It’s a question that comes up occasionally within a singles ministry. If you are seriously dating someone, how long should it be before you pop the question? How much time does it take to determine if he or she is “the one”?
There’s no set answer on that. I know of people who have gotten married very quickly (like in a matter of days) and are still married decades later—and people who did the same thing and were divorced just as quickly. Or, a couple may be “in a relationship” for a decade, finally get married, and then split up in the first year.
It really depends on the people involved, and the reasons why they get married when they do.
What’s the rush?
Most people realize that you shouldn’t get married too quickly after meeting someone, and studies I’ve found on the subject seem to back that up.
There are a couple of reasons why a short dating period can cause problems in marriage:
Neither of you get to know “the real you.” Anyone can put on a good show for a while, and in dating you’re probably trying to paint yourself in the best light possible. So you don’t get to know what they are really like until some time has passed, and in this case you’re already married by that point. (Proverbs 19:2)
People who get married quickly often do so because they are “so much in love”—which means they are basing the decision mostly on feelings. Feelings change. If you passively “fall in love,” you can also fall back out. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have strong feelings for the person you marry, but a marriage needs to be based on more than that. (Jeremiah 17:9)
Marriage is really about commitment, so the real question is whether you are willing to commit to this person for the rest of your life, and whether you can trust them when they say they’re willing to do the same. That trust bit requires evidence and time.
Now, sometimes you can trust them more quickly if other trustworthy people have known the person through close community for a long time, and can vouch for them. That’s actually the preferred situation, because then you have multiple sets of eyes confirming that this person is who they appear to be. But don’t just take your boyfriend or girlfriend’s word for it.
That same study said that people who dated a very long time before marriage—like a number of years—were also less likely to stay married. In fact, they tended to divorce quicker than those with short courtships.
Again, there are a couple of reasons why taking too long is a bad sign:
People sometimes wait because there are multiple warning signs that make them reluctant to marry the person. According to the study, those who “sense future problems while they are courting generally find out after they are married that their concern was well-founded.” (Proverbs 26:11)
Many people today are in no hurry to marry because they are already living together. When you are too involved with someone for too long, getting married can become simpler than breaking up, even if breaking up before marriage is what you should do. And, as Todd Wagner recently mentioned, going too far physically can keep you in a bad relationship longer, or kill a relationship before it can start. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
It’s not so much that people wait too long to get married, but that they stay in a relationship that never was built to last.
So there’s no set timeframe for how long you should date; it depends on the situation. And the key to making good decisions in any situation is to act wisely, trusting in the wisdom from God’s Word and the godly counsel of people who you’re sharing life with.
Happily married couples: how long did you date before your wedding?