How long should a couple date before they get engaged? Is living together before marriage okay? How about premarital sex? Last weekend I struck up a conversation with a very nice woman in her seventies, and we had an interesting discussion about these questions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, our opinions differed on what the correct answers were, but we both believed ours with equal conviction.
The woman told me she and her husband got married just seven months after they met. She likely thought I’d be surprised by that, but I wasn’t, because my parents got married after knowing each other only six months!
The funny thing in my parents’ case is that they only spent two of those six months together because my Dad was in the Navy and on a boat in the Gulf of Tonkin the rest of the time. They must have been pretty smitten with each other, though, because my Dad ended up mailing my Mom an engagement ring (I hope he got insurance on that sucker), and then called her on the phone to propose.
Heather’s parents also got married quickly. They met in October, got engaged the following March, and then married in July.
After hearing about our parents’ whirlwind engagements, the woman asked Heather and me how long we’d been married. “Almost six years,” I said. “But we dated for four years before that.”
The woman raised her eyebrows and said that in her day a courtship that long was pretty munch unheard of.
“Well, we lived together two of those years,” I said.
“Living together was even more unheard of,” she said. “It just wasn’t done before marriage. And we didn’t do… other things… either, if you catch my drift.”
I was tempted to reply, “You mean play Yahtzee?”
As our talk continued it became clear the woman didn’t believe in a long courtship/living together before marriage/playing Yahtzee, and felt that getting married “the old fashioned way” was still best.
It’s interesting… I’ve seen this debated before, and read a number of older studies that suggested couples who lived together before marriage were more likely to divorce. However, more recent studies – perhaps reflecting changing societal norms – now indicate that divorce rates are pretty much the same regardless of whether you do or don’t live together before marriage.
From my personal experience, though, I think it’s a positive thing to A) know your partner a substantial time before marriage, and B) live together. Getting married is arguably the biggest decision of your life, and it’s important to find out if you’re truly compatible with each other before agreeing to spend the rest of your life together.
Of course, every couple is different, and Heather and I have seen first hand how marriages sealed after short courtships can thrive, as our parents have been married eighty-three years combined. The key, I think, is to be convinced that you’ve found the right person, regardless of whether that realization comes after a week or five years.
For me, I’m glad I waited, even though there was something inside of me that told me as early as the night we met that Heather was the girl for me.