I recently heard an interesting claim, though I’m not sure where it originated. It said that most people have already met their soulmate by age 21 (where that comes from, I don’t even know).
As a (newly) engaged person, it’s only significant to me in that I met my fiancé when I was 10 years old. But for many of my girlfriends and guy friends who are still single or dating, 21 has come and gone.
That’s not a bad thing by any means. As individuals, certain stages of life might come differently to us than it does to others. But having been raised in the South and as a graduate of an SEC school, there was an undeniable culture around dating and marriage that I was influenced by which you might have heard of: ring by spring. Although I believe this trend comes from good intentions, it’s ultimately not a very healthy mindset to have.
Ring by Spring Isn’t Just at Christian Schools
As I was gathering research for this article, I was almost surprised to see that in the mainstream, ring by spring usually refers to students at Christian colleges. (Jerry Falwell Jr., former president of Liberty University, once told students to use Liberty as a “tool” to find their prospective spouses — with no mention of how education might play into that.) Christian schools account for a large percentage of its subscribers to be sure, but I’ve found that by the standards of the culture I was raised in, it’s not just limited to that environment.
I love the South. I was born and raised here, and I wouldn’t leave it for anything. But as much as I love it, I can also recognize that it has a certain agenda from which I often felt isolated. There’s a definite culture in the South, and especially at the college I attended, around appearance — and not just physical, though that’s just as crucial. At my school, where you were from, how much money your parents have, what Greek house you belonged to all counted for or against you. And the ring by spring trend at this school was just as influential as it no doubt is at Christian colleges.
Ring by spring often refers to students at Christian colleges, but it's also prominent in the South.
Even more surprising is that this trend has grown so large that its definition is now disputed. Some may know it as a girl getting proposed to in the spring of her senior year before graduation, while others know it as a couple who begins their relationship in the fall and is engaged by the spring of the next year. (I always personally thought it was the former, but at this point in its popularity it could go either way.)
Every year at my university, as the tulips bloomed and the climate warmed, sure enough, there’d be friends and acquaintances with brand new engagement rings come graduation time, or even after spring break. While I don’t believe any of them necessarily ascribed wholeheartedly to the ring by spring logic, it’s not even necessary to. Through all four years, its importance is already ingrained in your consciousness and grows all the more intimidating as graduation bears down.
This Logic Can Be Debilitating
I can understand it, and for many couples it makes sense. Whatever your post-graduation plans are, having a spouse or at least a fiancé is the natural progression of a relationship and a way to ensure your commitment as a couple, whether you both pursue graduate school or careers, or even move away from one another.
But just because this ensures commitment doesn’t mean it ensures stability. In fact, experts agree that couples who marry at age 21 or younger are more likely to divorce. Speaking for myself, college was often an uncertain, painful time I wouldn’t necessarily choose to relive again. Had I gotten engaged or even married to any of the guys I dated, I’m not so sure it would’ve lasted. I was a young, impressionable person finding herself. I made tons of mistakes, went through breakups and terrible dates, but still, those three words loomed in the back of my head, and with each end or painful breakup, they flashed incessantly like I’d just missed my chance, yet again.
Couples who marry at age 21 or younger are more likely to divorce.
This was in no way the mindset I should’ve had. Had I had a more secure sense of self, or been able to better block out those influences, I might have taken better care of myself, physically and emotionally, and treated my friends and the people I dated with more graciousness and understanding.
Couples get married young, it happens — as a matter of fact, 28% of couples met or attended the same college as their spouse. But there’s a distinction to be made between happening to meet your spouse and getting engaged in the spring, and actively seeking out that arrangement.
Here’s What We Should Be Doing Instead
Don’t get me wrong. Wanting to be in a relationship or to have a partner is a natural, healthy feeling. But if it gets to the point where it consumes our motivations behind dating in the first place, we should ask ourselves what we’re really after: a mate to spend our lives with or an engagement?
Our young adult lives are such an exciting time. We’re finding our footing in our education and our careers, thinking about paths we want to pursue and what we want for ourselves in the future. Our spouses can certainly be a part of that, but they shouldn’t be our first concern.
Practical skills can be indispensable ones that you can later bring to a relationship.
I’m definitely not a subscriber to the narrative of self-love, but in this context, putting yourself before a potential spouse (who you might not even have met yet!) makes sense. Practical skills, like finding hobbies and passions and tackling personal finance, can be indispensable ones that you can later bring to a relationship. Not to mention, you never get your single days back once you’ve given them up for a relationship, and it’s definitely something you might not even know you miss until later.
All this to say, bettering ourselves — be it through fitness and exercise, intellectually or otherwise — can make you feel more confident and ready for a relationship, as well as more attractive to potential partners.
It’s possible to get out from under our ring by spring mindset, but it might require a lot of dedication, both to our goals and to changing the conversation altogether.
There’s nothing wrong with not having an engagement ring come graduation time, or even in the spring of any year for that matter. What’s more, if we actively pursue this kind of ambition, which is inherently flawed, we could end up with more heartache than we anticipated, whether through the unrealistic standards we’ve set for ourselves or even by being with the wrong person. As the veteran of any failed marriage or serious relationship will tell you, sometimes being alone is better than being in the wrong relationship, and if we’re afraid to be alone with ourselves, that’s the very place we need to start.