‘Relationships are old school’: Marriage 101 hits 23 years of teaching students about healthy relationships


Illustration by Shveta Shah

The Marriage 101 course is in its 23rd year of being taught at NU.

Beatrice Villaflor, Assistant Arts and Entertainment Editor

This spring, another 105 students have vowed to take “Marriage 101.” First taught in Spring Quarter 2000, this year marks the course’s 23rd anniversary at Northwestern.

SESP Prof. Alexandra Solomon has been involved in teaching Human Development and Psychological Services 340: Building Loving and Lasting Relationships: Marriage 101 since its inception — first as a discussion leader and lecturer, then as the professor 13 years ago. For her, it’s “wild” that the class is now older than some students taking it. 

“When we first started teaching (the course), I was a graduate student. I wasn’t a mother. I was a newlywed,” Solomon said. “Now, I’m basically the age of my students’ parents … We really are entering the second whole generation of this class.”

Solomon said she still teaches the class even after all these years because of her belief in providing holistic relationship and sex education to emerging adults. By exposing students to this knowledge, she said she hopes they avoid entering or creating the damaged relationships she has witnessed as a couple’s therapist. 

According to Solomon, the median age for marriage has risen in the past 23 years, which means many current students will experience a greater number of romantic relationships than past students. Solomon said previous students of Marriage 101 were more likely to be engaged or married by the time they were in the class. 

Because of the change in students’ relationship patterns, Solomon said she’s shifted her curriculum to focus more on dating, breakups and starting over afterward.

“That’s also a relationship skill,” Solomon said. “How do you get your heart broken and stitch it back together and keep on loving?”

Social media’s role in relationships is also an important, new dynamic to consider, she said. Solomon added social media shapes students’ identities and how they interact with romantic partners. 

In class, Solomon said students discuss the lecture content in breakout sessions and reflect on their own experiences in physical journals because she thinks “relationships are old school.”

“We may transact parts of relationships via technology, but really, relationships are about the five senses and our bodies and our emotions,” Solomon said. 

While the class focuses primarily on romantic relationships, Weinberg senior Konrad Schmid said he believes the course can teach anyone to be a better person.   

One takeaway he’s gained from the class is the idea of “relational self-awareness,” which Solomon focuses her work on. 

“In relationships, it’s the idea that instead of finding the one that you’re interested in, it’s more about being the one,” Schmid said. “That’s a really cool, nuanced view of the world and just view of relationships in general.” 

Schmid said he has been planning to take the course since before he came to NU. He added that his advisor called it a “cult class” due to the number of students who choose to take it every year. 

SESP junior Leah Ryzenman, who is also enrolled in the course, said the class is popular because of its applicability to students’ lives.  

The class revolves around the students understanding their upbringings and how that impacts the way they view relationships, she said. Lessons on vulnerability and compassion apply beyond romance, Ryzenman added.

“That’s not something that is confined to a classroom, that’s gonna be something that you’re dealing with every single day,” she said. “It’s a really fun and interesting class, but it’s also something that can be really helpful to take with you.”

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