Something old, something new, something borrowed, something ... orange?
Early in her undergraduate days at Princeton, Allison Slater Tate ’96 heard the rumor — the one that says 75 percent of Princeton alumni marry other Princeton alumni. Or was it 50? Or 90? No one (including University and Alumni Association officials) really knows.
Whatever the figure, as she went into her senior year, Tate didn’t think she would be another statistic. But she didn’t refrain from sharing the marriage rumor with prospective students as she led them through Prospect Garden on an Orange Key tour.
Point of fact: While there is nothing about marriages among alumni in the Orange Key Tour Service handbook, according to Orange Key chairwoman Emily Silk ’10, many past and current guides owned up to handing down the legend during their presentations.
“Dating at Princeton was so abysmal,” Tate says. “I’d heard the rumor, but I didn’t see it happening for me.”
That was before she met Trey Tate ’96 at the end of their senior year. After dating long-distance for two years after graduation — he headed to Texas for law school while she went to New York to work — the two reunited in California, became engaged in November 1999, and married the following November.
For the Tates, the 75 percent statistic isn’t hard to believe. Among their closest friends are married couples Paul Hanson ’96 and Oona Miller Hanson ’97, Ben Pecht ’96 and Banks Staples Pecht ’96, Tom Flummerfelt ’96 and Dahlia Fetouh ’96, Jennifer Hubbard ’96 and Frank Winslow ’96, and Dave Digilio ’96 and Kim Sladkin Digilio ’95. Among the Sladkin siblings, the number climbs to 100 percent — Kim’s two sisters, Colleen ’91 and Cheryl ’93, also married Princeton alumni.
“It is great to be married to another Princetonian,” says Staples Pecht. “Our college experience was such a big part of our young-adult lives, and it is fun to have shared it with each other. I think it adds a depth to our relationship because we basically grew up together. ... It’s also nice not to have to shanghai one’s spouse to wear goofy costumes every five years at Reunions!”
Pecht’s sentiments are echoed by Lindsey Mantoan ’03, who met her wife, Katie Grzenczyk Mantoan ’02, through Triangle Club in 1999 and then discovered they lived in the same entryway in Joline Hall. Both women are now in graduate school: Lindsey is studying drama at Stanford University, while Katie is enrolled in a philosophy program at the University of California, Berkeley. “We both appreciate the importance of Reunions, and we own more orange than we otherwise would. Princeton gave us shared experiences, mutual friends, and history,” Lindsey Mantoan says.
Elizabeth Lindsey *07 loves the fact that she and her husband, Jonathan Rothwell *09, met in the Woodrow Wilson School “in a class on a topic [urban economic development] that we both have dedicated our careers to and that we feel very passionate about,” she says. Today, she works as a policy adviser to the director of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services in Washington, while Rothwell is a senior research analyst at the Brookings Institution. “We’ve known each other’s friends since we met, and it’s always great to have shared stories. ... It’s so nice to have someone with whom you’ve shared such an important period of your life.”
This common connection is one of the strengths of a Princeton marriage, according to Beverly Hills-based psychologist Julie Anderson ’84: “Sharing common experiences, intellectual pursuits, and friendship circles are among the many aspects that can strengthen relationship bonds,” she says. “A romantic relationship with potentially two highly competitive people ... can benefit the relationship if both use their competitive edge to better themselves and encourage each other to pursue their goals and dreams.” But there can be a downside, she notes: If those driven, competitive partners compete with each other, “the relationship can fall into an attack-attack dynamic where each partner tends to get into an ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ habit instead of acting collaboratively.” (As there are no figures on Princeton marriages, there also are none on Princeton divorces.)
Anderson’s point about common intellectual pursuits resonates with Karen Jackson Ruffin ’86 and Steve Ruffin ’85, who shared friends and deep conversations during their days on campus. “One of the things we loved to do the most was to get a hold of some philosophical questions — sometimes they were completely irrelevant — and a bunch of us would sit around and just talk,” Jackson Ruffin says. “One of the things I thought I was going to miss the most was having that. Well, I do have that, because I married someone who was in that same group.”
Sometimes alumni connect years after they graduate. Jeremy Blachman ’00 and Nina Langsam Blachman ’03 overlapped at Princeton by a year, but they didn’t get to know each other until Reunions in 2005. At the time, they were involved with other people; romance developed the next year, when each was unattached.
Asked about the potential pitfalls of being married to another Princeton graduate, the Blachmans laugh. They recall the time they were traveling together by car and, within minutes, received calls on both of their cell phones from Annual Giving. And, they add, they weren’t even married yet.
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Tom Dunne merits recognition for having a hand in several marriages begun or celebrated at Princeton. “I’ve begun a bit of a consulting service with young alums — I’ve done reconnaissance and logistical work for a few surprise engagements,” he says. “That has been quite fun.”
His services have included hiding a champagne bottle in the bushes near 1901 Hall so it would be on hand for cork-popping after the question was popped, and receiving delivery of a Tibetan scroll and transporting it to the University Chapel to have in place for a pending proposal.
It’s all very appropriate, given that Dunne met the woman who would become his own wife, Molly Bracken, at Princeton: She is an associate dean of admission, and the couple met when Dunne was working on the admission office’s Princeton Preview program for admitted students. Dunne proposed in East Pyne courtyard, and the couple married in the University Chapel in 2006.
“I assume, like many Princetonians, there is a real benefit to having a sense of place at Princeton, and coming back to mark another milestone in one’s life is really fulfilling,” he says, adding that he and his wife walk through East Pyne Courtyard almost every weekday and the Chapel is visible from his office window. “Likewise, I know of a number of alums, marrying fellow Princetonians or not, who come back to get engaged on campus or get married in the University Chapel. [There were 70 weddings in the Chapel over the past two years, and 20 were on the calendar for 2010 as of mid-December.] To me, this seems to be about more than awe-inspiring architecture. People have so many powerful memories and moments here that it feels right to weave Princeton throughout other big life moments as well.”
But attempts to create those Princeton moments can be tricky, as Rothwell learned when he tried to propose to Elizabeth Lindsey in the romantic setting of a canoe trip along the Delaware-Raritan Canal in 2008.
Rothwell had arranged ahead of time that a friend of his would dangle a box with the diamond engagement ring from a bridge so Lindsey would see it as they floated by, but the accomplice didn’t get his timing right.
“My friend was under the impression that I would stop the canoe under the bridge and wait for him to get the ring set up,” says Rothwell, who thought the ring would be in place ahead of time. “I tried to go fairly slowly, but I didn’t want to stop the boat completely or start paddling backwards in order to stop the canoe. It would raise suspicion ... So, I waited as long as I could and then we came out the other side, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh boy, what am I going to do now?’” He texted his friend to continue to the next bridge.
Meanwhile, Lindsey had caught sight of a suspicious character who looked much like one of Rothwell’s friends sprinting down the towpath. But Rothwell convinced her he didn’t know the shady fellow, and they continued on.
This time, the timing was perfect, and as they floated under the bridge they were showered with pink rose petals. The ring box was there, along with a pink rose and a note that said, “Open me.”
She did. One year later, they were married.
Hilary Parker ’01 is a staff writer in Princeton’s Office of the Dean for Research.