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Finding love next door: Married professors talk love, literature

Photo courtesy Sarah Ellenzweig

By Grace Zhou     2/14/23 11:43pm

The circulation desk at Fondren is perhaps one of Rice’s most underrated matchmaking spots. Back in 2001, it was where now-married professors Sarah Ellenzweig and Scott McGill first met. Ellenzweig had already been teaching at Rice for a year, while McGill had just started teaching in the Classics department.

Following their initial interaction, McGill said their offices were only three doors apart, causing frequent run-ins for the two. They quickly learned that they had a lot of things in common, like their Northeast origins and shared interest in classical literature.

“Early on, we weren’t yet in a relationship, we were just getting to know each other,” Ellenzweig said. “I ran into him in the hall in Fondren on my way to the vending machine, and I said, ‘Hey, do you want me to show you where the vending machines are?’”

To her disappointment, McGill declined. Not knowing he didn’t eat candy bars, Ellenzweig concluded that he must have not been interested in her. Shortly after, McGill said he finally realized Ellenzweig was trying to make a move.

“I had to recover,” McGill said. “I was trying to read signals, read cues and hope for a chance at redemption.”

The pair started dating by November of the same year and got married after four years. Now, 22 years later, they have not only built a family but a new course at Rice. ENGL 254, The History of Love, is co-taught by Ellenzweig and McGill and focuses on early Greek, Roman and English romance literature. 

Although marriage and romance literature are both about love, McGill says the similarities end there. Romance literature is less about long-term relationships, according to McGill, but rather about the ephemerality of young, forbidden or lost love. Having been married for nearly two decades, Ellenzweig and McGill said that while they share a passion for classical romance literature, they thankfully don’t necessarily relate to them.

However, they said they do strongly resonate with an avant-garde film they watched together titled “My Dinner With Andre.” The film includes a scene of the main character, Andre, talking to his friend about romance by invoking an image of two people living in a room together over time. It is the common assumption that long-term relationships may eventually feel boring, but McGill said this film and his own marriage prove the opposite. 

“You’d think everyone just becomes really familiar,” McGill said. “But it doesn’t have to [get boring] if you make space for the other person’s independent identity.”

Ellenzweig said the film conveys that long relationships can actually create room for unpredictability in life. 

“If you let it, if you’re open to it, a whole adventure can be going on right in that room,” Ellenzweig said. “It’s quite an astonishing reversal of our assumptions.”

When asked how they navigate marriage, raise three children and co-teach, neither said they’ve grown weary of the other. 

“I don’t get tired of you,” McGill said to her. “I don’t know why, but I don’t.” 

In return, Ellenzweig expressed appreciation towards her husband for his ability to constantly make her laugh.

“I think finding someone who makes you laugh is really important, because life is hard, and there’s a lot of pain. Laughter really helps,” said Ellenzweig. “And Scott always makes me laugh. Oh, I really treasure that.”

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