Andreas and I were together for over six years before we got married, and living together for five of those. We'd already survived several rounds of unemployment, interstate moves, college graduations, and holidays spent with each other's families.
At a certain point (maybe around four years in?), the questions from friends and family shifted from, "So, are you two getting married?" to, "Why bother? If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That was the point at which I realized maybe we'd waited a little tooooo long.
Wait, did I just say we waited too long to get married? Is that even possible?
It may indeed be possible. At that four year point, it felt like people started assuming if we hadn't gotten married yet, it was because we didn't want to — not just that we hadn't gotten around to it. I've seen this with other long-term unmarried het couples, too: People start to assume maybe you're using your relationship to protest marriage inequality. Or they assume you're not interested in marriage at all. I even had some friends assume we weren't married yet because we hated the idea of marriage — you know, like they did. Ah, yes. Projections! I had strange conversations that revealed a lot about people's fears of marriage: "Yeah, who needs to get married? You'll just stop having sex and bicker all the time! If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
I suppose these fears aren't completely unjustified. There is that weird phenomenon of long-standing relationships falling apart after making it legal. Is that evidence of people waiting too long?
How does all this relate to the phenomenon of the epic, half-decade engagements? You can definitely wait too long between getting engaged and getting married. I've seen it too many times to count on the Offbeat Bride Tribe: if the engagement is longer than three years, plans shift so many times en route to the wedding date that you might as well be getting a four-year bachelor's degree in Wedding Planning Purgatory And Hellish Studies. Brides purchase a dress, and then a different one year later, and then a third a few months before the actual wedding. You put a deposit down on a caterer, and they go out of business 18 months later. You collect ten gigs of wedding inspiration on your computer, and then realize you actually like the inspiration more than your fiance and break-up. You pick a theme. Then another one. Then a third. Then decided fuck it and just elope. In my experience, four month engagements are easier on couples than four year engagements.
For us, there was just a certain time when a six-month engagement felt just right for both of us. We were both firmly committed, but it took a while to get to a place where planning a wedding fit into our plans and emotional landscape.
But did we wait too long? I'm going to go with no, we didn't wait too long — the slow-moving timeline we were on worked for both of us. It continues to work for both of us: we'd been together over ten years before we had a child (although half of that was not by choice). We only just combined our bank accounts last year. We're both pretty fiercely independent, and clearly, moving slowly has worked well for us as a couple. At this point, we've been married as long as we were unmarried — Dre's and my 2004 wedding marks the half-way point of our relationship. And I can say that I have no regrets about not having been married sooner.
The only true too long is if partners are mismatched in their timeline and expectations. To me, the only real way to wait too long is if one partner gets sick of waiting, and calls the entire relationship into question. Then, and only then, you've waited too long.
Then again, if you're sick of waiting — maybe it's time to propose.