When is the right time to get married?

By on Oct. 6th
Photo by Whitney Lee

Photo by Whitney Lee

I am a girl (I'm sure one of many) who is waiting for the day when I will actually be engaged and feel more legitimate about my daily visits to Offbeat Bride. I have been living with my boyfriend for 2 of the almost 4.5 years we have been together, and I'm torn. My girly emotional side is constantly thinking, "OMG when are we going to get married?" but my practical side is also constantly thinking, "We just finished grad school and don't have real jobs lined up and don't know where we're going to live yet, we can't possibly get married right now, and why would we get engaged if we're not ready to get married?"

My question is, if your relationship and emotions are ready for marriage, is it just stubborn to put it off until "your lives are in order" (whatever that means)? Does anyone ever get to a point where they feel their life is truly in order? Or am I doomed to forever be saying, "We'll get married after we finish grad school." "We'll get married after we both have more stable jobs." "We'll get married after we save up [insert completely arbitrary amount of money]"? -Lexy

I love this question, which is a different version twist on Offbeat Mama's most popular post of all time, "When is the right time to have a child?" Yes, getting married and having children are different decisions, but in some ways the factors to big life decisions are similar: you have to craft a balance between your emotions and your resources, like money and time.

Speaking from personal experience, I don't think there's any rush. Can you wait TOO long to get married? Perhaps. But generally speaking, you don't lose much by waiting a bit — assuming both partners agree to the reasons to wait. Yes, it's a good idea to have real jobs. Yes, it's a good idea finish school. Yes, it's nice to have a little money in the bank. All these reasons are valid, very practical reasons to wait a bit.

That timing is also a question of priorities. Sometimes right now is the right time to get married because a partner needs health insurance or a green card. Sometimes right now is the right time because a family member is dying. Deciding to get married is a very adult, grown-up thing to do too. Sure, it's giddy and exciting and about love and crazy deep passion — but it's also a financial decision. A housing decision. A family decision. THESE ARE BIG FUCKING DECISIONS.

And, I will be blunt: sometimes right now feels right because damnit, you're ready to get on with this relationship and take it to the next level. When do I get to plan my special party, and when do I get to wear a ring, and when do I get to seal the deal and make it official? I totally felt these feelings, and while those feelings were totally valid — they weren't necessarily the best motivations to get married.

I think every person feeling impatient to get engaged has to step back and really examine the motivations. What's the driving force? Be honest with yourself. If it's about a party, then consider the kind of party you want to have and whether you have the resources to throw that kind of party. If you don't have the resources to throw a big party, then consider whether you're so eager to get married that you'll skip the party for now, get legally hitched, and "get weddinged later, when you've got the resources.

In some ways, I viewed my wedding as a cherry on top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. (For those of you haven't taken Psych 101, Maslow's general idea is that humans have basic functional needs like food, shelter that must be attended to before you can focus on stuff like relationships or self-realization.) For me, planning a wedding was something I didn't want to prioritize until I had most of the other stuff figured out — financial independence and emotional stability. When both those things felt solid, I was ready to get married. I could add the cherry on top of planning a big party and it wasn't going to interfere with my ability to, say, pay my rent.

In other words, I got the basic adulthood thing down — I'm ready to graduate to whatever's next.

When it comes to weddings and marriage, I think there's infinitely more to be gained by patience. If you can be patient and take your time until your basic hierarchy of needs are taken care of, then that's probably a good thing. But circumstances are mutable — there are people getting married in refugee camps right now. There are terminally ill people marrying their beloved before it's too late. There are adoptions that need to happen, there are papers that need to be signed, there are many reasons that right now is exactly the right time.

The way I see it, you don't need everything to be perfect to get married. There's not some magical algorithm for how you know when things are finally just right. There's no magic amount of money to have saved in the bank. There's no perfect configuration of jobs and school and family and duration of relationship. Sometimes life demands you move quickly. Sometimes situations conspire to slow things down. But if you're just lusting for a party, a ring, or a purpose? I feel you, and I feel you need to find patience. Find yourself first.