“Will you marry me?”
Those were my words as I got down on one knee and presented my flatmate with a bottle of rosé, one very drunken night at the end of last Michaelmas term. No, I have not joined the 70% just yet. I have merely hopped onto the bandwagon of quite possibly the most quintessentially Durham tradition there is: college marriage.
For anybody who is unacquainted with this term, allow me to elaborate. The college marriage system allows a couple (or, in some cases, even a throuple) of older students to ‘adopt’ and mentor incoming freshers from their college. It is practically an additional support structure, born out of Durham’s tight-knit collegiate system, and designed to ease freshers’ transition into university by connecting them with students studying similar courses. College marriage is a whimsical, much-loved eccentricity of life as a Durham student.
As you can probably imagine, an important feature of any good college marriage is the proposal that begins it. These proposals can range anywhere from a Haribo Tangfastics ring, to a vase as an inside joke, or even an extravagant public display of affection (think rose petals tossed by enthusiastic friends, or heartfelt serenades). What matters most is that you can proudly proclaim to your peers that you are officially college married, whether that be to your actual partner, your best friend, or that random cutie you met during freshers week. And, of course, you then get to adopt your children and help guide them through university (in a normal year, it is quite common for parents to take their children on their first night out during freshers week!)
On the point of this most unusual academic year, the question remains of whether the college marriage system is still working just as well. Writing as a fresher, who has thus far only been able to experience an unfortunately very restricted version of the Durham student experience, I can truthfully say that I am very grateful for the existence of this ready-made support system. Particularly in light of the various difficulties that come with being a student during a global pandemic, it is beyond comforting to know that there are older students, always more than happy to share their experiences, and assure me that the teething problems I am experiencing as a fresher are nothing out of the ordinary. Others have informed me that their parents have become some of their closest friends here at Durham.
There are also those who have sadly struggled to connect with their parents or children this year. Whilst this is unfortunate, it can, of course, be attributed to the strict Covid-19 restrictions that have been in place in Durham since the start of Michaelmas term, and the fact that, let’s face it, we are all a little Zoomed out from doing the entirety of our degrees online. However, for those who have managed to forge a connection with their parents or children, the experience seems to have been overwhelmingly positive and mutually beneficial, despite the difficult current circumstances.
The college marriage system is one of my personal favourite little quirks of being a student here. Marriage proposals can make for some particularly thrilling tales and, as a fresher, I have found the virtual advice and support offered by my parents immeasurably helpful. I expect that the college marriage system will continue to be embraced and enjoyed by future generations of students, and hope that my generation of parents will hopefully be able to welcome our children to a Durham university experience that is much, much closer to normal!
Illustration by Verity Laycock