By Nicolle

Last Friday night, my best friend and I received a phone call from one of our college roommates. “I’m engaged!” she screamed into the phone. “It’s going to be an October 2011 wedding!”

That phone call came on the heels of a discussion with another friend about the state of her relationship, and how engagement might be in her future as well. Their different relationship stories got me thinking: As much as we’d like to put our relationships in neat little boxes, complete with an instruction manual and timeline, things are rarely that black and white.

Another friend of mine is dating a guy who I’m sure she’ll end up with. They’ve been dating for almost four years – but there’s no engagement in sight.

Another friend is dating a guy she’s been with since last winter. I’m pretty certain they’ll be engaged within a few months.

Yet another friend dated a guy for two years, broke up with him for two years and is now engaged to him.

And those are just my friends.

Clearly there is no formula, which just about anyone will tell you if prompted. The difference is whether or not we actually believe our relationships don’t have to fit into someone else’s idea of perfect timing.

I can’t see myself ever being ready to make a declaration of lifelong commitment after dating someone for less than a year, so my confusion and (sometimes) jealousy of friends who have it figured out sooner often overrides my inward excitement about others’ relationships. Why is it that some people “just know” right away, while others take years to decide – and sometimes they still don’t know?

My conclusion is simple. There is no conclusion. There is no one reason why it seems easier for some people to figure their relationships out than others. Sometimes I’d like to sit in my ivory tower and declare that I’m much smarter, more mature and more realistic than those who, in my eyes, dive into a proposal and wedding planning before they’re actually ready. But the truth is that I can’t see into anyone’s relationship but my own – and most of the time, I don’t even have that figured out.

While I think there are definite red flags that everyone should look for in their relationships and in their friends’ relationships (i.e. a really short dating time, the inability to answer legitimate questions about the relationship without getting defensive, etc.), the most important thing to remember is that we can’t know what’s going on in others’ heads or hearts. At the end of the day, whether I agree with my friends’ relationships or engagements or not, the decision isn’t up to me. And I’m not the one who has to live with the consequences, good or bad.

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