Getting married? Nothing could be further from the minds of most students. They are more concerned with their studied and having a good time. But every year a few Wageningen students tie the knot. So what are their motives for committing themselves to a lifelong partnership? And how do you organize a fabulous wedding on a student budget?
Lennert (25) and Gabriëlle (22) had only been together a couple of months when Gabriëlle got pregnant. Things suddenly moved fast then. Although Lennert was still a student, they decided to move in together to create a good basis for the baby’s arrival. After the birth of their daughter Lotus, however, they wanted to go a step further and be a real family. ‘And also, I really wanted to have the same name as my daughter,’ says Gabriëlle. In no time the decision had been taken to get married. ‘An unusual step for people of our age,’ admits Gabriëlle. ‘But luckily, all the reactions we got were positive.’ But getting married is an expensive business and money is in short supply for the couple, as fulltime mother and student. So it had to be a low budget wedding. ‘Of course that was a challenge,’ says Lennert. Thanks to a part-time job, they managed to save a bit.
‘And for the rest, you just have to be creative.’ Party venues are very expensive. But Lennert and Gabriëlle were lucky: an aunt and uncle of Lennert’s offered them their beautiful farmhouse in Putten for the occasion. The party was held in the barn, with the workbench serving as a bar. ‘We kept the snacks simple, just sausages, cheese and barbecue. And beer from Germany of course – it’s cheaper.’
They didn’t have to hire bartenders. ‘Friends from my SSR fraternity did all that,’ says Lennert. One of his year group mates took care of the lighting and sound. The group even camped out on the farm to help with the cleaning up the next day. ‘Really incredibly nice.’ Family and other friends did their bit as well. Gabriëlle’s mother put her heart and soul into the décor of the barn. One girlfriend took the photographs and another made the wedding cake. ‘I got the dress from my brother and sister.’ Lennert and Gabriëlle look back on a ‘fantastic day’. Even if they’d had a bigger budget, they wouldn’t have done it very differently. ‘At the most, we would have invited more people to the barbecue.’
Tanja and Imko met on New Year’s Eve 2012. ‘We got on really well right from the start,’ says Tanja, a BSc student at Wageningen. They had been together a year, giving their relationship a chance to develop, when Imko popped the question on New Year’s Eve 2013, exactly a year after they first clapped eyes on each other. The answer was a wholehearted ‘Yes’. The great day came eight months later, on 27 August 2014. Pretty quickly by today’s standards, Tanja admits. But she never had any doubts. ‘If you’re sure, you’re sure.’
Another factor played a role in it for both of them. ‘Marriage is important to me as a Christian, and the same goes for Imko. We are both members of the Dutch Reformed church.’ Was there a bit of pressure from the church community then? Tanja laughs. ‘People often think that, don’t they? But no, not a single elder came knocking to urge us to get married. It was our own decision and came from a deep-seated desire to ask for God’s blessing on this marriage. That’s what Imko and I are like.’ But the couple didn’t have much money so it was a real student wedding. ‘It didn’t matter much to us what the day looked like,’ says Tanja. ‘As long as everyone could just be themselves and the atmosphere was relaxed.
’ In view of the tight budget, they appealed for help from friends and family. ‘They baked a cake, for instance. My sister-in-law helped with the decorations. We had my dressed made by a seamstress we already knew,’ says Tanja. The couple found it easy enough to make other savings too. Tanja: ‘Getting married in Apeldoorn was much cheaper than in Wageningen, so that decision was quickly made.’ Purely by chance, the couple came across a beautiful vintage car which the owner was willing to lend them, as a big favour. But that didn’t go so smoothly. ‘On our wedding day the car broke down. Once that was solved, we had to take the traffic-calming bumps very carefully. So carefully that we were stopped by a couple of very grumpy police.’ But that was the only blot on an otherwise perfect day. The church service was held in Wageningen in their ‘own’ church and followed by a party on a farm campsite in Otterlo. ‘Our guests could dance indoors and sit around the campfire outside. Altogether, we had a very relaxed and happy day.’ It was only possible to keep the costs so low (about 4500 euros) thanks to the help of family and friends. But that made it all the nicer, says Tanja. ‘It meant they were much more involved in the event. It was a party not for but with the guests. Truly, even if we had more money, I wouldn’t do anything differently. Sometimes I think these sorts of ceremonies have become too luxurious.’
Maarten, a PhD candidate in Physical Chemistry, was looking for the love of his life on a dating site. And he found him, but not exactly close to home. His eye fell on Imran* from Pakistan, a faraway country where homosexuality is far from being accepted. It looked like a hopeless match. Instead, events unfolded like a modern fairy tale in which a prince chooses love over wealth and power. Well, Imran is not exactly an eastern prince, but he does come close. He belongs to an influential family in Pakistan. His father has a top government job and many of his family are doctors or scientists. ‘At home I only had to snap my fingers and I got what I wanted,’ says Imran. But after spending a year in the UK getting his Master’s, he realized his homeland could not give him what he really wanted. ‘Nobody is openly gay in Pakistan. It’s as simple as that.’
After his studies he had to go back to Pakistan, but he went with the wish to return to Europe as soon as possible. During this period he got to know Maarten on the internet. For five months, the lads shared their ups and downs on WhatsApp, Facebook and Skype.’ Imran was sure: this was Mr Right. So sure that he turned down several jobs he was offered thanks to family connections. One of them was in Dubai. A great career opportunity, he is sure. ‘It was very tempting but I knew that in Dubai I could never stand up for who I really am. I could no longer imagine life without Maarten.’ Maarten was very excited too. But he wanted to wait and see what happened when they met ‘for real’. ‘To see whether I would fall in love with the guy I liked so much.’ They got the chance when Imran had to go to Denmark for a business consultancy project. That’s when they first met and it clicked face to face as well.
A marriage proposal followed on New Year’s Eve 2013. The wedding, seven months later, was deliberately low profile. To get married in the Netherlands, Imran would have needed a ‘not married’ certificate from his parents, a step he preferred to avoid. So they decided to get married in Denmark. It was a quiet wedding. ‘Denmark is not exactly next door and the wedding was planned at short notice.’ Imran’s parents were in the dark. He kept quiet out of fear that the Pakistan media would spread the news that the son of a prominent figure is gay. ‘My parents always took good care of me and brought me up lovingly. I keep my orientation secret out of respect for them. I don’t want to cause any trouble for my parents.’ Maarten’s parents were not at the wedding either. ‘My family are convinced members of the reformed church. They know I am gay and I can see that they do their best. But it is still difficult for them to accept it.’ Maarten himself is still a member of the reformed church. But there is no question of a church ceremony. It was a typical Danish ceremony. ‘In the Netherlands it is customary for the presiding official to make a long speech. In Denmark they are just efficient, it took five minutes to get married.'
* Imran is not his real name