Harley Casazza is breaking the mold for her generation. Within the span of her college career, the 2017 Chapman alumni would be engaged and married all before she turned 21.
“Whenever I dated someone, I didn’t do it just for the sake of dating them,” Casazza said. “I always saw them as a contender for marriage. And now, here I am. There was no need to wait.”
68 percent of people in their 20s were getting engaged and marrying, and in 2013, only 26 percent were, according to a Pew Research Study that surveyed young adults in the U.S. in 1960. A handful of students get engaged as early as senior year, but these students are few and far apart as studies show the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who use online dating apps has about tripled in the last eight years.
“People care about developing themselves and not getting tied down,” Casazza said. “Something that I see in our generation is people getting into their 30s and marrying really fast because they feel they’re getting old. They rush into marriage and end up divorcing because they just settled for the first or second person.”
Getting engaged and married in college can seem like getting tied down – there’s a reason people call their spouses a “ball and chain,” Casazza said. But to Casazza and her husband, it’s about growing with and sharing the hardships of college and post-graduate life with their best friend.
There aren’t enough people getting engaged in their early 20s to call it a trend, but in the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a considerable increase, said Arpita Lal, a marriage and family therapy professor at Chapman. She even considers some instances of engagements in college to have a stabilizing effect on people. It can actually keep students more focused and motivated to reach goals, as they’re kept accountable by their partner, Lal said.
“Whether or not someone found the right person is a coin toss,” Lal said. “But if they both know what they want, it can be an enriching and beneficial experience.”
The divide between Chapman students getting engaged and those casually dating is a product of different upbringings, Lal said. Students tend to make decisions based on what their parents did or didn’t do. If someone’s parents’ marriage ended in flames and they got engaged in college, that person may be driven to find themselves first and put off an engagement until later in life, Lal said. Peer influence is another shaping factor; if someone got burned at 18 by a relationship, they’ll hold back.
Deanna Merced, a Chapman ‘17 alumna, got engaged the summer after graduation to her girlfriend of four and a half years Audrey Smaag, a University of California, Santa Barbara ‘15 alumna. They were more concerned about family and friends not accepting them as a same-sex couple than with how long they should wait before getting engaged, they said. But engagement has not been their only long-term goal. They are focused on getting jobs within the next year, as well.
Merced and Smaag had known each other for six years, since their first high school class ever, an English class. They gradually established a friendship, then started dating in January 2013.
“We didn’t openly talk about our relationship for a while with Audrey’s parents, and especially not with her grandma, who’s conservative and was paying for her college,” Merced said. “We anticipated losing friendships too. But as soon as we discovered that we had more support and love than we ever thought possible, nothing held us back.”
Ashley Cooper, a married Chapman ‘17 alumna, got engaged during winter break of her senior year, but she doesn’t recommend getting engaged during college.
“In general, many people get married when they’re not necessarily ready for it, even people in their 30s,” Cooper said. “Not enough people are taking it seriously nowadays.”
From Cooper’s perspective, the people who get engaged in college and actually have a shot at making it have usually gone through tough times that have forced them to grow up and learn more about themselves. This leads to a more mature view of life and can help in making big decisions, like when to get married and to whom. While someone may be growing with another person, they might end up growing apart, which can be a hard reality to face, Cooper said. Not every relationship works out.
Cooper’s relationship is a special case, as she had met her husband, Rocky DeLyon, a California Baptist University ‘16 alumnus when they were 12 at summer camp. They went to the same high school, started dating freshman year and went to colleges near to each other to keep their relationship strong, but the couple experienced hardships when Cooper studied abroad and DeLyon spent a summer in Qatar. While spending time apart was hard on their relationship, working through challenges together and keeping communication strong are keys to building long-lasting love, Cooper said.
While Cooper’s young engagement and marriage worked out, she understands why a lot of people who follow in her footsteps have a different outcome. If someone is going to make a decision this big, they truly have to know who they are first, she said.
“A lot of people who are interested in marriage don’t know themselves enough to develop something strong enough for someone else,” Cooper said. “Marriage is great, but not if it isn’t the right time for you.”