Marriage culture at Dordt University

Mikaela Wegner—Staff Writer  

After a pizza date-night, Dordt University students Emily Kooiman and Matthew Van Eps step outside. It’s a late December night, chilly, but not to the point of snow. The couple makes a floating lantern out of wire and tissue paper after watching a tutorial. They light a flame and set it off into the sky. When it reaches about ten feet, the whole lantern sets ablaze. 

Like lanterns, marriage is complicated and can have unexpected turns. Still, some university students choose to get married during or immediately after attaining a degree.  

According to a study from Katherine Burgess published in The Washington Post, the post-secondary schools where people are most likely to find spouses are usually Christian institutions. 

Kooiman and Van Eps are both 21 years old. They were engaged in September, having dated 11 months before that.  

At the end of their sophomore year during finals week, Kooiman made banana bread for her roommate’s boyfriend. They dropped it off together, and Kooiman met Van Eps for the first time while he was studying for an engineering test. They started dating the October of their junior year. 

“I didn’t go to Dordt to find my significant other. It was more of an added bonus I guess,” said Kooiman. “It was just a really cool moment that [God] brought my person now rather than after college.” 

Both Kooiman and Van Eps believe there are students that attend Dordt solely for their MRS. degree, a term thrown around on campus that references those who go to college for the purpose of getting hitched. From his experience, Van Eps has seen girls with this intent more often than boys. He believes girls feel more pressure to get married. 

With her Dutch background, Kooiman believes this culture contributed to her views on marriage. She said her uncles and grandparents, especially grandpas, would tease her “all the time” about boys and marriage. This teasing was directed more often towards girl cousins than boy cousins. Kooiman said some people may feel pressure to get married because of  this environment, but she simply saw it as her relatives joking.   

Although Dordt has a significant number of individuals getting married after or even before graduation, Kooiman and Van Eps believe Dordt does not overtly promote this culture. 

“I don’t remember going to a chapel or hearing any Dordt staff in particular say any pressure. In fact, I feel like it’s otherwise. They’ve told you it’s okay if you don’t end up marrying when you graduate,” Van Eps said.   

Two Dordt staff members have walked a similar route as Kooiman and Van Eps. David Mulder and Melissa Mulder have been married for 23 years, living in Sioux Center since 2001. 

They don’t remember meeting, but David said he is positive they knew each other by the second week of their freshman year. David and Melissa got married in the summer after their junior year.  

“It didn’t seem odd to us at all at the time, but in the longer view of things, in some ways we were kids [and] we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” David said. “Do I regret it? Not a bit. I definitely do believe that was a good thing for us where we were at in our relationship.” 

Although making his decision to marry Melissa on his own, David has wondered if there is unspoken pressure at Dordt for students to get married young. 

It’s jokes like “don’t date until Tristate,” and “MRS. degree” that David believes contribute to this implied culture and expectation. Not having known it at the time, David admits part of the reason he originally attended Dordt was out of hope to find a spouse. According to David, Christian universities and Dordt in particular, are places that allow students to meet others their age with shared worldviews and similar belief systems.  

At the end of the day, David said he is happy he met Melissa at Dordt but would have been equally happy to meet her somewhere else.  

“I think of it more in a sense of [Dordt] was a really formative place for me in my life, for Missy too,” David said. “The fact that we met here and that’s where our relationship began, boy if other people would find that same kind of joy in their lives, what a great thing.” 

Although David would have been happy to meet Melissa somewhere other than Dordt, he doesn’t think he would have. David grew up in a big city in California, while Melissa grew up in a small town in Minnesota. Had they not gone to Dordt, David is sure he would never have met his wife.   

“We have a weird culture around dating and marriage here at Dordt, but it’s also not a bad culture,” said David. 

Ultimately, David does not believe Dordt is the answer to finding a spouse. In a family of three other kids, David and all his siblings were Dordt graduates. David and Melissa are the only Dordt couple, while the rest of David’s siblings found their spouses outside of university. 

David said his wife did not attend Dordt to find a husband, as the MRS. degree gender-bias proposes. 

“She was here for her education and happened to meet a guy,” David said.  

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