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Wedding bells toll as graduation approaches

Karen Langley | Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Notre Dame seniors Victoria Wittner and Dan DiMassa first discussed marriage while studying abroad in Innsbruck near the end of sophomore year. While Wittner and DiMassa – who began dating at the beginning of that year – knew they were right for one another, they decided not to take any definite steps towards marriage until graduation drew near.

And drew near it did.

As the two drove to DiMassa’s Cleveland home the first weekend of the fall semester, they approached a roadside spot where they traditionally stopped to kiss. DiMassa flicked on the car’s hazard lights as he pulled over, and while such a stop was hardly unusual, Wittner knew something was going to happen.

“I asked myself, ‘Is he going to propose?'” Wittner said. “I said, ‘No, Victoria, don’t be stupid. That’s not what’s happening.'”

Then DiMassa got down on one knee and asked Wittner to marry him.

She said yes.

There is no count of how many Notre Dame undergraduates are engaged, but enough couples make the commitment each year to keep stories of Grotto proposals and “ring by spring” Basilica bookings alive. And while the vast majority of students wait until after college to decide on marriage, many engaged couples can be characterized by the uncommon certainty that they are right for one another.

Seniors Chelsea Horgan and Ryan O’Larey knew from the beginning that they would one day marry. They met at a Keenan Hall dorm party in the spring of their sophomore year and got engaged the following fall when O’Larey proposed on the Dumbo ride in Disney World.

A week into their relationship, O’Larey said, “So this is what it feels like to fall in love.”

Two years later, that conclusion has only been reinforced.

“From that point on, it was pretty much settled in both of our minds that we would eventually get married,” he said. “When we knew, we knew. I would have felt completely comfortable asking Chelsea to marry me after the first week of our relationship.”

Though she acknowledged some people might think juniors young to give or receive proposals of marriage, Horgan echoed O’Larey’s certainty in their decision to get engaged.

“We never really gave a thought to postponing the inevitable, so we were willing to get engaged really early,” she said. “It was something we have always been serious about, and we’re more and more excited to get married.”

Horgan and O’Larey will marry in July.

Seniors Gretchen Ryan and Jonny Struemph can’t remember exactly when they first talked about marriage, but like Horgan and O’Leary, they quickly grew sure they wanted to spend their lives together.

“It was probably earlier than most people would expect,” Struemph said. “When we got into a relationship, it felt right from the start.”

Junior Daralee Thomas said she first spoke of marriage after three or four months of dating her fianc̩e, Indiana University junior Zach Hughes. Since they began dating in college, their relationship developed over long phone conversations Рa condition that she said prompted them to get to know each other much deeper than if they had been physically together.

“You hear older people say, ‘Sometimes you just know,’ and for us, that’s what it was,” she said. “It didn’t take a lot of thinking. It didn’t take lot of talking. I just knew. Neither of us could believe it happened that way for us.”

Young people often see engagement as a time of transition into a truly adult world, and engaged students now have to balance a mature commitment with their time left in college.

Even their friends become caught in the balance of youth and maturity. Wittner and DiMassa returned from their Cleveland trip to their friends’ champagne toast – held with Solo cups in a dorm room.

Like other engaged students, Ryan and Struemph spend most of their social time together, although they are often together with other friends.

“We’ve pretty much been inseparable since freshman year,” Ryan said. “I live in a quad, and my roommates joke that Jonny is our fifth roommate.”

Since they continue to spend time with close friends, neither Ryan nor Struemph considers their serious relationship and subsequent engagement socially isolating.

“All our friends have been really accepting of each other as friends,” Struemph said. “It hasn’t been a social hardship.”

Since being engaged, however, the two have sometimes encountered new expectations of their social lives from friends.

“I remember one of our friends making a comment when we were going out to a club that ‘You guys are engaged, you don’t do that anymore,'” Ryan said. “But we still like to have fun.”

DiMassa described himself and Wittner as “somewhat reserved” and said their interests more frequently lead to nights at the movies or a bookstore than to the bars or clubs – but Wittner added that these preferences have little to do with their engagement.

“Some of our friends view our social lives as geriatric,” DiMassa said. “Some of our interests don’t fit the college stereotype.”

But since his relationship with Horgan began, O’Larey said maintaining close relationships with other friends has been difficult.

“Being with someone [who] you don’t get sick of and want to spend all your time with can definitely cause issues with your social life,” O’Larey said. “When something as important as your future spouse walks into your life, there just isn’t as much time for other people.”

He emphasized, however, that he truly enjoys seeing his old friends.

Thomas’ family and many of her friends are thrilled by her engagement, but she said many acquaintances did not expect her to marry while still in college. Her wedding is scheduled for the July before her senior year.

“A lot of people reacted with surprise,” she said “One friend brought up the difficulties, out of concern.”

Thomas said her parents have been extremely supportive of her decision, and she plans to rely on her parents as well as her husband for support as they spend their first year of married life apart while completing their degrees.

While Ryan is more than excited about marrying Struemph, she said she would not have predicted that she would marry immediately after college.

“This was not how I pictured my life in high school,” she said.

Struemph agreed.

“Now you’re used to hearing of people being in their upper twenties when they get married, not their younger twenties,” he said.

But love can defy societal norms, O’Larey said.

“When I called my dad to let him know that I planned to ask Chelsea to marry me, he agreed that love can just sneak up on you,” he said. “And once you know what it is, you don’t ever want to let it go.”