A new post pops up on your Facebook page. “Ashley Arnold with Jake Kernell. December 16.” A ring photo accompanies the new Facebook life moment: “Engaged to Jake Kernell.” The option to see their relationship sits below the official social media announcement along with pictures of the new couple. This is a sight often seen as college couples announce their intentions to marry each other. Posts fill Facebook in fall and winter. Rarely, though, is one seen during the springtime or summer.
The pressure to become engaged before graduating has decreased due to the change of societal conventions and constrictions over the past twenty years.
“Ring by spring” is referenced primarily in Christian evangelical circles. It refers to the perceived need for college students to get engaged by the spring of their senior year.
Leah Burt, a recently-engaged senior education major, spoke about her experience with the concept of ring by spring. “I would define ‘Ring by Spring’ as a social expectation that a couple’s transition from dating to engagement is very short and very public,” Burt said.
Burt explained this idea is encouraged both by those who are single and those who are married. “‘Ring by Spring’ is a pressure placed on couples that creates a sort of social obligation to commit long-term very early in a relationship,” she said.
Six years ago, Mayfield, John Brown University’s all-girls dorm, had a tradition concerning engagements. When a girl in Mayfield got engaged, the RAs would run down the halls ringing a bell and yelling “ring down!” The girls would all gather in the Mayfield basement and pass around a lit candle. When the engaged girl grabbed the candle, she would blow out the flame. Then the celebration would start. A few years ago, this tradition stopped.
According to Derek Gwinn, at John Brown University the cultural push to get married early is decreasing. “I think [relationships] are changing. It is indicative of a shift. I think there has been a transition where college no longer has that dual purpose of getting a degree and finding your spouse.”
“You still have people who jump to conclusions when a man and woman go off together, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as dominant a perspective on romantic relationships on campus,” Gwinn said.
In Burt’s opinion, the ring by spring culture is invasive. “It assumes an intimacy with the couple and/or individual that is very personal. There have been numerous times where I have been approached by fellow female students who openly asked me when I was getting engaged in public,” Burt said. “It made me very uncomfortable.”
Gwinn expanded on the influence of stigmas in college culture and their impact on healthy relationships. “The desire for a relationship seems to be slowing down, although the pressure on both genders to get engaged is still there.”
“I wanted to be engaged, yes,” Burt said. “I am excited to be engaged now. But what I disliked was the expectation that I should share those personal details of my life and my thoughts with near strangers.”
“I don’t want to pretend [Ring by Spring] doesn’t happen, but that focus has shifted. And part of that is the culture we live in where young women are more empowered to seek careers.” Gwinn said to explain that Ring by Spring is indeed still relevant on campus, but is no longer the lifeblood of romantic endeavors or a college career.