By Katie O’Connell
Nationwide, the overall number of marriages has been decreasing, but you might not think so if you go to Trevecca, where the paper features newly-engaged couples and the very president of the college references it at freshman orientation.
“Ring by spring” is a common catchphrase on campus, especially in response to engagements that happen after the fall semester, but there’s not one single definition of what “ring by spring” actually is.
For some, it’s seniors eager to have their engagement ring before graduating. To others, it’s any students getting engaged while in school. Often, it’s jokingly proposed as the real reason anyone goes to a Christian school.
Even the experts can’t always agree on what it is.
“I think that it is an actuality at certain universities…kids feel more of a pressure. Maybe there are some students that come to the university with the perception that they want to find a mate while they’re here,” said Sara Hopkins, director of counseling services in the Center for Leadership, Calling, and Service. “I also think that there’s a culture on come campuses that that’s what’s expected… [Even though] maybe they didn’t intend for that to happen.”
It’s true that fewer people are getting married today than in years past, and the median age of marriage has risen. According to a report released by the Pew Research Center, 60% of 20-24-year-olds had ever been married in 1960, compared to 14% in 2010.
Trevecca’s website lists the average age of first-time freshmen as 19. If those freshmen graduate in four to six years, they would be 23 to 25 when they graduate in the spring with that ring.
The Pew Center estimated the median age of first marriage in 2011 at 28.7 for men and 26.5 for women. That’s a leap of about six years up for both sexes since 1960, and even 2.6 years higher than it was for both sexes in 1990.
But try telling that to some Trevecca students. President Dan Boone has given freshman orientation speeches several years in a row telling students to look around because their future spouse could possibly be in the room. Only a couple years ago, an annual week of activities early in the fall semester was dubbed “Courtship Week.”
“I felt very pressured, my freshman year, to find the person I was going to marry,” said junior Emily Archer.
Maranda Moore, a recently engaged junior, echoed the sentiment, saying “I think [ring before spring] applies more to freshmen getting engaged…You get there and get engaged before your fall semester is over.”
It was more common to see junior and senior seeking premarital counseling than sophomores and freshmen, said Amanda Grieme, who served as director of counseling from August 2009 to June 2011. That counseling actually tended to spike in the fall, perhaps because couples would start seeking counseling the semester after they got engaged, Grieme theorized.
Hopkins said that for upperclassmen, there can be a kind of pressure to propose because they’re preparing to graduate and the prospect of a big life transition can be daunting, and that couples facing such a time often come in for counseling.
“If students are in this place where they know that graduation is upon them…that might prompt them to be engaged or find a mate quicker.”
It’s not just couples who can be affected by the idea of “ring before spring,” though. Single people can face pressure from the same idea in spite of—or sometimes because of—their lack of a romantic partner.
“If they [single people] see students and friends getting en-gaged, it can increase feelings of loneliness, feeling like they should have been able to find a mate,” Hopkins said.
Grieme said that she would see people come in feeling a lot of pressure from their singleness, while couples often came in feeling less pressure but “rolling their eyes…saying people expected them to get engaged.”
Still, there are others for whom the issue is a moot point.
Drew Lewis, a newly-engaged junior, said it didn’t relate to him and he’d never had the term applied to his relationship.
“I never really felt pressured by Trevecca,” he said.