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ISSUE 121 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2008

Engagements prompt graduation anxiety

By Susan Hill
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 14, 2008

We've all seen the signs. Second semester is well under way, the Minnesota breezes are slightly less than arctic and the sunlight now lingers well past 4:00 p.m. Soon the snow will melt, campus lakes will form and you'll need a kayak to traverse the marshes sprawling out across the quad. That's right. Spring is approaching, bringing with it all the anxiety and anticipation of graduation and the road ahead. With only four months left until the big day, the end-of-the-year scramble to secure a job, apartment and (dare I say it) life-long partner begins. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. The "ring by spring" race is on!

What exactly is this "ring by spring" event? Well, it's not so much an event as a philosophy. According to this philosophy, four years of undergraduate work should not only garner you the compulsory beer belly, degree and disillusionment, but also a life partner (and the subsequent ring to go with it). Whether you're single, taken or somewhere in between, you start to realize that your time is running out to meet, date and propose to that special someone at St. Olaf before post-college life commences. One fateful morning you wake up to discover that suddenly half the people you know on campus have jumped on the bandwagon and (cue scary music) & are getting engaged.

When you're a single person caught up in the ring by spring race, it seems like the world is against you. The St. Olaf environment serves as a constant reminder of your dreaded ringless status: the cozy make-out booths in the Caf, that couple that wears matching Burberry scarves to class every day and the various photo albums on Facebook featuring this week's "happy engaged couple" in a variety of poses. (And don't forget the close-up of the ring!)

The ring by spring race is certainly a well-known phenomenon, but I have to ask, in this day and age & is it really happening? I mean, sure, everyone knows that "engaged couple" that's been dating since the womb. But are a significant amount of people really getting engaged? Is this all a figment of our collective imagination, a manifestation of our anxiety about life after the Hill?

I don't have any scientific studies to back up my skepticism, but I'm going to draw my conclusions from the fact that far more people are complaining about engaged couples rather than getting engaged themselves. If the ring by spring race is all but imaginary, why then is it such a recognizable and contentious issue among St. Olaf students?

As a wise woman once told me, "When in doubt, blame society," and certainly, St. Olaf can often seem like one big pressure-cooker of societal expectations. Sometimes it feels like a little Norse demon is sitting on my shoulder issuing criticism and demands: "Don't read trashy historical romances for three hours -- you should be studying instead! Don't you care about the environment? Well, you should! Stop eating Taco Bell and get to the gym. St. Olaf students are healthy in mind, body and spirit!"

When I came here three years ago, I had all the typical college fantasies in my mind: going on crazy road trips, staying out all night partying, meeting that perfect guy and leaving school with a clear path laid before me.

Some of these fantasies didn't quite work out in reality, and when that quintessential college relationship never comes along (or ends), most of us are left to traverse the murky waters of post-college dating: awkward encounters in bars, co-worker relationships and the most terrifying of all: online dating a la Sure, the confusion, awkwardness and general disappointment procured for us by St. Olaf's dating scene (or lack thereof) has prepared us for the worst, but nonetheless, it's not surprising that with such an unknown future ahead of us, marriage is on our collective mind.

I'm not suggesting that all non-engaged Oles are secretly wishing that they too were jumping on the nuptial bandwagon. Rather, I'm suggesting that with society pounding us over the head with so many expectations, it's no wonder that such a small (and fairly outdated) philosophy as "ring by spring" can incite such big fears and reactions.

My suggestion to those un-engaged, soon-to-become alumni is to dive head first into those murky dating waters, but make sure you bring along your own sense of self-worth as a life vest just in case things get rough. To those soon-to-be married Oles, I wish you the best in your nuptial adventures. As for me, I've decided to settle down and make it official with my laptop. We've been together for three years now, and he just "gets" me, y'know? He helps me with my homework, provides constant entertainment, and although there are some anatomical limitations to our love, I can't envision my life without him. Plus, if he gets out of line, I can just press restart, and everything is fine. Ah, the beauty of technology.

Susan Hill '09 is from Rock Island, Ill. She majors in sociology/anthropology and music.

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