by Bria Isaacson, News Editor
Asbury University, like most Christian colleges, offers many opportunities to use the phrase “ring by spring,” signifying that many students get engaged, or even married, while attending.
This phrase is used as both a joke and a serious statement by many.
Junior Evan Adams, who is engaged to sophomore Dakota Gipson, said, “You don’t really see the married couples a lot. Asbury does have this pressure to get married, to settle down. The joke ‘ring by spring’ is only half a joke.”
During an informal survey of twenty students taken on Feb. 5, Adams guessed that 30 Asbury students are married.
Even with the small survey sample size, a pattern emerged: of those interviewed, freshmen and sophomores tended to guess there are fewer married students than there actually are, while juniors and seniors tended to guess there are more — sometimes many more — than there actually are.
Junior Brenden Moore said, “You hear about all the engagements [when you’re in] junior or senior year. We have this idea now that everyone is getting engaged, and it feels like a lot because we hear about it back to back.”
Moore and Adams’ guesses of 30 were the closest of any to the actual answer. In reality, there are 27 undergraduate students attending Asbury who are married, according to Kevin Dean, staff assistant in Fletcher-Early. In addition, there are 129 married graduate students and 200 married Adult Professional Studies (APS) students.
Senior Tori Hook said, “I just assumed that all that would happen — go to college and get married. That’s what happened with my parents and their friends. I think that’s changing now for some people.”
This begins to hit on the idea that culture — either mainstream, Christian or Asbury culture — pushes people to get married.
According to The Atlantic, in 1960 the average groom was almost 23, and his bride a few months over 20. The Pew Research Center reported that by 2011, the average marriage age had climbed to nearly 29 years for men and 26 and a half years for women. This suggests that the wider cultural trends are angling towards waiting for marriage, while the Asbury culture differs.
“Christian culture in general presses us toward marriage,” Adams said. “Society is getting married later, but Christians are often getting married earlier to prevent sin.”
Asbury, being a small Christian university, seems to channel this pressure, for some people, as many surveyed said they felt pressure to marry.
“It might be the way we talk about marriage here,” junior Rachel White said. “There’s definite attention to the married and engaged, with the programs like pre-marital retreat and relationship chapels. I guess it seems like the ‘right time’ to be [getting married and engaged].”
It must be the right time for many. Sophomore Ileah Walter explains this by saying that “more people at Asbury seem set on what they want to do with their lives. They are more comfortable getting married while still here.”
This does seem to be the case. Out of the 27 married undergraduate students, 19 of those are married to someone who does not attend Asbury. This leaves four married couples who are both Asbury students: seniors Jordan and Jaina Lunsford, seniors Judah and Mindi Robinson, juniors Young Hwan Kim and Lauren Barnett Kim and juniors Jacob and Stephanie Junker.
Almost all of these couples acknowledged the potential difficulties of navigating Asbury relationships culture, even before getting married.
“Relationships at Asbury can be tricky,” Jaina Lunsford said. “I’ve seen a lot of couples who only spend time with each other and seem to forget other friends, and I’ve seen couples who barely seem to be dating because they’re always with other people. My husband and I have tried to find a balance between the two extremes throughout our relationship.”
Junker acknowledged that Asbury’s relationship culture is not only challenging for couples but for single students also.
“We have also found that sometimes there is too much emphasis on the lovey-dovey part of marriage/relationships,” he said. “We think that sometimes we forget that marriage isn’t the end-all be-all goal of the Church, nor is it the end goal of all relationships. It’s okay to date a few people who aren’t ‘the one,’ and it’s okay to be single and not looking for a date.”
Regardless of these challenges, many of these married couples do not feel as though there is pressure to snag the ring.
“The relationship atmosphere at Asbury has its pros and cons, but overall I think it receives far too much flack,” J. Robinson said. “Mindi and I obviously heard jokes when we started hanging out with each other more, but I felt totally free just to get to know her despite that…. No one else made me feel like I had to hurry and do so. Same with marriage.”
Interestingly, his wife seemed to feel, or be aware of, more pressure than he did.
“I feel like the atmosphere at Asbury in terms of relationships is supportive of relationships but also is influential in the actual decision to get married,” M. Robinson said. “It’s an interesting subject because I feel like there is some pressure caused by impatience for relationships to happen.”
Although these couples sympathize with frustrated single people and couples feeling rushed, many of them are seeing other issues stem from the Asbury culture.
In terms of academics, marriage either did not affect or helped all of these students in their studies. J. Robinson said that his GPA was highest the semester he got married, because he felt more responsibility to do well. L. Barnett Kim also felt encouraged in her studying, as it has given them a chance to encourage each other, she said.
Despite this, the couples acknowledged two main issues. First, Junker said, “I love the support we get as married people, but we are not necessarily more mature or better equipped than our single friends and sometimes we are thought to be such.”
The other issue was maintaining campus involvement and friendships. All four couples acknowledged the difficulty in maintaining friendships after marriage. For M. Robinson, this has left her feeling less supported.
“Even though there is such support for marriage and dating, I feel less intentionality of support after the fact. As if all everyone wants is that you get the guy/girl, date, get engaged and get married, but after each step of the process there comes greater separation between those single and not,” she said. “It tends to feel sometimes that now I don’t have to be supported intentionally with my life by my friends. Although I do have a consistent best friend, I do feel like I lost friends because the intentionality was lost. My marriage is now the number one priority in my life, yes, but it is not everything. Both me and Judah understand that we have a life in union with one another, but we have separate interests, friends, hobbies, because we are still separate people who are now in covenant and union for the rest of our lives.”