uni routine. Anywhere else it's the fresher reps that are giving a helping hand to your settling in. It's definitely far more intimate – but that is why it's so brilliant. I was too busy panicking about whether I'd have a crush on my college Dad to realise that these people are a support system. They are assigned to you because it is their responsibility to make you feel at home as you arrive in Cambridge. A family dinner is just a cute way of getting to know some friendly faces around your college and have your questions answered. And with this comes an invisible bond: the strength of loyalty to my college brothers – my own flesh and blood – knows no bounds. It's a system that quite remarkably does work.


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As for finding a college spouse, I have been lucky enough to tie down a willing economist who gives me hugs and caramel wafers when I'm sad (oh, and when I'm happy, he's there too). There's a lot of pressure to be college married as soon as possible – perhaps many do make the mistake of rushing into it. Remember that you're marrying someone who is not only a friend, but a pillar of support as well. Sure – you're sleeping in separate beds, but it's still a happy home. You may not even want to parent any freshers next year, and that's fine too – Cambridge is difficult enough without having the added stress of looking after other human beings.

Getting hitched might not have been your plans for your 19-year-old self, but here we all are: now waiting for the due date...