Austin and I dated for ten months before we were engaged. We were married just shy of our two year dating anniversary. I write about this because I think we (myself included) are naturally critical of, or at least skeptical toward, short courtships, though they are very much the historical norm. I also write about this as my own tiny public service announcement, should you be thinking about or discussing marriage in a new(ish) relationship and worrying these conversations are premature. I adored our short courtship and I adore our still-young relationship. People in love should shouldn’t shy away from commitment if the time is right.
I offer this thesis as someone who has often been criticized for being too pragmatic, too rational and too level headed. No one has ever described me as rash.
I was speaking with a colleague about her similarly short courtship. She and her fiancé were recently engaged, after having been together about six months, and will marry later this year. She told me she would become trepidatious when people asked how long they had been together, believing that she would be taken as impulsive or naive. She worried her family secretly judged her decision and thought less of her for committing to something permanent so soon. My advice to her, as a sage matron (ha!) was this: whether it takes three months or three years, when you are emotionally ready to marry, you and your partner are the only ones who need to be in 100 per cent.
This sounds simplistic, but here’s my case study of one, the one that matters to me.
I enjoyed two serious (serious, as in, could have led to marriage under other circumstances) relationships before meeting and falling in love with my husband. Austin, too, dated a gal exclusively for many years before we met, and probably could have married her, too, under different circumstances. My longest failed relationship (4+ years) taught me this: if you can’t talk openly and with candour and excitement about your future marriage and how awesome it will be from the early days, it’s probably (not always, but probably) not meant to be. I’ve considered the many theses people offer about postponing the decision to marry. Waiting for something better. Needing to grow into commitment. Men taking longer than women to warm to the idea of marriage. These arguments strike me as concerning and even sexist (see: no woman should have to beg her boyfriend to “put a ring on it,” though this has become a societally-acceptable aphorism/rally cry). Austin and I – often prompted by him – discussed our eventual marriage and what it might look like early and often and openly, just as we do today, living out our marriage.
This said, I think there are many successful models for courtship. My parents, who share a 30+ year paragon of marriage, were engaged for many years before they married, by force of circumstance. My grandparents on both sides were married shortly after beginning to date, something far more common and accepted in their time. They both enjoy 50+ year marriages that are going strong and happy. More commonly today, as the average age of marriage rises, we see friends and colleagues who date for two or three years before engagement and then marriage and that’s an equally reasonable arrangement.
All this to say, I’ve become through experience an advocate for ignoring the supposed status quo and very occasional (sadly) unkind comments about my young relationship. I’m glad that I met the husband of my days and knew right away his was my heart to keep, and vice versa. I’m proud that we enjoy such a strong friendship and love and thankfulness for one-another that grows deeper with each day. And I’m grateful that I lived through multiple failed long-term relationships before meeting Austin; relationships that helped me to understand clearly what I didn’t want my marriage to be.
So, my public service announcement: duration is just one measure of a relationship’s potential. There is no one right or better way or timeframe within which to find love. No congratulations or criticism should be bestowed upon others for their unique-to-two life decision. I encourage us all to find and keep husbands and wives in our own ways, under our own timelines — whether as friends for a decade who become lovers, or as two pronounced man and wife by Elvis in a chapel on the strip, or somewhere comfortably in between.