Conventional wisdom has it that a woman, ever-obsessed with getting married, starts pairing her first name with his last name before the end of date #1—and will be the one to bring up the initial suggestion of marriage as a hope for the future. The first part is true: Rare is the woman who hasn’t (at least once) started plotting the romantic fairytale ending of a relationship in her head before the end of the first act. But my research finds that the second part is false: If the relationship is moving in that direction, it’s men, not women, who will bring up that first, tentative conversation about marriage.
More than 90% of BustedHalo respondents said they believed that women were usually the first ones to start thinking about marriage and the future. I have talked to many women who admit to wondering “What our kids would look like?” by date three and others who have complete schedules (“If we date for a year, then get engaged, we can be married by…”) before the first month of the relationship has passed.
But only 25% of female respondents to our recent poll said they had been the first to actually bring up the topic of marriage, if it had come up in their relationships. So while the girls may be hypothetically picking their bridesmaids, when it comes to actually vocalizing intents for the future, it’s the men that seem to speak up first—and often do so pretty early into the relationship.
The Rest is History
Elizabeth, 33, said her boyfriend asked her if she wanted a church wedding in their first phone conversation. For Veronica, 30, she said her now-husband brought up the possibility of them getting married sometime in the future while the two were sitting on the couch about to watch a movie at his place. Amanda, 21, said her boyfriend had had a few too many beers and “found a random ring and asked me to marry him.” And DeAnn said her boyfriend sent her a text message bringing up the topic of marriage—and, as she puts it “the rest is history.” Gee…I wonder how that worked out?
But sometimes, bringing up the M-bomb too soon can do more harm than good. Erin, 22, said her boyfriend brought up the topic of marriage very early on—as something he was worried about. “My boyfriend was worried that we weren’t right for each other” and he started talking about the future in a negative way. But, she said, “It was a very frustrating conversation because we had only been dating a short while” and she didn’t think that there had been enough time to come to that conclusion.
Reading the Situation
Forty-four percent of BustedHalo respondents said it was OK to bring up marriage “whenever you want” in the relationship. An equal number pegged the right time to bring up marriage as somewhere between six months and one year into the relationship. And 11% said it was always best to wait until the other person brings it up. Those 11% of respondents, by the way, were all women.
I tend to agree with the women who believe that it’s better to wait until the guy brings up marriage—up to a point. Our culture teaches men that they have to speak up for what they want when it comes to marriage—a man is supposed to ask a woman to marry him, and it’s very rare to see that reversed—so if a guy is interested and sees a future with a woman, he’s going to tell her about it. If he’s silent, or avoids the point, that doesn’t bode well.
If you’re in your 20s and have been dating for two years and there’s been no mention of marriage, it’s time to float the idea. For those in their 30s, one year is long enough. It’s good to know sooner rather than later if you two have different visions of the future.
Getting the Ball Rolling
Other people’s weddings are one sure-fire way to kick-start a conversation about the status of your own relationship. Margaret, 28, said the topic came up during wedding season, when they each had several friends and family getting married. She and her boyfriend talked about their views on marriage generally, but not when or whether they wanted to get married. Mary, 35, had a similar experience: “We were driving home from a close friend’s wedding and my boyfriend mentioned something about maybe marriage was something we could start considering for ourselves.”
1. Does your church have singles’ events or offer any dating outlets for young adults?
2. Do you think individual churches should do more to introduce Catholic singles?
3. If yes, what kind of events does your church offer, and are they well attended?
4. Have you ever used CatholicSingles.com or any religiously based online dating site?
5. If yes, which one site did you use and what was your experience?
6. Have you ever read a Christian/religious dating self-help book?
Big blow-out fights also tend to stir the emotional pot. Cliff, 35, said the topic of marriage came up during a fight with his future wife. “We had a fight and my (now) wife said, well, if we get married, we’re going to have more fights than this.” Brie, 25, said it came up in a fight where she declared that she thought the relationship was serious enough for her to stay and work it out. “I said if I thought that it would not lead to getting married then I would have left a while ago.”
Oftentimes before marriage and commitment is discussed in personal terms, it comes up in generalities. I’ve heard plenty of couples begin sentences in each other’s company by saying, oh-so-purely hypothetically, “When I get married…,” or “I hope my future wife…” etc. Karen, 21, said that’s exactly how it unfolded for her. “My boyfriend and I have been dating for 3 years now and the idea of marriage was first brought up, hypothetically speaking, after about a year and a half. Marriage between he and I was brought up [more seriously] after about 2 to 2 1/2 years of dating and now we talk about it a lot and hope to marry in a few years when we graduate from college.”
Chrisitan Dating Guide
For those of you who are still scoping out the options, my next column will get back to issues of dating—and how to do it within the Church. In my last column, I spoke with a Jewish dating expert about her advice for single young adult Catholics. I was critical of Catholic churches—and many Christian denominations as well—for not doing as much as other faiths to encourage dating. But it’s important to explore what advice is out there: I’ll review the latest Christian dating guide and look at what individual churches are doing to introduce and encourage young adults singles. What are you experiences? Share your thoughts in our questionnaire.
Finally, I just wanted to say thank you to all those people who contacted me regarding my article on SWANS—Strong Women Achievers No Spouse—when it was re-published as one the best articles on BustedHalo in 2005. In the last few weeks, many more responses have streamed in—and all your comments are helpful for my research. As many of you know, I’m writing a book about high-achieving women and marriage, to be published by Simon & Schuster in early 2007. So stay tuned for more of my findings on this topic—my research has uncovered some surprising and fascinating facts about the balance between love and success, and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you soon.