Breaking the Rules of Engagement
One thing I've learned since I started writing this blog back in December 2006: I've got to have a thick skin when it comes to readers' comments. Among the most ominous posted last week: "I think you are rushing into everything," and, my personal favorite, "Your marriage is going to fail." Some of these declarations even made The Fiancé flinch. "Why would someone say that?" he asked me the other day.
The naysaying isn't about to break up my engagement, but it did give me pause. It got me thinking about possible reasons for all of the doom and gloom—specifically, our short courtship: not quite a year, to date. If we had been in our 20s when we started dating, it's very possible we wouldn't have gotten engaged so quickly—"rushed into everything," in the words of the reader. But let's be honest. Thirty-four isn't 24, and The Fiancé and I both know exactly what we want: basically, to be married to each other and have kids some day. Are two people in love in their 30s still supposed to follow some arbitrary rules of engagement?
I turned to a married friend, Suzie, for insight (I've changed a few names for privacy's sake). She, too, dated her now-husband for eight months before getting engaged, but she was only 26 at the time. "After a month of dating, we kind of just knew," she said. "We started doing things like booking vacations three months out and buying concert tickets four months out because we knew we would be still be together." Suzie and her husband started looking for a place to buy after dating for just five months—around the same time they got their first dog. Now 32, Suzie celebrated her fourth anniversary this year, and her son is turning one.
My own brother, Michael, 38, has a different take: "A long courtship allows you to really know how the other half handles adversity, in his career and with his family." Michael has been married to Kim for ten years after dating for about two. "That time period removes the emotional surprises in a relationship," he says. I respect his opinion, and I love him dearly, but my brother had the luxury—or maybe just luck—of meeting Kim in college. They had plenty of time to get to know each other before their 30s started creeping up.
I prefer to side with my friends Jacklyn, 32, and Mark, 36, together for a total of nine years, who believe age is a significant factor in the dating-to-engaged timeline. The pair started dating when they were in their 20s. "From our first date at Iggy's, I knew Mark and I were going to get married," Jacklyn says. "I called my mom from the bathroom and told her I was having dinner with my future husband." Six months into the relationship, though, Mark dumped her to play the field. At the time, Jacklyn was—let's say—less than thrilled, but now she thinks Mark made the right move. "We were so young, and I was very eager to get engaged," she says. "I wish I could tell my younger self to chill out." The pair eventually got back together, dated for nearly five years, and have been married for four. "When you are in your 20s, what's the rush?" Jacklyn says. "But when you are in your 30s, a shorter courtship makes sense, especially if you want children." Jacklyn and Mark are expecting their first baby in a couple of weeks. "I always think about what might have happened if we had gotten engaged at 25 or 26, and then had a baby at 28. We would have missed out on so many amazing times."
Timing is everything. So am I rushing things? "I don't think it's the amount of time you date that affects the success of a marriage," says my 32-year-old married friend Jen. "It's more about whether or not you really know the person and, more importantly, whether or not you really like the person. It's about communication and trying to remember that you're both on the same team.
"Relationships are tough: That's the bottom line."