Tying the knot in college: Two students talk engagement and newlywed life
For many Washington University students, college brings a lot of firsts — first time away from home, first time living semi-independently and often, a first serious relationship. For a select few, however, college brings both a first and a last: the end of casual dating, and the start of a lifelong commitment — namely, marriage.
Ella Henning: A match made in high school chemistry class
It all started in a high-school sophomore science class for senior Ella Henning and her now-husband Matthias Henning. “We met in chemistry class, and we were best friends, and now we’re married,” she reminisced. They didn’t get together until their junior year of high school, though. “Lots of drama!,” she joked. But after about four years of dating, staying together throughout their upper-class years of high school and throughout college, they tied the knot in the summer of 2020.
The current national age for marriage is 32 years old; Ella departed from the norm and chose to get married almost 10 years before. “I think a lot of [the reason I chose to get married] has to do with my Christian background. It just changed my outlook on life.” Ella and Matthias attend church every single Sunday. While engaged, she routinely met with her reverend to prepare herself for marriage.
With the support of her family, along with Matthias, they saw no reason to pause the progress in their relationship. “Why are we waiting for something that we’ve been preparing for and working on, and we know that we are the people that we want to work on things with and do life together?”
Well aware of the questions and the doubts that come when people get married young, she noted, “I think I would say it’s working beautifully for me. And a lot of that has to do with God. And then a lot of that has to do with a little circumstance and then also the work that you put in it.”
So they threw away the cultural and collegiate norms and got married.
They chose August of 2020 to get married, and some of her friends from Washington University were included in her wedding party. “Everyone in my circle was just so excited for me. I think more of the reception for them was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ it’s like an age shock. Now we’re in the realm of ‘some of my friends are married’ and ‘some of my friends are going out on a Thursday night.’”
While Ella said that her marriage is one of the most important aspects of her life, she also makes it a point to prioritize her friendships. “Marriage has helped me see that I want [friendship] to be a higher priority in my life.”
Ella noted the difficulty of balancing being a newlywed, a senior in college completing a dance major and simultaneously contending with what lies beyond college.“You have Matthias, somebody who is very go with the flow and then me, who needs structure, structure, structure.”
As for the future? “Babies!” Ella immediately exclaimed. “You can put that on the record! I’ll show him the thing!” She laughed. “I very much love the idea of having a family, growing a family yeah, all of that stuff. So I’m excited!”
Emma Thorp: “I should just spend my life with my best friend”
For Emma Thorp, an engaged graduate student at the University, getting married wasn’t about wanting a new experience. “At this moment in my life, I don’t think being married would really change my life dynamic, really that much at all,” she said. “The way that I live my life, the way that my partner and I live our lives together, whether or not we’re titled as being married, I don’t think would change our day-to-day at all.”
In the past, though, Thorp never thought marriage was for her. “I used to get so sick of the idea of wanting to be next to the same person every day for my whole life.” But then she met Oldi her freshman year at WashU. After three years of being best friends, moving in together and living together for the whole pandemic, spending countless hours together and participating in various theatre productions together, she realized that Oldi was the one.
Thorp made this realization while watching Gilmore Girls with Oldi — specifically during the scene in which Luke realizes he was in love with Lorelai. She explained how Luke received a tape that started to ask him questions. It inquired, “Think about the person that you want to tell the good news to. Do you see her face? Think about the person that you want to see as soon as you get home.” She, too, began to grapple with those questions. “Throughout all the questions, I was like, ‘[Oldi] is the person that I want to do all those things with. I should just spend my life with my best friend.’”
So they got engaged. Inspired by her parents, who also didn’t have a traditional engagement but rather a conversation initiated by her mom and then a ceremony, they didn’t have an official proposal either. “I knew my whole life I did not want a surprise proposal or anything like that.”
Thorp works as a wedding DJ on the weekends, so conversations about the aesthetics of her dream wedding flowed into some of their conversations. “I love weddings!” she said. “[Oldi] knew I was excited about weddings so like, she just kind of brought up, ‘Do you want to do that?’ And then I was like, ‘Oh yeah, of course.’ And then we just started kind of planning our wedding.”
As a three-two master’s student studying to become a substance-use therapist, both her and her partner’s busy schedules pose the biggest challenge in their relationship. “If anyone messes up, it affects the other person. Like if I’m late, or if I need to stop for something, that affects someone else now, someone who’s like waiting up on me. If I forget to get things in the grocery store, that no longer affects just me.”
To Thorp, being engaged, and eventually married, means always making sure each partner is on the same page.
And both she and Oldi are on the same page about moving to New York after graduation. “We also want to get a dog at some point in the near future. My partner is originally from New York. She’s staying in St. Louis for two years while I get my degree. Have you ever met a New Yorker? She is doing the ultimate sacrifice right now.”