April 08, 2004


I got into a familiar argument with a friend of mine last night. I tend to generally believe I'm right about all things, and generally I think that's proven correct about 88 percent of the time, so arguments with me lean toward the "don't be stupid" end of the spectrum.


The argument in question was about the duration of relationships, and what a decent stretch of time should pass before such massive steps as living together or marriage should enter the fray. I was more than a little surprised at how my friend, Marc, reacted. He actually got angry which, in turn, got me angry.

I come from the old school of relationships, I guess. I've been on, maybe, 30 or so dates in my life, most of them in college, with the word "dates" being a relative term here that also includes random bar pick-ups that end up being aimless groping in the backseat of a car.

Of that 30 or so number, perhaps 15 of those actually morphed into something longer, like, maybe a week or month or three of phone calls or dates or whatever.

Of that 15, only really four amounted to anything resembling a long term relationship in which I was actually interested enough in them to sniff around and find out more.

And only two of those lasted longer than a year. I'm in one of those right now with Melissa.

With that background in place, here's the heart of the argument I had last night: I basically believe that, before a relationship can move into the living together or marriage stage, an earth-shattering amount of time should pass. I'm talking, like, three years or more. Maybe two years.

I thought Marc was about to fly out of his chair when I said that, which surprised me just a little bit. I'm not sure why he had such a bizarre reaction, but whatever.

The reason I think two or three or more years should elapse is simple: it takes that long to discover all the issues lurking in the mind of the significant other and to decide whether you're okay with them. In turn, that amount of time gives the significant other a window to do the same.

There's a divorce epidemic in America today, due in no small part to a culture that hails romance over common sense. Everybody wants a relationship that leaves them tingly into perpetuity. But, here's the deal: that tingly feeling only really truly lasts about six months or so, maybe a year if you're lucky, or your significant other is actually gay and is overcompensating. But, people want to capitalize on the tingly feeling and try to trap it, like a butterfly, and so they move on to the next relationship stage way before it's time.

So, I'm of the opinion, and I think rightly so, that a relationship of two or three years before taking the next big step is alarmingly smart. A relationship should be a gradual investment, not a lump sum gamble on Red 36, let the wheel spin.

I love Melissa, and she's probably the only woman (family not included) I've actually truly loved. But, I'm sure as hell not ready to live with her, even after a year-and-a-half of dating. I mean, during her spring break, when she and I were around each other constantly for over a week, I wanted to scream. And so did she. But, it's gradual. Eventually, provided we stick together that long, we'll feel out each other's personal boundaries and be able to be around each other for longer and longer stretches. If, however, we were to jump in right now and start living together, it would only be a matter of time before we explode. To me, this is all just common sense thinking.

Like I said, I didn't expect Marc to get as bent out of shape as he did, which makes me wonder if there's something going on in his mind that he's not saying. Or, maybe the concept of waiting two to three years, for Marc, like most Americans, just seems like too long a time.

Not me. If forever is going to be forever, I'm damned well going to make sure my relationship has longevity first, and three years just doesn't seem that unreasonable of a trial period.

UPDATE: Oh, and there was also this, which still bothers me to this day.

UPDATE 2.0: Jennifer noted that there are some exceptions, and of course there are. I posted a comment on her site that I feel is relevant to this post:

There are, of course, exceptions to everything. I think I may just be adhering to a genetic propensity towards waiting: my mom and dad dated for almost seven years or so before getting married (so long, in fact, that my mother's sister said "it's time to shit or get off the pot."

My girlfriend's parents got married after six months, were married for almost 20 years, and then her dad announced he was gay and moved out, leaving three children to wonder how THAT happened.

I guess I'm just more comfortable with waiting. Cuts out a lot of the "well, shit, I didn't know THAT" moments once you're married or living together.

Posted by Ryan at April 8, 2004 10:38 AM

On the other hand, you DID collect coins. :)

Some people, mostly of the feminine persuasion, might say you were afraid of committment. If your particular lady, however, doesn't feel that way, it doesn't really matter, does it?

Posted by: bigdocmcd at April 8, 2004 11:44 AM

That's the double-edged sword, isn't it? If you don't want to get married or live together RIGHT NOW, you're afraid of commitment. If you do want to get married or live together RIGHT NOW, you're probably doomed to failure like 52 percent of the rest of marriages.

Posted by: Ryan at April 8, 2004 12:00 PM

You are damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you don't want to get married, then you are afraid of commitment. If you do get married, you are needy and dependent.

If you don't want children, you are self-centered. If you do have children, you are self-centered.

No matter what course you take, someone who disagrees with you will find fault.

Anyway, Kat and I married after less than a year of dating. On our first date, we talked for 9 hours straight. It was a serious talk too, where we explored each others beliefs on religion, politics, marriage, and children. Over the next months, we further discussed those issues and others so well that when we went to Engaged Encounter, we discovered that there was nothing left to discuss! At least, nothing that was brought up at Engaged Encounter was a surprise to us because we had already discussed it. I do remember several couples getting into heated discussions, with plenty of tears involved. So, obviously, they had some discussing to do.

As it stands, I like to be open with people and if I can't be open with someone, then I stop being friends with them. So, since so many people are unwilling to discuss the important topics of life, I find that I don't like a lot of people. Pointless discussions of the weather leave me cold.

Back to the issue of how long a person ought to see someone before marrying or moving in, I agree that many people marry too soon. I don't know if more time would help them or more discussion. My belief is that more honest and open discussion would help. Being together longer can help foster the trust needed for honest discussion.

Posted by: Scott McGerik at April 8, 2004 12:43 PM

The Girl and I have been together three years. We own a condo together. We're still not married.

She wants to. I have concerns.

I am not, actually, afraid of marriage. I'm afraid of divorce. Just the idea of ever having to say "my ex-wife" (or, god forbid, "my first wife") makes me break out in hives. See? There they are; hives.

But I agree about a three year wait to get married. People should wait at least that long.

Posted by: Joshua at April 8, 2004 01:24 PM

wow, did you and Joshua just agree on something???? I consider my office HELL and i think I just got a chill

Posted by: k at April 8, 2004 02:11 PM

Actually, outside of politics and foreign relations, Joshua and I agree on a truly frightening number of things. Plus, we're both assholes, so there's that.

Posted by: Ryan at April 8, 2004 02:20 PM

My girlfriend moved in about six weeks after we met. She had never dated anyone (she was 27) and I had been living alone for several years. This month is our 5 year anniversary and I can tell you our relationship is almost nothing like it was that first year, or two. It's taken this last year, and maybe the hightened communication with her being in Iraq, to feel like we're starting to "hit our groove" in this relationship. Would we have made it if we hadn't been living together - maybe not. Am I glad we have - absolutely!

Posted by: Beth at April 8, 2004 03:31 PM

Excellent post. I have to agree with Jennifer in that there are exceptions but your logic is solid.

However, I would like to throw in a caveat that I have learned in my checkered past: you simply canNOT know someone until you live with them. At least that's been my experience.

Just my 1.65 cents (adjusted for inflation).

Posted by: Emma at April 8, 2004 03:58 PM

Emma, I agree that living together is the most certain way to get to know someone. I just think it's wise to wait for that point so the list of shits that will hit the fan has been largely diminished.

Posted by: Ryan at April 8, 2004 04:11 PM

i don't think there's an overarching formula in any case.

jay and i moved in together about 6 months after we started dating, and that was after almost never spending a single night apart in the first 6 months after meeting. it's been 6 years and we're still together and happy. it was instant.

i think that the seriously high failure rate of marriages is somewhat generational - our parents were of the generation where marriage was still widely expected, and to be 35 and not married was some sort of sign that there was something really wrong with you. with our generation ( i'm speaking for those 25-40ish), we're not so expected to get married early on and start a family, and because so many of us have parents with miserably failed marriages, a lot of us are talking a lot longer to make the final legal commitment.

i don't think the high failure rate is an indicator that marriage is something to be avoided because it obviously doesn't work - i think once the baby boomers are gone, the rates will go back down.

Posted by: leblanc at April 8, 2004 04:12 PM

What worked for my wife and I was an extended time apart where we couldn't communicate except by weekly phone calls and almost daily letters. You really get to know someone that way.

The key - you pegged it - is communication beforehand. How it happens is just method.

Posted by: Ted at April 9, 2004 10:11 AM

Brian & I were friends first w/ absolutely no romantic inclinations towards each other. That helped us to have some sort of foundation when we did start dating. We moved in together, after about 6 months of dating, and our families were not pleased. They are of the mindset that if you are ready to live together, you are ready for marriage. Brian & I, however, are the only children of parents that married out of high school, divorced, remarried & started new families. This changes OUR perspective on marriage completely.

So 4 years later, we are still living together and are perfectly content. Marriage will probably be an issue at some point. But I think it takes time to figure things out & if our living together & working out the dynamics of our relationship can avoid divorce, I am all for it.

Ryan, do what is best for you. If waiting feels best, then wait! Obviously, you & Melissa know where you stand w/ each other & that is what's important.

Posted by: Mandy at April 9, 2004 10:31 AM

Actually, I have to cop to something here; me and The Girl did move in together almost immediately after we started dating. But we had known each other through a larger social network for a couple of years before we started dating.

We fought constantly for that first year, but things have mellowed out over time.

All the same, I still agree with Ryan. As a general rule, three year minimum.

Posted by: Joshua at April 9, 2004 12:34 PM
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