Ring by spring distorts reality, undervalues singleness

Gwen Henry | Cartoonist

By The Editorial Board

One day, you’re a freshman giving teary-eyed goodbyes to your parents, shrinking your clothes in the communal laundry room and planning your day around when to get a Memo flying saucer — and the next, you’re a senior with 12 wedding invitations on your fridge and four bridesmaid dresses in your closet.

Obviously, ring by spring isn’t the universal practice at Baylor, but man, does it feel like it.

The wild number of engagement posts and couples graduation photos can make even the brightest 21- and 22-year-old women feel like Charlotte Lucas in “Pride and Prejudice.”

“I’m 27 years old. I’ve no money and no prospects. I’m already a burden to my parents, and I’m frightened.”

It started as a meme, but over time, the laughs started to become a little painful.

Perhaps the hardest part of it all is how much pressure the culture of Protestantism tends to place on marriage. In the course of breaking away from Catholicism, it abandoned clerical celibacy, the consecrated life and the conception of marriage as a sacrament. The result of such reforms was the profound elevation of marriage as an institution, so much so that singleness is oftentimes seen as a curse.

In reality, though, this idea is not biblically sound. In 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, Paul says, “Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: It is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do.” Here is a clear instance of one of Christ’s apostles praising singleness as a vocation that is pleasing to God, so why are we quick to characterize singles as the red-headed stepchildren of the church?

Dr. Stacy Keogh George, a professor at Whitworth University, echoes this criticism in her 2016 article titled “Beyond the ‘Ring by Spring’ Culture.”

“Instead of encouraging men and women of faith to live out their individual vocations which may or may not include marriage, ring by spring culture pressures students to fulfill this sacrament as a cultural requisite for Christian college success.”

Of course, marriage is a beautiful covenant, and there is nothing wrong with getting married young if someone finds their person and is logistically prepared for the responsibility.

The point at which ring by spring becomes harmful is the point at which it teaches students that marriage is necessary for them to live a Christian life — and, further, that marriage is promised. College offers an opportunity for immense personal formation, and we shouldn’t overshadow that opportunity with unrealistic, and frankly unbiblical, pressures to settle down.

The reality is that not every person on campus right now is going to get married, and the vast majority of those who do get married are not going to find their life partner in the halls of the Baylor Sciences Building or Moody Memorial Library. According to a Pew Research Survey, 32% of adults meet their partner through family or friends, 18% through work, 17% through school, 12% online, 8% at a bar or restaurant and 5% at a place of worship — not to mention the fact that the average marriage age in the United States is 28 for women and 30 for men.

The highly publicized culture of ring by spring has a tendency to make students who are single feel like they’re the only ones their age who haven’t found their life partner, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

For those of you who desire marriage, know that undergrad isn’t the only place or the only time you can meet someone. Maybe you’re destined for a wholesome office romance like Jim and Pam, and who knows, maybe you’ll live out your wildest Hallmark dreams.

For those of you who don’t desire marriage, know that singleness is just as valuable a vocation. For the great majority of church history, Christians revered monks and nuns who lived a monastic life. Perhaps it’s time to revive this conception of singleness.

So, if your life starts sounding just a bit too much like the “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” plot of “27 Dresses,” rest assured that you aren’t alone. Make college your selfish years. Build strong friendships. Enjoy the chance to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Invest in your relationship with God.

And above all else, know that you’re not behind.