By Nicolle

“When you meet the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

That’s what my best friend says to me every time I cynically rant about friends and acquaintances who get engaged and/or married after only dating for a short time (i.e. less than a year).

She repeats it to me because I don’t get it. My experiential evidence disagrees: The one time I could honestly see myself marrying the guy I was dating, I knew the potential nuptials were years away. Now, many people would say my lack of an unquenchable desire to pick out a ring, set a date and choose bridesmaid-dress colors with said guy obviously means that he wasn’t actually THE ONE. And while, that argument holds a little more water since the relationship unfortunately didn’t work out, I still don’t agree with it.

Just like most things in life, the amount of time you sustain a relationship before it evolves into marriage is a balance: Wait too long, and it might be a clue that you’re afraid of commitment. Wait not long enough, and you could still be blinded by the honeymoon phase of the relationship – or you’re more excited about the wedding than the marriage.

I recently had coffee with a friend who’s in a great relationship and happier than I’ve ever seen him. In reference to his current girlfriend, he declared that he could see himself marrying her… but not for four or five years. When I asked why he felt he needed to wait so long, his thoughtful response included the fact that they both had more they individually wanted to accomplish before tying the knot.

I’d be one of the first to tell most, if not all, couples taking the plunge to wait an additional six months (or longer) before walking down the aisle, but something about this particular friend’s comment made me think. If you know you want to eventually marry the person you’re with, you’ve been friends for years prior to dating and you live in the same city, why would you put such a lengthy time constraint on the pre-marriage relationship?

Deciding that you need to accomplish your own individual goals before you get hitched can be as dangerous as completely changing your personality and personal goals to accommodate your potential spouse. If you’re not willing to tackle those career advancements together, or you want to stay separate for the time being because one of you likes camping and the other one likes fancy hotels, it could be indicative of a lack of understanding about marriage.

Yes, marriage means self-sacrifice. If you travel together, you might have to compromise on where you lay your head at night, or you might have to wait to get your Ph.D. because you need two incomes. But just because marriage constitutes giving up some of the freedoms of individuality doesn’t mean you can’t have your own individual interests and goals – and thinking so makes marriage seem like a cage.

On the flip side, an acquaintance recently got married less than a year after she met her now-husband. She’s the kind of person the opening quote refers to – she wanted her life to start now. But it’s hard to say that she wasn’t more excited about the prospect of being married than about the person she married.

The point is this: Relationships can’t be put in a box. What works for one couple may not work for another. But just because relationships can’t be squarely defined with a list of dos and don’ts, rights and wrongs, blacks and whites, doesn’t mean there aren’t guidelines, details and pieces to balance. Be careful when polarizing relationships in a way that leaves no room for exceptions – but also realize that without a balance between waiting too long and not waiting long enough, starting the rest of your life with someone right now might prove to make the rest of your life seem a lot longer than you thought.