Published May 3, 2018, at 2:55 p.m.
“I would like a copy of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.”
These are the eternal words that sparked Nancy and Stu Nowlin’s romance and marriage of 51 years. The Nowlins met at Abingdon Books, formerly located where the Kansas Union parking garage now stands, in Lawrence in 1966. They got married the following year on January 28, 1967.
Stu worked at the bookstore when Nancy came to purchase a copy of Catch-22 after her beagle, Betsy, ate her original copy.
Nancy and Stu currently reside in Lawrence and have been married for 51 years.
“He said that I was unusual in that I knew exactly the title of the book and exactly the author,” Nancy said. “That was not common.”
“Thank you Betsy, wherever you are,” Stu joked.
Nancy told her parents about her impending nuptials one week before the wedding.
“My dad turned to my mother and he said, ‘You do not have time to repaper the living room.’ That was his response,” Nancy said. “I think they were worried that I would drop out of school, but I knew I wasn’t going to do that.”
At the time of their marriage, Nancy was a 19-year-old sophomore at the University. Stu was 27 and had graduated from the University a few years prior.
“It was pretty common back then for people to get married at that age,” Nancy said.
In 1967 — the year the Nowlins got married — the median age for a woman to get married was 21 and the median age for a man was 23, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Fifty years later, the usual age to get married has increased. According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2017, the median age for women to get married for the first time is 28 and 30 for men.
Regardless of someone’s age when they marry, not every love story has a happy ending. Approximately 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the U.S. divorce, according to the American Psychological Association.
Despite this statistic pointing toward most people waiting until later in life to get married, some couples today still choose to marry young.
Senior Rachel Podschun tied the knot with her high school sweetheart, Jon Podschun, during her junior year at the University.
“We had been dating for almost six years before he proposed,” Podschun said. “It was not a last-minute decision at all. Everybody was kind of waiting for it.”
The Podschuns, both from Winfield, met in high school. After a few classes together, the pair hit it off and began dating when Rachel was 15 and Jon was 17.
Jon popped the question shortly after Rachel returned home from studying abroad in London during the summer of her junior year of college.
“I know getting married young is not for everybody,” Rachel said. “If you have the option to live together before you get married, I definitely think that helps a lot.”
They originally planned to enjoy a long engagement and marry after they had both graduated from college. However, their plans changed once Rachel’s father was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
“His health got really bad,” Podschun said. “We moved the wedding up, and we had about a week to plan a wedding. We got married really last minute, but it was the best decision. We really wanted my dad there.”
Rachel’s father passed away a few months after she walked down the aisle.
Shortly after their wedding, the Podschuns found out they were expecting their first child. Despite the fact that Rachel got married at 21 and became a mother at 22, she hasn’t let her personal life get in the way of finishing her education.
“Being married is a full-time job, just like being a parent,” Podschun said. “If you both really value school and getting through school, I think you have to make that a priority. At least in our household, we told each other that school comes first.”
Kevin McCannon, a sociology lecturer at the University, says people who marry young tend to follow a societally predetermined plan to reach adulthood.
“American society provides a ‘cultural script,’ if you will, that says people should follow a specific path to full adulthood: graduate from high school, get a college degree, get a job, get married, then have children,” McCannon said. “When you have accomplished the last two steps, you are all ‘grown up.’ However, this is not a reality for many people.”
Women today are influenced by a set of different notions than women were in the 1960s. At the University, a factor that influenced many undergraduates’ decision to wed young during that decade was restrictive housing rules and regulations imposed by the University for women under the age of 21.
“The University had ‘in loco parentis,’” Nancy said. “It’s Latin. It means that the University is sort of taking the place of your parents.”
When Nancy was in college, freshman girls had three housing options: live at home with their parents, in a scholarship hall or in a freshman girls’ dorm.
“You couldn’t just move in with your boyfriend, because then you couldn’t go to college,” Nancy said. “They’d throw you out. Furthermore, most of the landlords would not rent to unmarried couples.”
Another factor that contributed to the culture of marrying early during the ‘60s was the draft, in which conscripted healthy and able men ages 18 to 25 to join the military. Men were able to defer the draft to go to college. But as soon as a man graduated, he was again eligible for the draft.
“If you were supporting children, you could still be drafted but only after all the single men were drafted,” Nancy said. “A common ploy was to get married in college and then try and have a child before the husband graduated, so he wouldn’t be sent to Vietnam or sent to jail.”
While restrictive housing rules and the draft were pressures that men and women faced back then, modern individuals’ decision to marry young is no longer influenced by these factors.
Marrying young was not always the plan for University junior Hailey Dixon. After posting an April Fool’s joke last year about getting engaged to her boyfriend, she realized she was ready to take the next step.
“Quite a few people thought [the April fool’s joke] was real,” Dixon said. “I got it into my head that I wanted to actually be engaged then. Since Aaron and I have been together for so long, it just naturally came into place, for a variety of reasons.”
Dixon’s fiancé, Aaron Phillips, proposed after four and a half years of dating. The pair plans to walk down the aisle March 2019, two months before Dixon graduates. When the pair weds, Dixon will be 22 and Phillips will be 23.
“We have lived together for a long time and we have a cat together, so it just works out to make it official and get married,” Dixon said.
Dixon and Phillips, both from small towns in southern Kansas, met through mutual friends during the summer of 2013. After a few months of spending time together as friends, Phillips asked Dixon to be his girlfriend.
As a soon-to-be married woman, Dixon does not envision her life will be that different from other college students around her age.
“Just because we will be married, I definitely wouldn’t want that to hold me back from going out with my friends and I wouldn’t want that for Aaron either,” Dixon said. “Aaron and I are ultimately a team and want what’s best for each other.”
Young modern couples tend to consider a unique set of factors before they tie the knot, said Jennifer Groene, a marriage and family therapist in Lawrence.
“We are created, wired, to attach,” Groene said. “Marrying is one form that gives structure in securing attachment. Becoming pregnant is a major decision-maker in marrying young or in college.”
When a new couple approaches Groene for a counseling session, she analyzes what the couple is struggling with coming in to a session, where they want to be and what it will take to get them there.
“Marrying young may often influence the presenting problem, but I would not automatically assign a negative to that,” she said.
In Groene’s experience, couples tend to work harder in the early years of a marriage because of the difficult point in their life that they are at.
“The younger we are, the more we are still evolving into our own self-identity. The earlier we attach to a person in such a commitment as marriage, the more chance of losing a sense of self to the other person,” she said. “A marriage needs space and grace to grow individually, as well as together for the purpose to complement each other rather than contradict the other.”
Groene said a person’s marital journey is often heavily influenced by their parents’ experiences with marriage.
“If an individual experiences a loving, healthy marital commitment in their parents, more often than thought it is the formula wanted, followed and often expected of the offspring,” Groene said.
During the engagement stage of a relationship, Groene advises couples to seek premarital counseling to get a lay of the land from where they have come from and where they each are wanting in life individually and as a couple.
“Commitment and trust is the foundation needed to establish, mature, protect and allowed to grow in any marriage,” Groene said.
After 55 years of marriage, Adrian and Elizabeth “Liz” Golledge believe the secret to a happy and long-lasting marriage is going into the marriage with a similar sets of aims and values.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think it makes any difference what age you are,” Liz said. “It’s how compatible are you, how determined are you to make the marriage work.”
The Golledges share similar value systems and political views.
“If one of us were a Trump supporter, I suspect we would get divorced. That would be a dealbreaker,” Liz joked.
Adrian and Liz met in India while Adrian was on a business trip and Liz was abroad because of her father’s job. Eight months after they met, they got married on Aug. 22, 1962, when Liz was 22 and Adrian was 23.
“My advice would be to get to know the other person quite well before you decide to get married,” Adrian said.
In the early years of their marriage, they moved around a lot for Adrian’s job, gave birth to two children, Cindy and Chris, and adopted a daughter, Kimmy.
The Golledges currently reside in Ashland, Oregon. Their son Chris and grandson Brendan are graduates of the University. Their son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons live in Lawrence.
When asked what the key was to having a successful marriage for more than 50 years, Liz emphasized the importance of commitment.
“You have to understand that it is not all fun and games,” Liz said. “There are going to be some tough times. You have to be committed to it and not looking for somebody else. I think you get less feeling today maybe than there used to be that you should be committed.”
Adrian nodded and agreed with his wife of more than half a century.
“There’s no marriage that doesn’t have rough spots,” Adrian said. “You just got to figure out that’s part of the deal and you have to get through it.”
Though getting married young is not ideal for everybody, Podschun is happy with her decision.
“I am a big advocate for getting to know your partner for quite a while before you get married. We have been together for over seven years now. I still find out things about Jon that I did not know,” Podschun said. “I think if you can live together for at least a few months before you get married, and you still love that person and don’t hate them, then I think you’re good.”