This month, I will be celebrating my twenty-fourth birthday, and last month I was celebrating my one-year marriage anniversary. That’s because I got married soon after graduating college, and I got engaged during college.
This did not seem weird to me at all at the time. For reference, my husband and I dated from 2013 to 2017, from my junior year of high school to my junior year of college. On the day before I moved into college for my senior year in August 2017, he asked me to marry him, and last November, six months after graduation, we were married.
There were a lot of factors leading to why we got married when we did. Possibly the biggest was my attempt at balancing our freedom with my family’s Christian beliefs. Before you even say it: I know, I’m an adult and no one gets to dictate to me what I can and cannot do, especially if it’s because of their religion which I don’t even believe. But it is actually a lot easier to say “Well if your family doesn’t accept your lifestyle, then just forget about them” than it is to actually do that. I didn’t want to entirely cut my family out of my life unless I absolutely had to, and my living with my significant other and not being married would have accomplished that by itself.
Without the family pressure, we may or not have been engaged or married by now, but we certainly would be living together anyways, so actually being married doesn’t change my everyday life that much (except that sometimes when I introduce myself to people, I momentarily forget what my last name is). If we were going to live together anyway, I might as well not further estrange myself from my family by doing it unwed.
So that was the more concrete reason why we got married as a twenty-two- and a twenty-four-year-old. I also experienced great cultural pressure at Grove City College to get engaged before graduating (and there are bonus points if you get married before graduating). If you go (or went) there, or any religious college really, you are probably sick and tired of constantly hearing about the norm of “Ring by Spring,” whether you love it or hate it. At Grove City, it felt like relationships were a race. The winners were the ones who met their soulmate during Freshman Orientation Week and got married during their senior year in Harbison Chapel, and the losers were those who remained single for their entire college career (with negative bonus points if you’re not straight as a pin).
Anytime I’m grouped in with this Ring by Spring (or the “getting-your-MRS.-degree”) stereotype, I’m quick to point out that my husband and I are NOT the same as all those other “Grover” couples. First of all, “he doesn’t even go here!” Like I said, my husband and I started dating in high school, and he didn’t attend Grove City, but rather a *gasp* secular university nearby. I also felt it more appropriate for us to get engaged and married so young because by the time we got engaged, we had been dating for almost four and a half years, not one or two years like most of my classmates.
Of course, the greatest reason why I felt the need to separate myself and my husband from this group of horny Christians was that we’re atheists! I was still in the atheist closet at college (hence my former blog name, The Closet Atheist), but I wanted to shout for more than one reason, “I’m not like you! I’m an atheist!”
I must emphasize that I’m not bringing this up just because all I can talk about is my being an atheist. It’s a crucial difference in that almost every couple at the school who was in a serious relationship was Christian. I mean, almost every student at the school was Christian regardless, but their being Christian and their sky-high rates of engagement and marriage before the age of twenty-three is not a coincidence.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes, so I don’t want to spend time trying to explain to you the correlation between religious colleges and marriage rates, but this article from a student at the University of Pittsburgh gives a lot of information about why this phenomenon exists and just how high the correlation is. The writer, Grant Burgman, suggests that Ring by Spring originated from “a biblical concept that leaving your parents’ home was only acceptable once you had someone to settle down with.”
I think that this race to the altar has several influencing factors which all make sense in light of Christian culture and rules. What Burgman said makes sense, of course, and I think that this biblical idea manifests itself in Christian couples feeling that they must have a strong family unit and start “be[ing] fruitful and multiply[ing].” In many, but not all, Christian couples, biblical gender roles can also often play out, with the husband being the head of the wife. Although it doesn’t entirely align with the idea of a woman getting a college degree in the first place, a girl has to have a husband if she is to make a life as a wife, mother, and homemaker.
Possibly it’s an American thing in addition to being a Christian thing. After all, the stereotypical “American Dream” is to get married, get a job, have a big house, a nice car, perfect kids, and a dog (or a cat!). And most of Grove City’s students are middle-class white Christian Americans looking to succeed in this way. So while you’re out getting a degree and a job, why not pick up a spouse along the way?
My greatest suspicion as to why Christian college students get married so young is a little more… primal. It doesn’t take a social scientist to know that it’s pretty frowned upon, if not forbidden, in the Christian religion go have sex before marriage. This is especially true at Grove City—you’re not just forbidden against having sex, you can’t. There is a rule (that sounds like a myth, but I can only wish it was) that you can’t have anyone of the opposite sex in your dorm with the door closed.
You have to have the door open at least four inches (which is about a shoe’s width, hence the practice of sticking a shoe in the door to prop it open). Your opposite-sex visitor also has to sign in (the stringency of this exact process fluctuated a lot while I was a student) and can’t use any bathroom except those in the main lobby. Oh, and they can only visit during Intervisitation hours (or “intervis,” as the kids say since no one at Grove City ever wants to waste time with extra syllables). If I wanted to see my now-husband with even the faux-privacy of my open-doored
cell dorm, it had to be on Sundays between 1 and 10 pm, Wednesdays between 7 and 10 pm, Fridays between 7 pm and midnight, or Saturdays between 1 pm and midnight. Do you want to show your dad your dorm room on a Tuesday? Too bad. Because Jesus, I guess.
There is one way to have your privacy with your significant other as a Grove City College student, however. If you’re married, you’re to live together off-campus. For young Grovers or other Christians, a marriage certificate is a modern-day indulgence paper that allows you to have sex without being hellbound. This didn’t really matter to me, as that ship to hell had sailed and I was on it.
Upon my graduating from Grove City and entering “the real world” (whatever that is), and especially not working at or being involved in any Christian organizations, this idea that it’s normal to be engaged at twenty-one and married at twenty-two has dissolved. For example, among my coworkers between the ages of twenty and thirty, I’m both the youngest and the only one that’s married.
Obviously, I don’t regret getting married when I did—at all. Most people my age go out with friends a lot more than I do, or are working towards (or at) a degree or a dream job. Some even have kids! I’m very content living with, staying in with, going to bookstores with, being cat parents with, and sharing a name with my best friend for life!