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We see you over there, watching what seems like every other friend either dropping to one knee or squealing with delight upon a magical proposal against an outrageously beautiful backdrop. You’re happy for your friends, naturally. But…with every sparkly ring that’s bestowed to another giddy woman, you also feel a tiny pang that prompts some serious introspection.
Maybe you’re at an early point with your partner where you’ve begun toying with the idea of getting hitched someday and aren’t sure what the next steps ought to be. Or perhaps tying the knot is something you’ve seriously considered and you’re ready to get a move on already! Whatever the case, we urge you to put on some blinders toward others’ relationships and instead channel all that focus into your own partnership.
The truth is that every couple is unique, and what’s right for one duo may be completely wrong for another. There are couples who got hitched after a few months of dating and have been together for 20 years, and there are other couples who’ve been together just as long without ever walking down the aisle. In that sense, “How long should we wait before getting married?” is a question each couple needs to consider for themselves, and there’s a lot more that goes into it than a simple timeline.
Three Relationship Musts to Check Off Before a Proposal
To help you determine if you’re ready to take that next step toward engagement and, ultimately, marriage, you must be able to do the following.
Get past the intense lust stage.
Your sexual chemistry is out of control and you’ve never had a more fulfilling physical relationship in your life. This is great news, but there’s more to coupledom than that. Your first hurdle in any relationship is to see beyond the steamy physicality of it all and into the, well, boring stuff.
“Marriage is a financial, emotional, romantic, familial, and lifestyle partnership which requires compromise, good communication, and a shared vision,” says Bianca L. Rodriguez, MA, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles. “Seeing how your partner reacts to these situations is very important because it tells you about their communication style, frustration tolerance, intimacy template, level of emotional maturity, and ability to navigate life.”
Before anyone gets down on one knee, make sure you’ve thoroughly discussed your approach toward finances and how that might change as a committed couple; whether you want to have children and how many and when; the importance (or lack thereof) of family relationships; and what kind of major lifestyle shifts you see in your future, including any relocation, extensive travel, career change, or continued education.
Back to lust: It shouldn’t disappear. In fact, being able to keep that spark alive after the initial chemical rush—and this does require work from both—is another sign that you two just might be in it for the long haul.
“The lust stage can last years or a lifetime if there is truly crazy chemistry,” notes Bonnie Winston, a celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert. “If lust fades out quickly within a year or two, did you really ever have it? Or was it just a shooting star?”
Maybe it’s not quite as intense (and it probably isn’t because that’s how nature works), but you should still remain attracted to each other as the years go by.
Hit these important milestones.
Not to sound like a broken record, but sharing experiences in a relationship is crucial in the months and years leading up to a formal engagement. After all, understanding how you work together in various scenarios is the best indicator you have of what the future will look like.
“Travel together is huge, as it can show you a different side of your significant other.”
—Bonnie Winston, celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert
Some important relationship milestones a couple should experience, says Rodriguez, are introducing each other to your close friends and key family members (and becoming a comfortable part of these circles), celebrating holidays and events together, dealing with sickness or injury, getting through a major argument, dealing with a serious disappointment, attending professional business functions as a couple, and traveling together.
“Travel together is huge, as it can show you a different side of your significant other,” says Winston. “For example, one of my clients was smitten with her boyfriend until they vacationed together. He snapped his fingers at the waiters, treated the staff as if they were a lower class, and had a meltdown at the airport when their flight was delayed. Needless to say, they never made it to the altar. She saw a side of him she couldn’t abide and broke it off.”
Living together, or at least being very familiar with the way your partner lives, is also very important. Is your partner remarkably tidy or exceptionally messy? Do they like to keep the windows closed all day or feel the breeze? What’s the thermostat at? What’s their morning routine look like? Do they have pets? What’s their preferred aesthetic? Do they make the bed in the morning? Is the bathroom a sanctuary or a catch-all? Do they crave extensive alone time or prefer to be attached at the hip?
There will be inevitable growing pains once you’re actually living together—and there’s always room for compromise on all the above—but make sure you know what this person is like in their day to day living space in case there are any non-negotiables.
Lastly, another important milestone is hitting a lull or low point in your relationship and making it through to the other side. Every couple experiences seasons of warm bliss and then chilly winters. For example, maybe one partner temporarily pulls away or one of you is going through an exceptionally trying personal battle. Being able to find the warmth in the cold—or being able to trudge through the slushy snow until spring—is a telling of a relationship’s strength.
Time it right.
While the length of time may not be quite so important, the timing is. Things to consider include your age, your career path, your education, and your desire to start a family. For example, older couples who want children tend to tie the knot more quickly in order to begin their family. On the other hand, couples who are young and finishing their schooling may prefer to wait until they have a degree in hand.
That said, waiting around for perfection means you’ll be waiting around forever. At some point, you do need to make the decision of whether or not this is the partner you want to commit to for the rest of your life.
So, you’re looking for an actual number?
We get it. You came here looking for an exact number of how long you ought to wait, and we sent you on a wild journey of important factors to consider before walking down the aisle. If you’re looking for a ballpark range, our experts agreed that an appropriate waiting time was between one and three years.
“Even if you absolutely know you’ve found your person, I think two to three years between dating and marriage is a healthy incubation time between first date and I do,” says Amiira Ruotola, a dating expert and the co-author of How to Keep Your Marriage from Sucking and It’s Called A Breakup Because It’s Broken.
“The early days are always effortless and exciting, which is not the norm for long-term relationships. Excitement wears off and is replaced with stability which is its own kind of sexy. As you get more comfortable with your partner, you allow yourself to become the more authentic version of yourself rather than the ‘best, most easy going’ version you were being at the beginning.”
“Every love story makes its own rules.”
—Amiira Ruotola, dating expert
Rodriguez adds, “If I had to give a range, I would recommend a minimum of one year as this allows a couple to experience the ‘four seasons’ together. Although this is literal, it’s also figurative as over the course of 365 days you’re likely to encounter the ups and downs of life, like illness, holidays, travel, family drama, etc.”
Basically, you’re looking for that ability to feel like you can be your authentic self with your partner, which for many can take several years. Once you’ve hit that point you can take your relationship to the next level. Start by having real conversations about what life will look like in a long-term, committed partnership, what sort of struggles you might encounter, and what steps you’ll take to remain teammates, lovers, and friends through it all.
And remember, the one-to-three-year waiting range is not a hard and fast rule.
“Marriage is not the prize, though we tend to rush towards it as though it is.”
-Amiira Ruotola, dating expert
“Some of our best friends dated, lived together, and shared their lives for 17 years before getting engaged,” says Ruotola. Though it was a point of contention for many of those years, their relationship was so healthy and buoyant that neither party wanted something different just to get to be married or not married. They have now been together for more than 25 years and have one of most vibrant marriages we know of. Every love story makes its own rules.”
The Real Prize
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of a grand wedding, a person to call husband or wife, or checking off an item on your life’s to-do list. And while planning a wedding can be great fun and it’s understandable to have specific life goals, it’s the journey toward that “big day” and the years that follow that are the most important.
“Marriage is not the prize, though we tend to rush towards it as though it is,” says Ruotola. “The real prize is seeing and being seen, knowing and being known, finding the partner that helps you achieve your goals while you help them achieve theirs. Marriage is a three-legged race, so pick your partner wisely.”