When is the right time to get married?

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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.

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Comments on When is the right time to get married?

    • I love this. I am also “obsessed” with Offbeat Bride…wanting to plan a wedding.

    • I love that Cracked article, I read it a week or two ago and it’s so true– and makes me all teary. Good looking out!

  1. I’m right there with this question. I have been dating my SO for a lot longer than most of our couple friends who are all engaged or married. I’m constantly balancing between “I want to be engaged and married RIGHT NOW” to “Am I only bending to peer pressure? Do we need to get married right now?”. I don’t want a big party, I once told my SO all I wanted was jewelry and paperwork, and I know I want to get married to my SO, but I’m constantly questioning my motive of timing. Am I rushing because I hate that people think we aren’t as serious as we are because we aren’t married? Why should I care WHAT they think?

    Glad I’m not the only offbeat not-engaged reader here

    • Oh, far from it. 15% of our readers identify as “pre-engaged.”

          • My other half and I have been together for over 6 years. We have lived together for three years and we aren’t engaged. He says someday, but honestly I’ve been married and divorced, I’m not in a huge hurry. Additionally my grandmother who raised me passed in April and my grandfather’s health is failing. I’m not big into tradition but the the closest family I have likely won’t be there. Our biggest pressure is actually from our friends.

        • Representin’ for the “pre-engaged” crowd! My partner and I have been together for almost nine years, and are definitely ready for marriage, relationship-wise. We just need to get other things in order before we feel we can afford the party. We will definitely get married within the next couple years, but feel it’s not super-important to us to have the legal document to prove our relationship. It’s grat that Offbeat Bride treats this as completely legit when the rest of society doesn’t always take a long-term mom-married relationship seriously. On a side-note, I do have to say that the word boyfriend doesn’t seem to convey what he is in my life. So I’ve switched to partner, which feels just right.

          • It’s pretty terrible that most of society doesn’t take long term non-married relationships seriously. Being married isn’t the only way to be committed and serious.

          • I, too, switched from “boyfriend” to “partner” a few years ago for the same reason! 🙂 The connotation of “boyfriend” just didn’t cut it for me, for him, for us.

    • I’m not even remotely close to being engaged…but I LOVE weddings :). That’s why I’m here.

    • Wow Jackie and Miranda. I am so thankful for both of you reading my mind. Sometimes I find people don’t know what to say when I mention I’ve been with my boyfriend for 10 years. Are they judging? Are they thinking I’m naive, he probably will never marry me? I just read so much out there that makes me feel I shouldn’t feel as happy and content as I am in my relationship. We love each other lots, but it’s just not time, especially since I’ve ditch my masters for another masters. I won’t be done with school or get a job anytime soon but thankfully I am 25 years young. This is the reminder I needed…patience is everything! I’ve recently been bringing up marriage and he’s all for it, he’s so sweet about it. But, I want us to plan and do as much as we can first (school done, job, well he has all that down already).. because I love him so much and I want us to continue as a team as much as possible. Thank you!

      • Jade: I am glad I’m not the only one. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 10 years also and when I tell people they are shocked and it kind of makes me feel bad :/. But we haven’t gotten married since I’m a full-time student and he’s the only one working right now. The reason I want to marry is to build a love nest and sleep together. Since I still live with my parents house, I can’t sleep over at his house. btw I’m 26, long story i know 🙂

        • Hey, tribesmaids, want to share a canoe because it sounds like we are all in the same boat! 🙂 My partner and I just celebrated nine wonderful years together, and while we are ready to get married, our lives are not ready for us to get married. I’m finishing grad school 1,300 miles away, we’ve both been struggling financially/career-wise for a few years, and other logistical, “grown up stuff” that has made us decide (maybe–no, definitely–grudgingly) to wait at least another year.

          @Hilda: Respecting parents’ wishes/beliefs/whatever is in your long story is totally acceptable and responsible, regardless of your age, IMHO, even more so when you’re “living under their roof”. I had a similar situation and can appreciate the shock you get from people with differing opinions on where your and your SO are verses where they think you “should be”. Keep confident in knowing you two are clearly doing something right (I mean, 10 years) and keep on doing it! *air five*

      • Aw Jade, 10 years? What a wonderful example of young love lasting (:
        My partner and I are doing the ‘pre-engaged’ thing as I am still super young (22) and I feel that when it’s time to marry, the opportunity will present itself.
        In the end society doesn’t mean diddly in regards to the validity of your relationship, shame that it still happens though.
        Knowing that there are others like me around really gives me hope for my future (:
        Live long and prosper ladies (and gents, and all other lovely people here)

    • I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum (with a similar dilemma): my fiance and I dated for a year and got engaged, because it was so clear to both of us that it was right. (and hey— we meet all the ‘requirements’ in the Cracked article above!) There are also a lot of practical reasons to be getting married now, but mainly… well… we know it’s right for us!

      Unfortunately, I face a lot of judgment about the fact that we ‘only’ dated for one year. Frankly, I am tired of justifying my decision to people (people who are not central figures in our lives— our families and friends are completely on board. But co-workers, acquaintances, etc. are skeptical.) I face a lot more of this than my fiance, probably because I’m younger (23) and he grew up in the south, where the culture is a little more accepting of young love than, say, Manhattan (where I am currently living.)

      I try to shrug it off, because I know that people who are judgmental have nothing to do with our lives together. Maybe they had a bad relationship, or their parents got divorced and attributed it to getting married “too young” or “too fast.” Maybe they couldn’t conceive marriage for themselves, and so it’s hard to picture it for someone else. Whatever. But it’s frustrating that other people feel they have the right to determine whether you are or aren’t ready to be getting married!

  2. This article made me realise (3 months after the fact) that I never really thought about when to get married. I’d thought a lot about whether I wanted to, whether I wanted it to be this guy and so on, but never when. Which maybe explains why when I realised that yes I could see myself spending the rest of my life with this man I just left it there. Until he reached a similar conclusion and in a (for him suprising) show of decisiveness proposed. Then it was kind of a case of he wanted it, I wanted it, so we did it.

    However my experience did reinforce the idea that there is no right time. Even when you think there is. When we got engaged and set a date it seemed like a perfect time to get married. Then life happened. 2 months before the wedding we had to move house (on 1 months notice!), 1 month after I started a new job, stuff broke down and was expensive to replace, family had problems, friends moved to foreign countries…. If I could have booked the wedding with the benefit of hindsight I would not have picked that date or anything close to it.

    But you know what? It was fine in the end.

  3. Just like having a baby, you’ll never be “ready” to get married. There will always be some reason to put it off. If you wait until everything is perfect, you’ll never do it. If you both want to, GET MARRIED! You can always work on jobs and such together after your wedding.

    • There are some reasons that are good and valid ones for “not yet” though. My FH would lose medical benefits that I can in no way afford to replace if we get married. His health isn’t great, and he has several chronic conditions that need regular doctor visits. We’d have a real problem if we got married right now. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure WHEN we’ll be able to get married, because of those benefits. Someday, we hope. Soon, we tell people. But we’ve put it off twice already…so….when it’s right, we’ll do it.

      • Why not get married with out the legal bit. Have a commitment ceremony in the eyes of G-d/your community/youselves, but don’t get a license. Of course you need to check your state’s common law statutes before taking this advice.

        • Annie,

          Our state has no common law, but ultimately, for me, there would be no point in having the other stuff. I don’t necessarily want a big party. I’m not dying to throw a wedding. I want to be MARRIED.

          And until it’s fiscally responsible for us to do so, we won’t.

    • For me, this saying of “you’ll never be ready” did not hold true, actually. I got engaged a few months ago after being together for several years, and my now-fiance’ and I agreed we wanted to “get adulthood down” as the article says first. We both graduated. We have jobs in our desired fields. We weren’t switching apartments every 6 months because someone’s lease was up. We had been on vacations and holidays together. Etc.

      And now I can essentially relax and deal with wedding planning, as those other things have been put into place – I do not need to worry about graduating, about “what do I want to do with my life,” etc. (Which is good because wedding planning brings its own stress!). And I still love my guy to pieces 😀 .

      I have heard that saying, that you’ll never be ready re: becoming a parent, and your mileage may DEFINITELY vary, but I think in terms of getting married there ‘is’ a time where you feel “ready.” If you don’t,then you’re not ready 😉 .
      If you ask men who have proposed, they do seem to say like they felt “nervous, but ready.”

      • They way I read it the article wasn’t saying you’ll never feel ready to be married. It’s more about people who do feel ready but keep coming up with ‘practical’ reasons why they shouldn’t get married in spite of that, like not having enough money or a stable job or a permenant home and letting that put them off.

        It’s very easy for the idea of putting something like marriage or kids or whatever off until later to become an infinate cycle. “Once I get a job” easily becomes “once I’m settled in my job” then “once I get that promotion that’s taking up all my time” and “once I finish this one big project at work”… (not that it has to be work that delays it of course). Eventually you have to accept that there is never going to be a perfect time when everything else in life is sorted out and you’ll only need to focus on one thing.

  4. We’re beeen together for 6 years and have 2 children together. I also have 2 children from my previous marriage. I know we are far from tradional, and sometimes it’s like “oh F it” lets just go somewhere with the kids and be legal! 🙂

  5. for more reading check out apracticalwedding.com and search for “pre-engaged” you’ll find lots of support and help to realize you’re not alone, thoughts on how to approach a serious discussion on the subject with your significant one and more.

    It is a big deal and a lot to work through, but you’re not alone and the offbeat bride and the APW communities are welcome and don’t require a ring to be legitimate.

  6. Thank you so much for posting this. I must say that after reading it and taking a look at my own situation, I really need to have a talk with my boyfriend, to apologize to him. I’m a cronic asker “When? How? In a few months?… WHEN??!” We both know it will happen, we’ve talked about it, but I get so impatient with waiting that I forget to think about what he wants. Again thank you so much for this, it brings me peace of mind to know that I’m not the only one that has done this. 🙂

  7. SO and I lived together with roommates for about 6 months (starting at 1year into the relationship), then moved into our own place. We had a commitment ceremony when we moved in by ourselves, as kind of a personal wedding bit (it was fairly spontaneous, at Pride). The push to get legally married came from our discrepancy in income, and the desire to buy a house. He is still in school but makes about 3 or 4 times what I do; we split bills 50/50. We decided that if we wanted to start obtaining large-scale mutual possesions (houses, cars, etc), we ought to be legally bound. I did NOT want to get a house together, split, and have to deal with some kind of enforced back-rent or anything crazy from our disparate incomes. He graduates school in March 2012, and once student loans are paid (which we intend to do within a year), there’s nothing keeping us from buying a house. So, there you have it. For us it’s been a fairly practical decision process. If you’re not looking to share finances and property, honestly, I don’t see any rush.

    • I’m a bit old-fashioned, but I would also say, if you don’t have kids together, and don’t plan to have kids together, I don’t see the rush. There are lots of legal and financial reasons to get married, but if you don’t want to/need to start mixing the two, think hard about your reasons for getting married.

  8. I completely agree! Me and my other half have been engaged for over five years, I keep putting it off despite us having a four year old child! I’d rather just wait until we both had jobs sorted out, I to examined my motives for a wedding. Did I want a party or to get married? I’m still not sure, I do know I want to be with the man I love for the rest of my life, so… hmmm. Screw it all and head straight to the registry office!

  9. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. My sort-of-fiance and I have been together since high school, going on 8 years now. We own a house and a car, plus a dog and two cats together.

    Still, we’re only 23 and 25, and neither of us has finished school. In fact, the reason I’ve been toying with a courthouse now-wedding later deal is my financial aid. My mom is married to a man who makes the same yearly that I do. Combined, that’s a whopping $50k a year. But they have 5 kids and a newborn grandchild at home. Since I’m under 25, not married and childless, I HAVE to include his income (mom only makes $200 a week and dad is in prison). This means even though I’ve lived on my own since we lost our home when I was 18, and they can hardly afford their mortgage on the new house let alone fund anything in MY life (not that I would EVER ask them to), we “make too much” for me to get financial aid.

    If I were to get married, my boyfriend’s income is low enough right now that we would both qualify. Otherwise, I’d have to wait until I was 25 like he had to (his mom makes a great deal of money, but doesn’t help him at all either).

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