Living the life of a student wife

By Rachel Spitler

It was January 2006, the first day of a new school term. Everything went basically the same way it always had: I picked a nice outfit, printed my schedule, stocked up on pencil lead. There wasn’t anything unusual about the situation at all, except for one thing.

It was my first new term since getting married.

Cheerfully settling down into my seat, I listened as the teacher reviewed her syllabus and instructed us to turn to a neighbor and introduce ourselves.

The girl next to me said hello, and we talked pleasantly for a few minutes. Then she spotted the diamond ring on my left hand, and her eyes widened.

“Are you engaged?”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

“I’m married,” I said, beaming, tickled that someone had noticed already.

To my surprise, the girl didn’t seem pleased or even curious. She stared at me like I had suddenly become a cubist painting, like she could no longer understand or wrap her mind around the apparition before her.

“Why?” she asked, agog.

I don’t remember exactly how I responded. I was more than a little startled.

I probably gave her the half-logical, half-romantic explanation I give everyone: that I had already known Heath, my new husband, for seven years, and that we had been very close friends all that time.

When we had finally started dating, it very quickly became clear that we were better and happier together than apart.

However I said it, she didn’t seem very convinced. In retrospect, I don’t think that was really what she was asking.

In all likelihood, she wasn’t questioning either my romantic tastes or my ability to make life-changing decisions.

I think she was asking, why marriage? Why in college? Are you pregnant? How old are you, anyway?

Of course, anyone’s answers to those questions would be unique. I hardly know how to answer them even for myself; a lot of my reasoning has to do with our religion, and a lot would be best explained by watching Heath and me hang out. We’re both pretty strange. It just kind of works.

To answer the simpler questions: I was 19 at the time, Heath was 22, and no, I wasn’t pregnant.

Although the decision to marry was somewhat unusual for people so relatively young, we thought, prayed and talked seriously about it beforehand.

We knew each other well. Our families liked each other. The financial situation was decent. We decided to go for it.

It’s been two and a half years this week, and Heath remains my best friend. I thought for a long time that practicality and romance couldn’t possibly coexist well, but man, they do.

As for why in college: well, why not? The only significant social difference is that it would no longer be appropriate for me to date around, which honestly wasn’t happening anyway.

Of course, there are some other differences.

One of them was becoming “Mrs. Spitler.” It was important to me, just personally, that my spouse and I should have the same surname. I like the symbolic unity it gives us.

Because we’re cool and modern, we at least considered changing Heath’s name instead of mine, but we decided it would probably hurt his family’s feelings.

See, I have about 90 close relatives who all know each other really well; Heath has more on the order of 10, so they were already a little worried about him getting subsumed.

So we did the ordinary thing, but I’m okay with that.

It’s a little bittersweet sometimes, of course. It’s also highly annoying to fill out paperwork with my two middle names and make sure everyone uses the second one for my initial.

But there’s been enough of a change in our culture now that taking Heath’s surname wasn’t just assumed; it was my choice, and it’s one I made gladly.

Honestly, the only thing I would change is the bizarre side-effect that virtually nobody can pronounce my new name correctly, despite the fact that it’s phonetic. I guess nobody wants to say something that contains “Spit” and rhymes with “Hitler.”

Another concern is the difficulty of putting two people through college on one-and-a-half salaries, especially when you’re trying to avoid taking out any loans.

One of the solutions to this has been the FAFSA.

When I was still a dependent, the financial aid I received can be best described as “tokenistic.”

Getting married popped me off my parents’ financial records, and between the two of us we get enough aid now to seriously improve the ease with which we can attend school.

The trade-off, though, is that we’re no longer on our parents’ insurance. That means neither of us has had a dentist’s checkup since before the wedding, and when my glasses broke recently, I had to wear them around balanced on one ear for two months while we saved up for new ones.

Hey, who was I trying to attract, right?

Actually, my parents helped us out anyway. Turns out they still like me. But it’s interesting how much internal resistance I feel toward asking them for things like that. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be independent and self-sufficient, and that has caused me some problems.

One of the biggest struggles I’ve faced as a student-wife is a sense of inadequacy about the fact that I seem incapable of maintaining a clean apartment, not so much because I think this is my womanly duty, but because it ought to be someone’s duty. Because Heath is the major breadwinner, it seems only fair I should at least vacuum.

As it is, we kind of share the bare minimum of necessary cleaning, do lots of homework, and live amid clutter – Heath cheerfully, me guiltily. It took me a long time to realize that this doesn’t actually make me a bad wife.

As one of my friends advised me, the current “project” of this marriage is to get us through school, and we’re actually doing okay there. I guess you could say it’s a matter of focus. So when it comes time to switch gears and have kids, we’ll have the attention to spare and will (hopefully) do okay there, too.

Life comes in seasons. Right now I’m learning Shakespeare. After graduation, I’ll learn homemaking. Who knows what I’ll learn after that?

I think that this notion of the “marriage project,” of goal-setting, is one of the most useful I’ve discovered. If you actually have a thing to work toward – whether it’s school or a career or just learning to be nicer to one another – the entire relationship seems to make more sense. It works well in your relationship with yourself, too.

So, there you go. It’s a patchy image of my experience, but I think an accurate one.

Honestly, it’s difficult to talk about marriage without just blabbering on about my husband. He is, after all, the big difference between my life as a single person and my life as a wedded person.

He is also my hero, and I wish you all could meet him.

There are innumerable questions about whom, when and how you should marry. I can’t possibly hope to address them all. But once you do get hitched, assuming there is common sense involved, the big secret of a successful marriage is actually not much of a secret at all.

You have to like each other a lot, and you have to behave accordingly.

As far as I’ve been able to tell, the rest is detail.