Nicole Ratcliffe was expecting a proposal. It wasn’t until a tuxedoed, mustachioed man speaking in a pseudo-French accent surprised her at the Bellingham Marina that she realized the proposal was really happening.
The man, her boyfriend’s best friend, handed her a bag filled with dress options, a curling iron and makeup. After getting ready, she climbed aboard a sailboat decorated in tulle and flowers, and sat down to a romantic meal with her now-fiance Jacob Peterson.
Seven months later, high school sweethearts Ratcliffe and Peterson, both juniors at Western, count down the days until their March wedding in their hometown of Issaquah.
Being a college student and a bride or groom-to-be can have its challenges. Between planning the wedding, juggling homework, staying connected with their significant other and planning for the future, it’s not all easy.
Ratcliffe’s mom wants to give her a big white wedding, but the details don’t matter much to Ratcliffe. Simply marrying Peterson is the focus.
“I’m super low-key when it comes to wedding planning,” Ratcliffe said. “For now I’m just like, ‘I don’t have time for this, I just want to marry him,’ so I don’t really care.”
For senior Alex Shane and recent graduate McKenna Fishbook, ensuring a solid foundation for their future before marriage was important.
“People have a lot of opinions on it. Some people are giving me high-fives, and some people are like, ‘Watch out.’”
“We want to have jobs first. We wanted to make sure we both would be graduated with degrees,” Shane said. “It’s not all Hollywood.”
Entering the job force isn’t the only challenge faced when engaged as a college student. Often, polarizing opinions of friends, family and even casual acquaintances can get in the way. Getting married—and getting married young—is a lifestyle choice not all can agree on.
“People have a lot of opinions on it. Some people are giving me high-fives, and some people are like, ‘Watch out,’” Shane said.
Shane and Fishbook always saw themselves as marrying at an older age. However, the two changed their minds.
“When you meet the right person, why wait?” Shane said.
Shane said the couple has always maintained a positive outlook on marriage. Both Shane and Fishbook are fortunate to have parents who are still together and are very much in love, Shane said.
No matter the couple’s age, wedding planning can seem like a seemingly dark and never-ending road. On the flip side, it could also be a breeze.
“I think it’s different for every couple, but for us it’s been super relaxed because we had such a long engagement,” Shane said. “It’s very polarizing. I think having a long engagement is really smart because I don’t know anything about wedding planning.”
Shane proposed to Fishbook in February 2016, after more than a year of dating. The couple will be married in September 2017.
Shane wrote letters on some of their favorite pictures, took Fishbook to their favorite places, then dropped her off and told her to get dressed up.
Later, she received a text telling her to look at the back of the photo album, where she found another note instructing her to walk outside and get in a limo. The limo driver handed her one last letter from Shane and drove to the waterfront. Fishbook arrived to a flower-bearing Shane ready to lead her to the terrace where he proposed.
Shane said Fishbook has been handling the stress of wedding planning like a pro due to her stint working at a wedding planning company in high school.
Betina Sanchez, recent Western graduate and newlywed, works with wedding preparations and newly engaged couples. Hoping to get her foot in the door of event planning, she began working for Alicia’s Bridal in Bellingham while she was engaged.
“It was fun because there were actually three of us who were engaged while working there at the same time,” Sanchez said. “We were all excited, all brides-to-be, just like the brides we work with.”
After eight years of dating, Sanchez’s husband, Greg Sanchez, proposed to her on the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“I always knew I wanted to get married. I’m a big fan of marriage,” Betina Sanchez said. “I also respect marriage and think that it should be a one-time thing. I don’t think it’s something you should go into so lightly.”
After a two-year engagement, the couple got married in September 2016, a month after Betina Sanchez graduated from Western with a communication studies degree.
Because she was in school until the wedding, she spaced out the wedding planning over winter, spring and summer breaks. But there was still a lot to do.
“I thought I would have June until the end of the summer to do all the little details. I didn’t find out I wasn’t graduating until summer until we had already started planning,” Sanchez said. “Graduating in August and then getting married in September was a stressful summer.”
Despite the stress of being a student and a soon-to-be spouse, the couples all shared one feeling: genuine happiness. Ratcliffe pointed out the inevitable fade of “puppy love giddiness.”
Each individual, however, seemed to understand the ability deep connections have to last a lifetime. In Ratcliffe’s words, “Love doesn’t have to be just a feeling, it’s an action.”