First comes marriage? A look into the relationships defying marriage trends

First comes marriage? A look into the relationships defying marriage trends

Jessica Clough has heard it all before.

She knows the rate of success (or rather, rate of failure) for young marriages. She’s heard all of the divorce statistics, the personal stories about long distance relationships that have failed, and unsolicited accounts of financial struggles faced by young married couples by complete strangers. None of it is deterring her from her dream wedding to her fiance Mike on June 21, 2014.

Clough is only 21, still in her final semester of undergrad at Western Michigan University. She met her fiance, 23, at a party when their sorority and fraternity were paired up for Greek Week three years ago, and their engagement followed two years later in 2013 (“We need to come up with a more creative story of how we met,” she jokes). The pair are proof that despite national trends indicating otherwise, young people are still taking the big leap towards the altar.

During a time when women the average age for a first marriage for women has moved to the late twenties, young brides-to-be like Clough have become exceptions to the rule. In 1960, the average age was 20 years old. Today, that number has moved up to 27, a bump from 23 in 1990. A recent influx of studies has shown that marrying later pays off for women – literally.

The average annual personal income for a college-educated woman in her mid-30s who married after 30 is nearly twenty-thousand dollars more than that of her counterpart who married in her early twenties. The numbers mirror the reasons given by many women who cite a desire for higher education, career stability, and financial security as motivation to wait to walk down the aisle.

Clough says it’s not that she and her finance don’t want those things – they just don’t see how marriage will hinder the process. She believes her decision to finish school while being engaged doesn’t give her any fewer opportunities than someone who graduates unattached.

“I would be lying if I told you I didn’t ever considering dropping out of school and taking a year off to go with him so we could be together, but I didn’t,” she said. “Getting married is something that takes a lot of maturity and to me, giving up a degree that has a lot to offer me and my family in the future to follow my then boyfriend isn’t mature.”

Though her fiance graduated a semester earlier than her and has a good-paying job in Memphis, she is not relying on him for financial security. She is in the process of of interviewing with Fortune 500 companies in Memphis, where she plans to move.

“I would never compromise my dreams and aspirations to get married, nor would I even want to get married to someone who did just so they could get married to me. Marriage takes two people giving their all to each other and to me, you can’t give your whole self when you compromised yourself already.”

The struggle to maintain independence when planning a life together is one many young women juggling wedding planning and school face. Like Clough, Danielle Ledford, 21, has had to overcome the obstacle that distance has placed in her marriage. She married her husband Zak, also 21, in December of 2012. Zak’s service in the United States Marine Corps has caused them to be apart for months at a time, and resulted in her moving from Michigan to North Carolina to build a home for themselves while he was deployed. She is currently attending a community college there and is planning to transfer to a University when her husband gets his new assignment location.

She says some family and friends were hesitant about the couple tying the knot, which she understood due to their age. However, she thinks transitioning from boyfriend and girlfriend to husband and wife brought new responsibilities that caused them both to grow up.

“If I weren’t married, I’d be living with my parents or in a dorm. Now, I need to pay bills on my own, take care of the house, go to work as well as school, and go grocery shopping – all on my own, when Zak is deployed.. I now need to think about what I am spending my money on and actually think if I really need it or if I should hold off and wait until we have extra spending money,” said Ledford.  “It is a lot more than just playing house.”

Financial struggles are common among young marriages. As individuals, young millennials have found themselves graduating into an economy that doesn’t seem to have a lot of room for them. Student loans, rent, and utility bills stack up quickly for those who don’t have much experience budgeting, nor a lot of extra money to spend. The prospect of having to finance a life for two isn’t as daunting as it seems to outsiders, according to Tonya Guidry, 20.

Guidry has been engaged to her fiance James, 23, since December 2013, and the two plan to have a small, intimate ceremony in late June. The two met while attending a college bible study course, though they’ve attended the same church since they were young. Their religion does not allow for them to live together prior to marriage, so they will begin their life together after saying their “I dos.”

While she is currently enrolled at Macomb Community College in metro Detroit, Guidry’s fiance has “a very concrete and steady job with benefits, retirement fund, and can provide plenty for us to live off of without counting my income.” She says a perk to sharing their lives is integrating costs.

“He wants me to finish school and get a career in the field that I wish to. He is actually helping pay for part of my schooling once we are married so that I can finish and complete my goal,” she said. “I want to be a teacher, which doesn’t pay much. It is nice to know that I won’t have to worry about not being able to do my dream job.”

Clough, Guidry, and Ledford all say that the support of their families have lessened financial stresses as well, particularly when it came to wedding planning.

In a society saturated with images of lavish weddings complete with Pinterest-perfect decorations, dresses, and cakes, the average wedding cost has come to about $25,000. For cash-strapped students, the support of family has meant they can afford to make fewer sacrifices for the weddings (and honeymoons) of their dreams.

“Were planning the wedding to be beach front on Little Traverse Bay, and the reception will be held in the golf club his family belongs to up there, so both were very budget friendly and meaningful to the both of us,” said Jessica Clough, who’s fiance’s family is funding a “good portion” of the wedding. She says that both her and her fiance are the first of their generation to get married within their families, so their families are “experiencing the same wedding fever we have.”

She adds that the pair were coming to terms with the idea of postponing their honeymoon due to a tight budget, but both sets of her fiance’s grandparents offered honeymoons in the timeshares they had.

“We’re relaxing on Longboat Key immediately following the wedding, and his [Mike’s] other grandmother gave us her timeshare in Paris for next spring as another honeymoon.”

She acknowledges that they are extremely fortunate because of their family’s contributions.

“We’re a little spoiled.”

Danielle Ledford says her wedding was made possible by dividing the cost into three parts, with the couple paying a third on their own and each of their respective families pitching in.

“We initially set a budget of $9,000.00 and split it evenly three ways, but since we had to push our wedding up sooner than expected, my parents stepped up and took some of the burden away since his family could not get the amount we agreed on at that time.”

The couple did not plan a honeymoon due to Zak’s deployment, so their budget allowed for more at the actual wedding.

“I don’t think we had to sacrifice anything we wanted due to budget.”

Guidry does not anticipate having to give up anything she wants for her big day either.

“We’re both very lucky and our parents are covering the cost of our wedding. The only thing that we had to pay for was the invitations and my dress. Making the invitations only cost us $70 and my dress only cost $200, so it wasn’t a very big cost to us.”

To many, marriage is a financial investment as much as it is an emotional one. The return on investment for young couples isn’t too promising; the highest rate of divorce in the United States is of those who marry between the ages of 20 to 24, according to the CDC. Similarly, 20 percent of marriages end in divorce within five years. Clearly, the honeymoon doesn’t last forever. While young women like Clough, Guidry, and Ledford are fortunate to have supportive families who believe in their union, the question of whether a young marriage will last can cause tension between some couples and their families.

Victoria Vanderzeil, 20, and her fiance Edward, 18, have been together for over four years, but have found their engagement hasn’t garnered support from all of their family members, particularly when it comes to putting money down on the wedding.

“My sister explained to me that the bride’s family is supposed to pay for certain things and the groom’s family is suppose to pay for other things, which has caused some drama,” said Vanderzeil. “My parents have decided not to pay for anything – not out of disapproval, but because my dad will be retiring – so that cost falls on us.”

She adds that the guest list for the pending nuptials have become an issue as well.

“My mother is refusing to attend due to her dislike of some of the people that will be invited to the wedding.”

Despite the obstacles she is already facing, Vanderzeil says she is looking forward to actually being married, which she says won’t likely happen until 2016 after she’s graduated from Michigan State.

“I’m ready to have people take our relationship seriously,” she said. “When you are young and you tell people you are in a relationship it’s seen as temporary.”

The other women echo these sentiments, each noting that assumptions made by strangers can put a damper on their engagement. Instead of celebrating, they find themselves explaining.

“When my mother-in-law was telling all of her friends that Zak proposed she always had to start out by saying, ‘Danielle’s not pregnant,’” said Ledford. “That’s usually their first assumption when they hear how young we are.”

Guidry has faced similar whisperings from members of her church.

“People assumed that I could be pregnant, that we are acting out of feelings and not thinking about our decision, or possibly that we are rushing our marriage so that we can live together sooner,” said Guidry.

“Overall, James and I have gotten many strange looks and reactions when we tell them we are getting married,” she said. “Both of us also look younger than we are, so that doesn’t help us very much either.”

Clough says that she has gone as far as to stop referring to her husband-to-be as her fiance around certain people, choosing to simply call him her boyfriend instead.

“ I know I should always own up to my choices and by no means does this mean that I’m not confident in my choice, but there are days that I just can’t handle being told divorce rates, or marriage horror stories, or why I should dump him and hang out with this random guy they think I’d mesh well with.”

She is most bothered by what she believes to be a double standard between people’s perceptions of men getting married young when she compares it with her experiences as a woman.

“The number one reaction I get when people see my ring or hear I’m engaged is ‘How old are you?!’ since apparently when you’re engaged it’s suddenly socially acceptable to ask a woman her age,” she said. “[I’ve had] people question my commitment to him, because I chose to stay and finish my degree while he’s in Memphis.”

She says she constantly receives links to stories discouraging young marriage or discussing the failures of a young couple from those who believe they are doing her a favor. A recent viral post entitled “23 Things To Do Instead Of Getting Engaged When You’re 23” made multiple appearances on her Facebook wall. She notes that Mike, her fiance, has not had to put up with similar responses.

“I think it is just because he’s in the corporate world where marriage is more common so people aren’t as concerned about his age,” she continues. “But I definitely see it as a double standard, like his intentions must ALWAYS be good while I’m just some gold digger mooching off his salary.”

She is determined to not let the naysayers get to her. Despite the statistics, the women all believe in their relationships.

“Do we doubt it sometimes? Yes. But for every time of doubt there other person was there to remind us why we made this commitment to each other,” said Clough. “We both have been there for each other during hard times to support each other, and celebrated during the best of times.”

Ledford says the first year of her marriage has gone smoothly, despite missing her husband when he is deployed. She does not regret her decision.

“When you find the right one, why should you wait?,” she said.  “I can understand waiting so you can finish and graduate school, but you can still get engaged. That does not mean you are going to get married tomorrow. In my case I had no reason to wait, we knew we wanted to be together and get married.”

Guidry says she is can’t wait to finally be able to integrate her life with her husband.

“I am looking forward to most is being able to wake up next to him each morning and get to know him even better,” she said.

She recognizes that because they are still young, they have growing to do as individuals.

“Some things may be difficult and some might change, but I also believe it will be an interesting learning moment for both of us to grow closer to each other.”

For Vanderzeil, the concept of true love is more than a Cinderella story of happily ever after.

“I think because we have been together for so long and because we don’t overly romanticize relationships, we don’t have to worry as much about,” she said.

“Relationships aren’t about finding the one and only perfect person, they’re about finding the one you can argue with and still love.”

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Stay healthier during this winter’s cold months

Stay healthier during this winter’s cold months

You probably already know you should get a flu shot, stay home when you’re sick and bundle in layers for your long trek to class in the snow. But here’s a few more things you could be doing to fight off winter’s nasty side effects and make you healthier during the cold.

Limit hot showers

Sorry folks–we know cooler temperatures can make long showers in the hottest water you can get sound extra appealing, but the short-term comfort can lead to long-term dry skin. Extremely hot water can strip away your skin’s natural oils, making it feel dry and flakey. Dry skin leads to cracked skin. That being said…

Moisturize!

Dry skin is one of the biggest pet peeves for many people during the winter months (those days with a 20 degree wind chill don’t exactly bode well for healthy skin). If you feel like your skin is taking a beating every time you step outside, it’s time to moisturize. The two places most likely to become a hassle are your hands and face, but consider getting separate lotions. Some body lotions are too heavy for the delicate skin on your face, which can lead to breakouts. And if you’re not a fan of cracked, bleeding lips, it’s time for you to make lip balm your best friend.

Wash your hands. Please.

Stocking up on hand sanitizer to stay healthy? Then you’ll really want to add a hand lotion to the mix. Antibacterials are great for fighting cold and flu germs, but it can dry out your hands like crazy. Good old soap and water is sometimes more effective when it comes to staying healthy.

Speaking of cold and flu…

At the risk of sounding like a nagging mother, you should really be drinking water. And yes, we’re talking a few glasses a day. You may not be as thirsty as you are in the warmer months, but staying hydrated helps you ward off illness and makes you look better physically (it helps you look less tired and have better skin). You may already know that alcohol dehydrates you, but coffee and tea (anything with caffeine, really) have the same effect, so try to have a glass of water with every glass of your favorite pick-me-up.

Use a humidifier.

The cold air outside wreaks havoc on your skin, but the heat indoors can make waking up with a dry, sore throat a common occurrence even when you aren’t sick. Solution? Consider using a humidifier. It adds moisture back into the air, which keeps you feeling hydrated and more alert. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and quiet enough that you’ll hardly notice them when you’re sleeping.

Static, shmatic.

Good news – your skin isn’t the only part of your appearance that can take a hit during the winter. Hair has a tendency to dry out, frizz and face more static than a balloon in a science experiment. Much like your skin, the way you take care of your hair can make a huge difference. If you can manage, try to cut back on heat-treating your hair with straighteners and blow dryers (they’re bad for your hair year round anyway). In the colder months hair gets weaker, meaning brittle hair is more likely to split or break. Consider using a deep conditioning treatment to restore natural oils and moisture, and try to cover hair with a hat or scarf out in chilly temperatures.

Don’t let the weather overwhelm you.

Stress levels, along with anxiety and depression, skyrocket in the winter months. Mental health is just as important as physical health, so if you find constant snow and grey skies seeming to drain you of energy or you feel like you’re suffering form cabin fever, make time to exercise. Whether in a gym, with friends, or in a class, staying active gives you more energy and can significantly improve your mood. Similarly, making an effort to not go overboard on comfort foods is wise – they’ll make you tired and can result in weight gain, neither of which do much for stress.

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Food allergy? Fear not! Our tips to keep life tasty

Food allergy? Fear not! Our tips to keep life tasty

Food allergies can be a pain. It can often feel like nearly half of the things available are eliminated because of your allergy, or that nothing you can eat has flavor. There is a common misconception that people with food allergies have them their entire lives, but that’s not the case. It’s common to develop food allergies in young adulthood. If you’re dealing with a new food allergy, it’s time to get acquainted with some alternatives. We’re tackling the most common food allergies and how to keep life tasty in spite of them. 

Food Allergies

Some alternatives for people with food allergies

Lactose Intolerance or dairy allergies

This one can be tough. It seems like milk, cheese and butter find their way into seemingly every product on the market, but all is not lost! If you miss the taste of dairy, there are still ways you can get the taste you love without the repercussions of triggering an allergy. Dairy is full of calcium, so you might want to consider taking a calcium supplement. 

What to look for:

Non-dairy or lactose options in the vegan or specialty foods aisle are your new best friends. Vegans do not eat any animal products or byproducts, which includes dairy. If you’re shopping at a store with a well-stocked vegan selection (Kroger actually has a big selection), you’ll be able to find everything from vegan cheeses and yogurts to ice cream and smoothies.

Note that there are usually three different types of milk-based substitutes that offer the nutrients and similar taste found in regular dairy milk (and they offer chocolate options!): 

Almond milk

This is a light almond tastes and is thicker than regular milk. Some people say it feels more filling than regular milk, so a little goes a long way. Many often liken the taste of original, unsweetened almond milk to whole milk. It is also available lightly sweetened and vanilla flavored.

Soy milk

Obviously a no-go for those with a soy allergy, soy milk is the most common milk alternative. Like almond milk, it comes sweetened and unsweetened, but many prefer the vanilla flavor.

Rice milk

This has a lighter, more watery consistency than soy or almond milk. Rice milk tends to last longer than the other two options, primarily because it does not need to be refrigerated until opened. 

Other lactose/dairy-free swaps you might not know exist:

Ice creamusually comes in soy, almond, or coconut milk options

Cheese – look in the vegan section!

Butter look for non-dairy margarine spread

Yogurtoften made using coconut milk 

NOTE: If consuming dairy gives you swollen lips, hives, or other symptoms more consistent with a traditional allergic reaction, you may have an allergy to casein. A protein in milk, casein allergies are more difficult to diagnose and symptoms are much more severe. See a doctor to get tested.

Allergic to eggs

The majority of people allergic to eggs have egg white specific allergies (as in, NOT the yolk). Depending on how severe your allergy is, you may not even be able to eat brownies or cookies. However, most people have what is referred to as a whole egg allergy, where one egg spread throughout a cake will not cause a reaction, but eating something where egg is a primary ingredient will. With egg allergies, unfortunately, there are not many substitutes as far as ingredients. Having positive food experiences will mostly come from understanding what to avoid. 

What to avoid:

Egg noodles

This might seem obvious, but how often do you know the type of noodle you’re consuming by name? Many soups use egg noodles, as do some restaurant pasta dishes (sorry, buttered noodles at Noodles & Co. is a no go). Always double check before you eat!

Commercially breaded items

Many times, breaded meats and dinners use an egg mixture for the breading. When at a restaurant, there’s no harm in asking what they use to prepare a meal!

Certain salad dressings

Eggs are often used to thicken salad dressings, particularly in restaurants. The creamier dressings are usually the culprits, so don’t worry if you’re into Italian!

Also avoid mayonnaise, which is made with eggs, oil and vinegar.

Allergic to a type of nut

A common misconception is that if you are allergic to one type of nut, you are allergic to all nuts. That’s not the case! An individual who is allergic to peanuts may have no trouble eating almonds or walnuts.

Once you find out where your allergy falls on the nut spectrum, you can start experimenting with swapping items. No tears will be shed over having to swap peanut butter for Nutella!

It is important to check labels, especially with candies or products that may be made alongside other products that can contain nuts you cannot have. Nuts have a lot of protein, so if you have to cut them completely be sure you are supplementing protein in another way (beans are a great substitute).

Gluten or wheat allergy

While gluten-free diets have become somewhat of a craze, gluten allergies are actually quite serious and come in many forms. Gluten refers to a particular protein found in wheat, and like dairy, is seemingly found in everything. For those with an allergy, finding breads, pastas, and cereals can be a challenge. Even beer contains gluten!

Thanks in part to the newfound popularity of going gluten free, finding ways to keep an allergy at bay is easier than ever. Restaurants are specializing in gluten-free dishes, stores are stocking up on specialty products – even the cafeterias on campus have gluten free options! 

So if you discover you have a food allergy, don’t give up hope! There are a lot of options hidden in the aisle of the grocery store for any type of allergy.

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Yay or nay? Social media has created a new form of PDA

Yay or nay? Social media has created a new form of PDA

A friend of mine recently started dating someone new and has kept the relationship relatively low-key. She and her boyfriend were “officially” dating a few months before their relationship showed up on Facebook. She was explaining to me her surprise and confusion when someone not only expressed irritation that she had not changed her relationship status immediately after they became official, but commented “You two don’t have ANY pictures together online… how can you be dating?”

I can understand why she may have taken offense to the comment – the idea that a relationship between two people needs to be quantified and documented through social media in order to be considered “real” is a bit ridiculous, but not at all uncommon.

Relationship statuses have become the new norm when declaring love. Photo credit: Julia Grippe

For a generation so dependent on electronic communication, becoming “Facebook official” has become a natural step in a relationship. The tendency for young people to feel the need to share details of their lives and relationships – positive, negative, or even completely mundane (“Heading to the supermarket” status updaters, I’m looking at you) – is growing more common as social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others have surged in popularity.

There are varying degrees of how relationships are shared over social media. The most common include having a profile link a couple together as “In A Relationship”, “Engaged”, or “Married”, not to mention the option of “It’s complicated” – as if that’s anyone’s business, but more in-depth sharing – from public declarations of love to angry tweets about a fight – can sometimes teeter into the territory of over-sharing.

Where should the line between private and personal posts be drawn when it comes to relationships?

Kaitlynn Boot, a sophomore at MSU, is single and says she finds a majority of posts between couples to be awkward, particularly when they highlight rough patches in the relationship.

“A friend of mine and her boyfriend fought all the time in the comment sections of Facebook – calling each other names. I felt like I was a part of their drama and their relationship even though I didn’t want to be because it kept showing up on my newsfeed,” Boot said.

But she says that not all posts are bad. News of engagements, new relationships, and fun trips are welcome additions to her newsfeed.

Photo credit: Julia Grippe

“I don’t mind seeing important events, like wedding or engagement photos. Those are things you’d share with people outside of Facebook as well,” she said.

Erika Holmes, also a sophomore at MSU, has been in a relationship for a year and half and chooses not to share any details of her relationship at all.

“Couples who constantly post photo albums of them together and post on each other’s [Facebook] walls are a bit nauseating. I think it’s superficial that they have to affirm their relationship through social media,” Homes said.

Holmes says she and her boyfriend call and text each other regularly when they are not together, but do not see any need to make private conversations public.

Relationships are shaped by a variety of circumstances, from distance to the general personalities of the partners. Couples who are not able to see one another regularly may find that sharing things on social media accounts helps them feel more connected when they are apart.

“College-aged couples have different challenges than older couples, based in part on the fact that both partners are in a significant developmental transition between adolescence and adulthood,” said Scott H. Becker, Associate Director and licensed clinical psychologist at the MSU Counseling Center.

The center sees young couples, in addition to providing counseling for a variety of other needs. Becker says these challenges are heightened by fast-paced and constantly changing lives many college students and young adults lead.

He suggests that sometimes personal posts on social media can become detrimental to the relationship, particularly if the couple is not on the same page about what is and is not appropriate to share.

“The mere fact that private information is being made very public can be the source of hurt feelings or even a sense of betrayal by the other partner,” he said of sharing negative or personal details about a relationship online.

But he also said certain postings, like engagements or overcoming obstacles can become sources of strength for the relationship.

“On the positive side, sometimes couples can receive social support of good advice from concerned and supportive friends,” said Becker.

The key to maintaining a healthy relationship of any nature is communication and trust. In romantic instances, this can mean developing boundaries that both partners are comfortable with.

“Each couple will define their personal boundaries differently, both online and in the real world,” said Becker.

“The most important thing is for each partner to have a deliberate conversation about their individual expectations to avoid potential misunderstandings later on. They should also discuss what the boundary around them as a couple should be, both online and in the real world.”

Posts about relationships should adhere to the same rules as all other posts, particularly in terms of appropriateness. Does your entire online network needto see a collage of you and your significant other’s Valentine’s Day date? Or know all the things that annoy you about your girlfriend?

Some couples struggle with keeping PDA offline. Photo credit: Julia Grippe

Everything posted on a social networking site is not only public, but permanent. The content and context of social media posts can impact your reputation both now and in the future.

Inappropriate posts –  or even gag-inducing declarations of love –  may cause your social media audience (friends, family, co-workers, etc.) to take you less seriously, feelings which may spill over into your life outside the confines of social media.

Sharing relationship details is not strictly good nor bad, but couples should be aware of the potential for miscommunication and misunderstandings that come with doing so on social media. Having a clear distinction between what is appropriate and what is too much information will not only clean up your profile, but allow others to see you and your partner in a more positive light.

Not all couples share the same boundaries when it comes to sharing details about their relationship – not everything needs to be “Facebook official”.

For some couples, love is all you need.

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