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ARRAS: The cavalier tendency to say “I do”

A marriage-centered mindset within the University community problematically undermines the learning mission of the University

<p>The Marriage Pact has done more than signal what we, as a community, value — its process is a constant reminder that the relationship-minded pressure is generated by students themselves.&nbsp;</p>

The Marriage Pact has done more than signal what we, as a community, value — its process is a constant reminder that the relationship-minded pressure is generated by students themselves. 

College romantic relationships are a bit of a conundrum — on one hand, they teach students important interpersonal skills that may positively impact their life post-graduation, but on the other hand, studies have shown that relationships can negatively impact one’s academic performance. At the University, however, relationships are not just a fact of life. Rather, they are starkly embedded within the culture of the University. While the University culture of relationships is not inherently negative, extensive institutional and peer pressure to be in a long-term relationship headed for marriage needlessly foregrounds these relationships in a way that is detrimental to students and the University’s mission of education.

This overt pressure to marry at the University is not a new or unique phenomenon. College students have long been charged with the responsibility of maintaining the traditional structure of a family. Since the marriage education movement of the1930s, students at American universities have been pressured to marry. During the marriage education movement, students at universities read textbooks by “marriage experts” for classes and consequently were taught how to behave “normally” in society. In this way, marriage was literally embedded into the university curriculum. While such a curricular endorsement of marriage is no longer present, there are now more subtle mechanisms through which the same ideology is propagated. 

Within the University, the peer pressure to marry is most visible in the annual Marriage Pact, a name that speaks for itself. As a student-run organization, the Marriage Pact proclaims to find students their ideal life partner if all other avenues fail. The questionnaire matches two students based on their answers to questions which determine their romantic compatibility. Each year, it sweeps through the student body by word of mouth, email, social media and more. This year, the survey resulted in 7,450 submissions, more than one-third of the undergraduate population. While the Marriage Pact might not seem like a serious commitment to some, the huge quantity of students who participated in an activity designed to encourage relationships suggests that, as a community, we place great value upon marriage. 

The Marriage Pact has done more than signal what we, as a community, value — its process is a constant reminder that the relationship-minded pressure is generated by students themselves. This year, when the questionnaire was seamlessly delivered into thousands of student inboxes, whether wanted or not. Many students took it upon themselves to circulate the message via a secret admirer function, reaching a number comparable to student body-wide emails. Interestingly, the only other student organizations that reach more people in University email inboxes are special status and agency organizations like the Honor Committee, the University Judiciary Committee and the Student Council. In short, this organization’s successful reliance upon student buy-in for its dissemination proves that students themselves are complicit in generating a substantial amount of marriage-related pressure. 

Outside of student-driven extracurriculars, the pressure to marry is also dangerously prevalent in University media. In February, an article published in UVA Today showcased Prof. Brad Wilcox’s belief that marriage is the institution most likely to lead to prosperity and that University students should pursue marriage in their own lives. Another UVA Today article published on the same day recounted the stories of many married couples who met during their time at the University. These articles represent a choice by the University who oversees these publications to publicize pressure-inducing rhetoric surrounding long-term relationships instead of covering other, perhaps more relevant, happenings on Grounds. 

This systemic pressure produced by students and the media is not benign. Marriage-based mindsets are counterproductive to and generally inhibit the University’s purpose to educate students. A study found that being in a romantic relationship increases the odds of failing to attend three or more classes in one semester by more than 200 percent. This is problematic because a student’s class attendance is arguably the most integral part of their education, as it is where they are presented with new information and are able to ask questions. 

Moreover, the presence of a long-term relationship in a student’s life brings with it the likelihood of an emotional breakup. And when students undergo a breakup their academics take a blow — breakups contribute to a 16% variance in academic performance. The effects of relationships upon students are therefore potentially detrimental to one’s studies, indicating that these relationships should be cautiously undertaken and not so visibly promoted.  

In continually promoting marriage-mindedness, the University and student organizations actually endanger the long-term health of student relationships and undermine the educational mission of this institution. For those who do want to get married, research shows that marriages starting later in life appear to be more successful. College is not, by any stretch of the imagination, later in life. Therefore, rather than making long-term relationships and marriage an immediate concern, students should be reminded that they will have time after college to pursue long-term relationships and marriage if they wish to do so. 

Rather than so strongly perpetuating this traditional, outdated mindset, the University community should seek to maintain values that align with the mission of the University itself — to educate students and help them succeed in their personal and academic endeavors.

Aoife Arras is a viewpoint writer who writes about identity and culture for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.


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