Ring by Spring

What comes to mind when you hear “spring”? Some of you might think about plans for your spring break adventure. For others of you, it is all about spring cleaning. Perhaps it drums up pleasant thoughts of nature in full bloom. And then others of you may be focused on the common Christian-college phenomenon known by many as “ring by spring.”

“Ring by spring” is a phrase that has become associated with young Christian singles eagerly seeking out a spouse at Christian universities everywhere. The goal, especially for ladies, is to get an engagement ring by the time spring arrives. Some say that Christian universities are more about finding a spouse than getting an education.

Personally, I attended a Christian university for my undergraduate work, and there was definitely an emphasis on finding a spouse by the time you received a diploma. Several of my friends and acquaintances paired up as early as freshman year, getting engaged before our first year of schooling was complete. While some envied their relational status, others scoffed at their eagerness to get married rather than educated.

There was a division among the student body. Half of the students resented the stereotype of Christian universities as mere spousal breeding grounds rather than serious educational institutions. The other half relished the opportunity of having a prime pool of potential lifelong suitors. So, which half is right?

There is certainly a level of negativity aimed at Christian universities concerning this subject of students “rushing” to find a spouse before graduation. Rather than focusing on who is right or wrong, it is important to discuss the issues and concerns surrounding finding a spouse during college. Is it a bad thing? Is it smart? Can you have both? These are valid and significant questions to examine further.

Prime Time
It’s not a bad idea to consider college as a great opportunity for finding a spouse. In fact, colleges everywhere, Christian and non-Christian, have long been considered a prime place to meet that special someone to spend the rest of your life with. Recently, though, as society has begun to push the value of securing a career, social status, and independence combined with higher divorce rates that are discouraging people from pursuing marriage, the number of people walking away from college with a diploma and a spouse is decreasing.

Christian universities come under fire sometimes because so many of their students are eager to get married while attending, but I am arguing that is a good sign. The amount of young people delaying marriage and opting to cohabitate, “hook up,” and/or engage in premarital sexual activity is increasing. So, Christian students who are eager to find a spouse are often deterred from doing things that are outside of God’s intended plan. In 1 Corinthians 7:9, God’s word tells us, “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Marriage is a real blessing and gift from God, so it’s understandable that people are excited for it.

The Problem
The problem arises when people get so caught up in finding a spouse that they do not carefully consider their selection. Instead of being patient, discerning, prayerful, and thorough, they rush the process. Rushed dating relationships that lead into marriage are often disastrous, marked by volatility, disappointment, pain, and often divorce. It’s critical to take the time to get to know the person you desire to marry and discover if he or she is the best fit for you.

Another potential issue occurs when students are paying a lot of money to be in school but aren’t focusing on getting an education. If your primary focus is simply to find a spouse, you might want to consider a less expensive route than college. Private universities are especially expensive, so neglecting your educational purposes is not a frugal decision. Besides, an education is really important and beneficial to have. Focusing on your schooling rather than hunting down a potential mate is a wise choice that leaves the match-making up to God. When you set your heart and mind on pursuing God’s will for your life, it gives Him the freedom to write a much better story for your life, including the chapter on love. That doesn’t mean you isolate yourself; it means that you busy yourself with pursuing His purpose for your life, and the rest will be taken care of (Matthew 6:33). Instead of grabbing the reins of your life, allow God to do the driving, and He will provide the absolute best for you.

Wedding or Marriage?
While this is another likely problem and could have been included above, I wanted to make sure to highlight it separately because of its prominence. Being excited and eager for marriage is a wonderful thing, but the important question to ask yourself is, “Am I excited for marriage or for a wedding?” All too often young people are so caught up in getting that engagement ring and planning a wedding that they forget the wedding is secondary to the real goal – marriage.

A marriage isn’t a wedding day or a shiny ring. It’s not a huge reception with cake and toasts. Those are fun, but they are not a marriage. A marriage is the day in and day out commitment to your spouse for the rest of your life. It’s working through the problems, enjoying the good times, demonstrating love consistently, extending grace and forgiveness often, and working to be a better person and spouse daily. It is a lifelong journey with this special person you picked that has valleys, mountain tops, plateaus, rivers, storms, sunshine, and everything else imaginable. A wedding day is simply a celebration and entrance into marriage, which is the real prize.

Make sure that you assess if you are ready for marriage, not just the glitz and glamor of arranging a wedding day. It can be easy, especially for the ladies, to get stuck in the planning instead of the purpose. Rushing into marriage because you are anticipating that ring on your finger and the perfect wedding day you’ve been dreaming about your whole life, can end disastrously. Plan for the marriage, not just the wedding day.

Making Sense of it
The bottom line is that finding a spouse is a real priority for people, and it’s not a bad one to have. Marriage is an amazing gift from God that strengthens, enriches, and blesses life here on earth. Whether you plan on getting married in college or out of college, you are looking for a spouse or not so much, or you are career-oriented or just looking to get a degree, what matters is your focus. Pursue God’s purpose and calling on your life first. Then make sure you are not forcing your own love story but allowing God to do the orchestrating. And finally, focus on planning for your marriage and not just a wedding day.


Ashley McIlwain, M.A., is a Marriage and Family Therapist, speaker, and writer. She is the founder and C.E.O. of the non-profit organization, Foundation Restoration, and blog LittleWifey.com, which are comprehensive resources committed to restoring the very foundation of society - marriage. She is committed to and passionate about helping relationships thrive. Ashley holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University and a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy from Azusa Pacific University. Ashley previously served as Managing Editor for StartMarriageRight.com where she helped launch and develop the website into a hub for premarital preparation. Currently she and her husband, Steve, reside in Southern California.

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