Dating can be a fun and exciting rollercoaster ride, but unfortunately, no one tells us how to thoughtfully and intentionally choose our significant other. There's a lot of trial and error involved, but once you think you've found the right person you might start hearing wedding bells. But how soon is too soon to propose today? Some people think about this question in numbers by focusing on the length of dating before marriage statistics. Others say you need to ask specific questions before getting married, like what your partner's political views are, while many tell you to simply go with your heart. To help get you through this dating conundrum, we've asked three trusted dating coaches for their top tips on how long you should date before marriage. Plus, we address what you should do if you're not ready to propose and what to do if you rushed into getting engaged prematurely.
How long should you date before marriage?
This might not come as a shock, but there's no exact timeline for when you should get engaged. You may hear some "love at first sight" couples say you can get engaged after a few days, while experts may say wait three to six months. But even though everyone has an opinion on the matter, from "You're jumping in too quickly" to "It took him too long to propose," there isn't a magic formula.
Amy Nobile, dating coach and best-selling co-author of Just When You're Comfortable in Your Own Skin, It Starts to Sag, thinks the 'how long should you date before getting engaged' discussion is a trick question and varies on each couple's situation. "I want people to know that they have to ask the tough questions upfront in a relationship before they know if it's right to be engaged to somebody." Nobile tells us she asks couples to think about the three-four rule when dating. This rule suggests people ask four important questions by the third date or within the first three months of the relationship. Nobile explains the rule in more detail below.
Is there chemistry or a connection?: "That might seem obvious, but sometimes when you really think about the connection, it isn't as strong as you'd like it to be, or the chemistry isn't quite there."
Are you aligned on core values?: "Whether it's love, humor, family, honesty, integrity, kindness, journal your values. I always say a journal is your best friend." Don't know what your core values are? Nobile suggests taking this free quiz to determine them.
Is your partner emotionally mature and available?: "That means you should ask about their past relationships, ask about their part in the breakup, how they healed from it, and what they want to do differently in their current relationship."
Is your partner ready, in the same way that you're ready, to take the relationship to the next level?: "We have to talk about these things. Some people will say to me, 'Oh, no, that's too scary. What if asking that question freaks that person out?' And my answer is, 'Well, there's your answer.'"
While keeping all that in mind, remember that only you and your partner know when you're ready to take the next step. There's no need to stick to an imaginary dating schedule.
What's the average relationship length before getting engaged?
According to The Knot 2021 Engagement and Jewelry Study, the average relationship length before getting married is two (or more) years. This was true for roughly 70% of the couples surveyed, which means approximately 30% of couples got engaged in less than two years. Another internal study found the average engagement length for US couples was 16 months. These numbers can be helpful to know for curious minds, but don't let them influence when you or your partner is ready for marriage. Take as much time as you need to get to know your significant other and feel ready for your (possible) future.
How to Know You're Ready to Propose
If you want to prepare for engagement season or aren't sure if you're ready for it, you need to take the temperature of your relationship. Emily Freeman, dating and attraction coach, believes checking in with yourself and your partner is vital since there's no one-size-fits-all dating timeline. "It's important to know your partner and experience them in different situations and seasons of their life. The people I see have the most success commit to continuing to learn about themselves, their relationship and their partner. And they choose partners who do the same." Read below to learn the six things that'll let you know if you're ready to propose.
You are on the same page about marriage.
Think about the last question in Nobile's three-four rule, are you and your partner ready to go to the next level in the same way? This means you and your partner need to discuss what the next step of your relationship looks like. For you, it could be getting engaged, having a short engagement and marrying in the spring but your partner may have reservations about marriage. It's best to have the marriage conversation earlier in the relationship rather than later when possible frustrations can arise.
You and your partner communicate well.
If you're wondering how soon is too soon to propose, take a moment to remember the importance of communication rather than focusing on a dating time frame. There's no "normal" way to go about dating since every couple makes their relationship decisions differently. Some people's relationship expectations are based on their family history, culture and past partners. But you won't know what those expectations are unless you speak to one another about them directly––Freeman says open communication is vital to any healthy relationship––which can lower the risk of misunderstandings. Discuss whether you want to have children, how you both deal with money and what you want for your future.
You are past the honeymoon phase.
The honeymoon phase is a period during the early stages of a couple's relationship that can last anywhere from a few days to two years––when the couple typically has highly passionate, carefree and euphoric attitudes. This hyper-romantic time is beautiful and innocent but might leave you or your partner not asking the essential questions needed to get to know one another deeper and be prepared to build a successful future together. Once you're out of the honeymoon phase, you will likely face more conflicts, but this is natural and not something to fear or avoid. These conflicts will help you learn how you and your partner solve issues individually and together, which is extremely important. So step back and see if you're still in the initial lovey-dovey phase of your relationship before you worry about the average dating time before marriage. Try to get to a point in your partnership where you and your partner tackle conflicts in a healthy way that works for both of you.
You have met important people in each other's lives.
Some say each person is the average of the five people they spend the most time with. Whether or not this is true is up for debate, but it's obvious that loved ones are essential parts of a person's life. This is why you and your partner should try to meet as many of each other's friends, family members, coworkers and more (as you can) while dating. This will help you both see a different side of each other and give you the chance to see how you both interact in each other's worlds and what your futures might look like.
You and your partner have experienced certain milestones together.
Lamont Scales White, dating coach and feature on Bravo TV's "Love Match Atlanta," believes couples must face various life experiences together before getting engaged. "I think before couples get married, or even get engaged, should reach specific milestones. This includes having an argument, which will help you see how the two of you navigate disagreements, how you learn how to forgive each other and how you learn how to get over a particular issue. I think another milestone for couples is to really define the type of marriage they want to have. That could be who's making decisions, sexual compatibility, including frequency and the type of sex." Another relationship goal to achieve is traveling together for a long time, like abroad or on a road trip. This puts you both in a potentially stressful situation, which can aid you in seeing how you tackle high-stress moments as individuals and as a couple.
White, also known as the Gay Dating Coach, says he would give the above advice to couples of any sexual orientation but that there are some small distinctions in same-sex relationships. "There are some very different nuances and dynamics for gay men and same-gender-loving relationships, particularly about not trying to mimic what heterosexual people do. So if you have two men in a relationship, two men get to navigate decisions, flirt with each other and get to provide for each other. The beauty about being in a gay relationship myself, as a married man, is we get to chart our own paths about what we define our relationship to be," White says.
You and your partner treat each other with love and respect.
Having love and respect for your partner and them having the same for you is key for any relationship, especially when it's with the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. Falling in love can be easy but staying in love and honoring a person's worth is a choice a couple has to continue to make every day. "When you find someone willing to make this choice with you, who supports you, lifts you up, challenges you to be better and accepts you for who you are, love gets a new definition. It's one of the most expansive and beautiful experiences you can have," Freeman says.
What to Do If You Aren't Ready to Propose
Realizing your partner is dropping hints about getting engaged when you're not ready to propose is a hard scenario to navigate, but it doesn't have to be the end of the world. "If you aren't ready, and your partner is ready, that's okay. That happens a lot. But it's your job to look inward, and do the work to find out what's going on. Ask yourself if can you imagine your life without them," Nobile explains. "If the answer is, 'I can't imagine my life without this person, but I can't get there.' Fear is holding you back, so you need to dive deep, even though it's scary, and find out what's blocking you. Because if you don't do it now, it'll chase you through the rest of your life and that relationship."
And if you're hesitant about proposing, reflect on what may be missing from the relationship. "You have to figure out what about your partner will make you say, 'Yes, this is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.' And you may need to have a tough conversation with yourself, a therapist or your higher power about if marriage is right for you. Marriage is not for everyone. We've been taught that marriage is the end goal and it's a marker of success for being a healthy adult, but that's totally not the case," White stresses.
What to Do If You and Your Partner Feel You Got Engaged Too Soon
First, pat yourself on the back for reassessing your relationship status before walking down the aisle. It's difficult considering if you possibly made a mistake by getting engaged too quickly, but it's better than feeling you made the wrong decision after the wedding day. You and your partner should take as much time as you need to figure out your relationship because pausing or having a long engagement is always an option. "Extend, extend, extend. Within that timeframe, you and your significant other need to go back to square one, start to date each other again, have difficult conversations and talk about why you all rushed into things. Like, what is the real reason that you rushed the engagement? Were you smitten? Were you afraid the person was going to leave? Ask those tough questions," White suggests.