Attending a 4-year private university was a decision I made long before I began applying to colleges. I knew I wanted to study English, earn my degree, and then become a high school teacher.
Entering this new season of my life, I realized that there would be new doors opening for me as a young adult, one of those being an entire university of men I hadn’t met yet. I had always assumed that I would marry young, following in the footsteps of many generations of women in my family, but I wasn’t in any rush.
But when jokes about earning my M.R.S. degree felt less like a joke and more like an expectation, I quickly realized that the “ring by spring” culture had taken over private universities. And I had no idea what that meant in the realm of dating.
What Is Ring by Spring?
“Ring by spring” is a well-known term in private institutions, and it basically carries the expectation of a wedding ring before graduation. A large majority of the student population will be married, or at least engaged, by the time they graduate. Given that college students typically fall between the ages of 18 and 24, these ring-by-spring relationships lead to young marriages.
At my university, there is even the general understanding that many young women go there to meet their husbands, with no true post-grad plans, as many of them will attend a graduation ceremony as a guest and not as a participant. This mindset toward dating and marriage relationships has been widely adopted by a large percentage of the student body, and it’s interesting to see how it affects the culture of the university.
And a disclaimer: Young marriages can be great. It’s truly incredible to find a man who supports you, loves you, and leads you well, especially during your college years. When you know he’s the one, go for it. But a “ring by spring” mindset can quickly become an all-consuming obsession, which can lead to unhealthy relationships and overly high expectations.
The majority of girls I have lived with are engaged or married as of their junior year of college.
Some students purposefully choose private universities for this reason, while others are blindsided by these dating expectations when they start their first semester. Growing up in the public school system, I had never heard of “ring by spring” until I started higher education. I can make a “ring by spring” joke with friends who attend private universities across the country, and even friends who graduated over a decade ago, and they all know what I am referring to. It’s not a new concept, or even a bad one; it’s just unique to this college culture.
The Focus on Marriage Makes Dating Harder, Ironically
When it comes to dating in this hyper-focused marriage environment, there is no such thing as a casual date. Relationships typically become serious quickly, as the goal of any and every dating relationship is marriage. As a new student, and even as a newly single student, it becomes increasingly difficult to meet and get to know new guys without the heavy implications of a relationship, marriage, and all other future complications. Sometimes all a girl wants is a date – before commitment and a forever together. But this is often hard to come by.
Along those same lines, some men are terrified of this type of quick commitment, and understandably so. When I started as a freshman, I put myself out there and met several guys who may have been good dates or good boyfriends. But at the first hint of interest, they bolted. There is a difference between never wanting to settle down and not wanting to seriously contemplate the future on a first date. These men deal with the latter more than ladies would like to admit, and it leaves them scarred for the next first date during their college career. As a young woman who struggles with my own issues of perfectionism and commitment, I can understand how marriage pressure can leave a person feeling unsettled. It complicates the dating sphere greatly.
There are also times when being single is overwhelmingly uncomfortable. “Ring by springers” will constantly remind you that “singleness is just a season,” as if the goal of college is to find a spouse. The majority of girls I have lived with are engaged or married as of their junior year of college, and those who aren’t are impatiently waiting for a ring. Singleness can be a shameful state of existence, and it becomes increasingly more difficult to be content in singleness when everyone you know is either engaged or married. It can be very easy to fall into this line of thinking, as feelings of shame and sadness creep in during single stretches. Am I enough? Is something wrong with me? As graduation looms in the near future, many women will feel behind their peers in life’s major milestones, because of the pressure placed on them by a ring-by-spring culture.
Sometimes all a girl wants is a date – before commitment and a forever together.
And one more uncomfortable aspect of private school dating culture is a smaller dating pool. Private universities are significantly smaller than their public counterparts, which means fewer men. This also means that your exes probably know each other, and one bad move can cause several men to avoid you!
Talking about the Important Things Is Easier
One of the benefits of this dating culture is that the majority of people are dating with intention. In a society where casual hookups are the norm, it’s nice to know that students are intentional about partners and the overall direction of a relationship. All signs lead to marriage, so there is less of a question about the direction of a relationship or the end goal for both partners. However, these conversations are important, and not every man has the same goals and dreams as you do, so don’t fall into the ring-by-spring trap if things aren’t going right!
While a smaller dating pool has its challenges, it can also be a great way to determine whether a guy might be a good boyfriend or husband before the relationship starts. His past dates, girlfriends, and his friends (whom you probably know) will give you some good insight into his personality and how he treats those around him. Whether those are red flags or green ones, this is good information to know about a guy!
Especially in a religious university setting, it’s easier to find men who have similar values or a shared faith. The ring-by-spring culture places heavy emphasis on the future, so conversations about marriage, careers, children, and politics are likely to come up very early in the relationship. But in a smaller environment, like-minded men can be easier to find, so make yourself known and available for these conversations, and you will likely find a guy who shares similar values about life and a potential future together!
Ring by spring is a countercultural concept, which has its benefits and challenges in a college setting. There is nothing wrong with young marriages or meeting your man while studying! Just keep in mind these social dating expectations and the pitfalls that can come with them if you plan on attending a private university.
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