Marriage Story: Dartmouth Edition

by Solenne Wolfe | 10/28/20 2:05am

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by Lila Hovey / The Dartmouth Staff

Ask any Dartmouth student about their most pressing concerns and you’re unlikely to hear that they’re stressing about finding their soulmate. The terms go by quickly and it’s hard enough to keep up with the whirlwind of club meetings, lunch dates and assignments. Though the object of marriage is not on the radar for most, there’s a certain phenomenon of Dartmouth students marrying other Dartmouth students. Although there aren’t statistics to back up the rumors, ask any student on campus about it and they’re likely to know what you’re talking about. 

Some students, such as Henry Eberhart ’24, are very attuned to the likelihood of students marrying a classmate.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who are like ‘oh my goodness, someone’s walking around and they might be my future wife,’” Eberhart said. “I’m happy in a relationship now and I enjoy the present.”

The campus feels dominated by ’24s, which perhaps contributes to the feeling that nothing is too serious yet. This is our introduction to campus, friendships are fluid and free and the winter has yet to set in. It’s hard to imagine thinking of big, life-changing decisions like marriage. Even thinking as far forward as weekend plans can feel overwhelming. Despite this, it’s not hard to understand the appeal of creating lifelong connections with classmates.

Each Valentine’s Day, the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine publishes a roundup of alumni couples titled “And the Rest Is History.” Scrolling through each year of stories, one is reminded of the mosaic of human experiences that make up Dartmouth. Each couples’ experience is distinct. Some met on DOC trips, overlapped in foreign study programs, played on the same teams, shared a freshman floor, went canoeing together, met through mutual friends or ran into each other after graduation. 

Katie Gayman ’01 met her future husband during her freshman fall. “We both reported early for preseason. I was a soccer player and he was playing football. There was nobody else in our dorm. He was the first person I met at Dartmouth,” she said. 

Similarly to many of the couples in the Alumni Magazine’s yearly report, Gayman did not immediately become romantically involved with her husband. Though they were friends and continued to play ping pong together in the basement of the Choates, she noted they did not start dating until sophomore year. 

“We had a very typical Dartmouth College relationship that followed the D-Plan, where you break up and get back together, break up and get back together, date other people and get back together.” 

The D-Plan breaks the school year up into 10-week chunks and often forces couples to spend time apart. Dartmouth football assistant coach Dave Shula ’81 met his wife, Leslie Shula ’81, early in freshman year, and agreed that the D-Plan has an impact on relationships.

“It sets landmarks in your relationship. Now it’s much easier to stay connected with social media and cell phones. Back then we were writing letters and calling,” Shula said. “It actually helps define your relationship in that you have to ask, are you staying committed?” 

Gayman also reflected on the D-Plan, noting that it affects the people you encounter each term. 

“There’s a lot of ‘trying on’ people at Dartmouth and it sucks for dating, [it’s] not great for continuity, but guess what, college is not about finding marriage,” Gayman said. It’s about expanding your worldview and when you do that, you find people that really light your fire and you come back to them even after graduation.”

Eberhart said that his time spent being in a long-distance relationship with his current girlfriend at Dartmouth made their time on campus more meaningful. 

“We are able to problem-solve quicker [and] get to the root of any issues we do have … it just makes the time when we are able to spend time together a lot more enjoyable because we remember doing a quarter apart.”

Shula’s best advice for finding love at Dartmouth is in line with Gayman’s sentiment.

“Don’t look. If that’s your agenda, it’s not the right agenda,” Shula said.  

Gayman also stressed the importance of being open to whatever opportunities may present themselves. 

“I came to college not knowing anything about canoeing, mountain biking, real serious backpacking, and now all of those things are things that I would do in a heartbeat and all of it was because I just said yes to my friends that did those things,” Gayman said. “If you as a Dartmouth student just say yes to people that you meet, your world, the skills that you gain, it completely expands.” 

While marriage might seem a distant fantasy, saying “yes” to our friends and to new activities can change our immediate futures. Saying “yes” is something that Dartmouth students are inclined to do, proven by our ever-growing list of commitments. It can sometimes feel like there are too many things to say “yes” to, and only a finite amount of time to explore. 

Whether or not you marry a classmate, thinking about what it is that you would want to keep from your Dartmouth experience is valuable. We are all lucky to be able to spend time in the woods. In many ways, a marriage is one way of coming back to this place and the vibrant life that defines it.