The song “Breakout” by OPM on “The New Guy” soundtrack said it best: “Don’t need no education, already know California’s a nation.” California is a massive state. With 38.8 million residents, it is the most populous state and third-largest geographically in the United States. It really is a mini-nation within the country. There was even a proposal to split California into six smaller states this past year. It, of course, did not even get on the ballot.

The point of this is to explain that California is a unique and diverse state. Drive east through the extremely liberal Bay Area, and you will soon end up in small rural towns that are not much different than those in the Midwest. Drive south and you will hit L.A. and San Diego, made up of large populations of Latin American Catholics and Hollywood divas. The Bay Area has its own social norms, demographics and political ideals that are very different from the rest of California.

In the same way, so does Ann Arbor. When I first started researching the University, I came across a line that said: “Ann Arbor: The Berkeley of the Midwest.” Ann Arbor is a liberal hub in the middle of a conservative state. The actual University part of Ann Arbor is populated with people from these conservative areas. While they are young and educated, which makes them more likely to be Democratic, they still have the traditional values of a conservative home, most importantly when it comes to marriage.

During my time at Michigan, I have noticed a certain fixation on marriage that was completely foreign to me. While the average age of marriage for women in California is only 0.4 years higher than in Michigan, (26.8 versus 26.4 years of age, respectively), I feel like the discrepancy is much greater when I compare my experiences in the Bay Area to that 26.4 in Michigan.

The Bay Area is a very career- and individuality-oriented place, and the idea of following a guy instead of your career is on par with being a Republican in terms of the stigma attached to it. Marrying your college or high-school sweetheart never seemed like a feasible or desirable goal to me. My parents are old, 60 and 65, and met each other well into their 30s. My mom got married in black. Many of my friends’ parents are divorced and not looking for a second marriage. While growing up in Palo Alto, these things just seemed like the norm, but after moving to Michigan, I was exposed to a very different lifestyle and way of thinking.

The parents of my college friends are much younger than my parents, almost 10 to 15 years. None are divorced, most married their college partners and many started having kids at an early age. The people I have met in Michigan focus on the endurance of their relationships. They wonder, “Could I see myself marrying this person in 10 years?” Marriage comes up 100 times more in my conversations here than at home. By my junior year, it seemed like every one of my friends was in a long-term relationship and discussing the future with their significant other.

The closest I’ve come to talking about marriage was this past winter break in Palo Alto, when I discussed an “alliance ceremony” with my close friend and her boyfriend, as they joked about having one instead of a wedding.

Many of my friends from California are in some type of open relationship. Because many of my friends go to school out of state, they live their lives four months at a time. For the four months they are in the same town as their significant other, whether it is home or college, they are monogamous, but as soon as they are a plane ride away, the commitment becomes more relaxed. They will still Skype, text and visit each other, but they also allow their partners and themselves to have flings with the people in their immediate environment. They try to enjoy the time they have with each other for what it is without putting the added pressure of “the future.”

While the future can be a scary concept when in a relationship, it can also be exciting and enjoyable to imagine. Planning a life with the person you love can make the future a destination instead of an unknown. Michigan relationships understand this, while I feel the relationships I have witnessed in California overlook this pleasant aspect.

But long-distance and long-term relationships are extremely hard. I have seen them cause arguments and sometimes ultimately destroy the relationships. Those four months away during summer are a hard obstacle to overcome. But I have also seen and experienced the jealousy and insecurity that arises from allowing someone you love to have free reign for a majority of a year.

I have had Michiganders tell me they could see me never getting married, living in a committed relationship but never committing to something as traditional as a marriage. This is inaccurate. While having interesting life experiences trumps finding someone to settle down with for the next decade, Northern Californians and Midwesterners both want to find someone cool with whom to hang out and watch Netflix until we drop dead.

Jesse Klein can be reached jekle@umich.edu.

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