Married couple reflects on love story, balancing life as nontraditional students

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Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Jennifer Smith proposed five times before Joshua Hilliard came around to the idea of marriage. 

“He kept saying no — not like ‘No, I don’t want to marry you,’ but ‘No, I don’t want to get married,’” Jennifer said. “So I kept asking, and then [he] asked me.” 

Jennifer and Joshua met in 2007, when they worked at Kerbey Lane Cafe, becoming friends while Joshua was still in a long-term relationship. Soon enough, he was single again, and the pair’s relationship blossomed into a romance. 

About a year and a half later, they decided to take the natural next step — moving in.

Despite living together for four years, Joshua’s family was surprised to find out about their plans to get married. 

“I think we are perceived by our families as more counter-cultural than we actually are,” Joshua said. “We might have a reputation as bomb-throwing leftists or something nontraditional. But [after we told them], they were very welcoming.”

Jennifer and her sister soon found themselves sucked into the abundance of DIY wedding crafts on Pinterest, crafting a backdrop of more than 1,000 tiny, “painstakingly handmade” origami butterflies for the altar where a mutual friend pronounced them husband and wife.  

While they said most of their relationship changed gradually, their new married status led others to see their relationship as more solidified than when they were dating. Jennifer said Joshua’s grandmother only stopped introducing her as “Josh’s friend” after their wedding.

Before getting married, Joshua decided to return to UT to finish his last year of radio-televison-film coursework following a 10-year gap. After he graduated, Jennifer followed suit, transferring from Austin Community College to pursue psychology. As one took time to focus on schoolwork, the other picked up more of the housework, cooking and cleaning.

“It was nice because we staggered our UT experience,” Joshua said. “Being married and both knowing the responsibilities the University requires, we both were conscious of giving enough space in the domestic sphere to pursue really studying. We both took it very seriously this go-around.”

For the most part, the support system marriage provides has made the challenges of college easier for Jennifer and Joshua, though it does not come without its own set of difficulties. While many undergrads spend free time at parties or in late-night cram sessions, many of their married peers put emphasis on having children or find themselves wrapped up their “own little world.” 

At 31 years old, Jennifer said she sometimes feels caught between two stages of life, not quite ready for a family but also uninterested in many of the activities her classmates enjoy. 

“I feel inadequate in all of my worlds — that sounds sad, but it isn’t,” Jennifer said. “It’s a world of my own making for not being committed to school… But I don’t think I would’ve [taken school] seriously.” 

Despite not following a “normal” life trajectory, the couple said they are glad they got married when they did. 

“Even though we weren’t married at the time, we were very committed to each other before I went back to UT,” Joshua said. “Having Jenny’s support — in every sense of the word — gave me the confidence I needed to actually pursue going back to school and to do well.”