This editorial was presented to the Scroll Editorial Board and received 5 votes in favor and 4 abstaining votes.
Every BYU-Idaho student has likely felt the social divide between single and married students. However, the depth of the problem needs to be captured, articulated and diagnosed in order to help both sides of the chasm retain heart-felt friendships. What appears to be a simple difference in social demographics among students is actually a deeply rooted social problem that disrupts retaining human relationships.
The campus of BYU-I is the core social hub of Rexburg, bringing in tens of thousands of students every year. From a bird’s eye perspective, apartment complexes crowd around campus like penguins huddled together in a blizzard. Indeed, there isn’t a side of campus — north, south, east or west — that doesn’t have student housing squeezed as close as possible to the university. But of all these apartments, only a few contain married students.
Married housing tends to take its place on the outskirts of town, often nestled close to one another, like Eden and Mesa Falls.
This geographical separation represents the severe social division between married and single students at BYU-I.
Of course, not all single and married students feel a fissure between the two groups. Some friends actually increase in their relationships after their friend gets married. Sadly, judging from the interviews we conducted and many of our own experiences, this isn’t usually the case.
According to Brett Crandall, BYU-I’s media relations and campus communication manager, Fall 2021 Semester had around 25,000 campus students, consisting of 12,385 male students and 13,246 female students. Out of the 25,000, 5,572 of the students were married, meaning about 22% of BYU-I campus students were married students last semester, about a fourth of the student body.
Despite married students being a minority of the university’s population, single students see and interact with them in most classes, especially in 300- and 400-level courses. Like two separate worlds, single and married students coexist and work together in jobs and classes, but the social division seemingly keeps the two groups at a self-segregated distance from each other. Seeing a gold or diamond ring on a fellow student’s finger creates a subconscious forcefield that deters more than just romantic advances — for many single students, this eliminates the possibility of friendship, anything other than a professional acquaintanceship.
Jeffrey Bills, a sophomore studying environmental science, is a single man and a social butterfly. He constantly talks to people around him, no matter if it be in a church pew or on a rock-climbing wall. His gregarious personality has led him to some observations about the two sides of BYU-I’s social division. Bills considers the drastic lifestyle differences and maturity levels between single and married students to be the lead causes for the apparent separation.
“A big part of the divide just comes from the two groups having completely different life situations,” he said. “It’s hard for them to relate to each other … (T)here becomes a whole new set of responsibilities that single people won’t understand until we reach that point in life. The single and married groups see less and less of each other because they don’t have the same maturity levels, and they don’t have the same common struggles to relate to, making it tougher to form bonds.”
It’s true that single and married students have very different lifestyles — financially, socially, psychologically and spiritually. That being said, their lifestyle differences shouldn’t eclipse what these two groups have in common, such as home towns, professional goals, hobby interests, etc. After all, there are likely 20 years of potential life experiences that occurred prior to marriage that singles should be able to relate with. Bills’ words point out the perception single students have of married students: lifestyle differences overshadow life similarities. Other single student experiences vouch for this shared perception.
Kyle Samojla, a sophomore studying marketing, began school at BYU-I less than a year ago. Samojla grew up in inner-city Chicago, where fluid social communication and extroversion are must-haves for daily living. His recent experience in a weight-lifting class personifies the unique social division between married and single students at BYU-I.
He described the students in his class as being half married, half single.
“What I noticed as soon as I walked in on the first day of class and for weeks after was that the single people only stayed together and that the married people only stayed together,” Samojla said. “So when we partnered in groups or paired up, I always ended up with another single person.”
To Samojla, it was as if there were an unspoken rule that single people couldn’t exercise with married people. He continued by describing why he hasn’t gone out of his way to partner with a married student since then.
“It just feels like there’s this kind of division between us, where I can’t relate to them on a personal level because they’re married. They have their own lives, and I’m single and still trying to find marriage.”
Samojla’s social mindset hints at a potential reason the social fissure occurs: the cultural rush for and celebration of marriage. Maybe Rexburg’s cultural importance of marriage and the urgency most single students feel to get married implicitly creates a social hierarchy between single and married students. Samojla certainly feels this way.
“They’re at a greater level,” he said. “They’re on this pedestal, and we’re just looking at them, thinking, ‘Oh, wow. I need to get married now,’ and we think of marriage as some kind of final achievement. I’ve had past friends say when someone gets married, ‘Oh, he’s married now. There goes his life. I’m not going to be friends with him anymore.’”
From single students’ perspective, it can seem like they lose a friend when he or she gets married. Naturally, their friend won’t live with them anymore, spend as much time with them, share as many meals — that just comes with a reallocation of prioritized time. However, it seems like students interpret this lack of quality time together as meaning their once-friend has sailed off to a new land far away from them, when, in reality, he or she may live just four blocks away.
This is perhaps the most painful aspect of BYU-I’s social division. When newly married students isolate themselves from others in order to grasp a brand-new lifestyle together, they often lose their single friends from before the marriage. Some single students call this phenomenon “married ghosting,” when their friends seem to drop off the face of the earth.
However, some married students see it the other way around — their single friends stop reaching out to them and consequently lose their friendships.
Catherine Lang, a recent BYU-I alumna, experienced this first hand. She married her husband about six months ago. While her husband finishes his degree, Lang lives in a married housing complex on the west side of town.
Lang definitely noticed a loss of friends when she stopped being single, but for her it began even before marriage.
“I feel like I started to lose single friends just by dating,” she said. “I don’t think my marriage necessarily had anything to do with losing my friends — I noticed I lost friends while I was single, too.”
This loss of friendship and the other social divisions between married and single students, Lang claimed, don’t stem from marriage itself. Rather, she thinks it boils down to a serious lack of people skills in students at BYU-I. For Lang, her so-called friends from before she met her husband lacked the social maturity to remain friends when her time was spent with him instead of them.
Lang didn’t limit this social immaturity to single students, either. She told Scroll how surprised she was by the inhospitality and childishness she and her husband experienced in her community at their married apartment complex and Church ward, an opinion that contradicts Bills’ thoughts that married students increase in social maturity, causing a rift between them and singles.
“I would think that there would be an increased maturity level among married people, like they’re turning a new leaf and looking to progress through life,” Lang said, “but we’ve noticed people still don’t call or text us back. They don’t reach out and stay in contact with us. As friends, they are still very surface-level. I thought that would change when we got married.”
Lang’s words imply a potentially systemic dilemma among BYU-I students. If both sides of the division lack the ability to generate and maintain friendships in their own social communities, how can one expect these two social groups to stay connected? Following Lang’s complaint of married students lacking social accountability and maturity, perhaps many single students at BYU-I haven’t matured before their marriages, leading their negative social tendencies to simply change form when applied to their different lifestyle.
If Lang’s observation is true, the solution to bridging the social gap between married and single students must go deeper than melded social events and friendliness. Students, both married and single, must individually address their personal and cultural insufficiency and unhealthy social behavior. Easier said than done, true, but if BYU-I students are tired of feeling like they lose friends due to marriage, they ought to look inward and develop their own social capacities before blaming others.
The first and most critical step to building a bridge is to realize the canyon’s depth. We at Scroll call for students — especially those who feel like they’ve lost friends in the course of a marriage — to analyze this problem and consider how they could individually take the initiative to bridge the personal gaps between themselves and their former friends. Disregard who may be at fault for the separation. Take ownership and tenaciously rethink the value of the friend you used to know.