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A Timetable for Relationship Milestones

New readers, welcome to Dear Wendy, a relationship advice blog. If you don’t find the info you need in this column, please visit the Dear Wendy archives or the forums (you can even start your own thread), or submit a question for advice.

One of the most common themes among the letters I receive is about relationship milestones and whether one’s relationship is moving too slowly (or too quickly). “It’s been four months and he hasn’t said ‘I love you’ yet! Should I MOA?” And: “It’s been three years and he still hasn’t proposed! Does that mean he never will?” Or: “We’ve been dating for six months. Is it too soon to move in together?” And while I don’t believe in hard and fast rules about relationship timetables, I do think it’s healthy to think about your long-term goals — keeping in mind if/when you might want children, an issue that’s more pertinent, of course, for women in their 30s and up — and whether your relationship is moving at a pace that feels right for you. And if it isn’t? It’s time to have a discussion with your significant other and consider moving on if it’s clear you’re nowhere near being on the same page.

That said, most people can’t resist playing comparisons — thinking about how their relationships “measure up” to those of their peers or to what society considers “normal.” To help with that, a recent article has outlined a general time frame for major relationship milestones (based on current trends among modern couples). After the jump, see how your own relationship compares to what’s considered “normal” (if you dare).

1. Mentioning a Future Together

Between 4 and 9 months. These tend to be casual talks about how each couple envisions at least a short-term future together — planning a vacation a few months down the line, talking about spending the holidays together, making plans to introduce each other to their respective families.

2. Having a Serious Talk About Marriage

Between 6 and 18 months.

“Where couples fell within this range was closely tied to age. Younger couples, either in school or early in the career building stages of their lives leaned towards the 18 month range, while couples in their late twenties and beyond tended to have these discussions in the 6 to 12 month range. The definition for a “serious” marriage discussion was that it touched on points to determine whether or not the relationship was headed towards marriage. Topics included: general feelings about marriage, whether they saw children in their future, and possible timing for marriage.”

3. Getting Engaged

Between 14 months and 3 years. “Again, younger couples got engaged further into their relationships, while older couples got engaged sooner.”

4. Marriage Discussions Start to Feel Like Nagging

Between 2 1/2 and 5 years. “This was the point where women started to feel that they wanted marriage way more than the man in their lives.” And, this is the point when they begin writing to advice columnists asking how to handle the situation…

5. Losing Hope for the Relationship to Turn into Marriage

2 years plus. “Many women didn’t lose hope of their boyfriend marrying them until 5 years or more. But, we did find that many who were already living together starting to lose hope around 2 years if no solid marriage plans were being made.” Coincidentally, this is also the point that many women begin losing faith in mankind in general. To this, I say: MOA. If what you want is a longterm commitment and the person you’re with won’t give it, quit wastin’ your time (and losing your mind) and move on, especially if you want children. Them eggs ain’t gonna last forever, ladies.

So, what do you think? Do you agree with this very general relationship timetable? Does reading something like this make you feel more or less confident about where you are in your own relationship? A big milestone that was left off the list was when to say “I love you.” Any thoughts about what’s “normal” in that regard?

[via Your Modern Living]

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{ 39 comments… add one }

avatar TheOtherMe September 14, 2011, 12:50 pm

LOL! I am outside of ALL of these so-called milestones !

avatar Britannia September 14, 2011, 12:57 pm

These milestones are pretty darn accurate, IMO.

As for the “I love you”? I’m 22, and so far have found that the longer it takes for it to be said, it’s usually for the better. I’ve had some very passionate and tumultuous relationships in which “Love” was thrown out less than a month after the dating started, and I’ve had serious relationships in which there was definitely passion there but we were able to separate love and passion… “I love you” came when we felt like we really knew the other person as a whole, and loved who they were. Usually took 6 months or so.

avatar silver_dragon_girl September 14, 2011, 1:02 pm

I think all of these are pretty accurate. Of course, my longest relationship has lasted 9 months, so I can’t really speak to the ones past that, but these timelines accurately represent what I would expect future relationships to hold for me.

As for saying “I love you…” I dunno, in all my relationships it’s happened within one-two months, with the guy saying it first. Of course, as I said, they didn’t last long, so maybe there’s a correlation there?

avatar HmC September 14, 2011, 1:06 pm

With all the standard disclaimers about how every couple is different and you’ve got to listen to your gut blah blah blah… I think these seem pretty reasonable. I appreciate the clarification regarding the differences between younger couples and older ones. Not only is your life in a different place, but most people by the time they’re older know themselves better, know what they want more specifically, and are more capable of recognizing it quicker. Not always the case of course, but in my experience it has been.

And just a random thought… I am very blessed to be in a healthy and happy long term relationship, and I never really fretted about any of these types of milestones. Everything came up so easily in conversation, and I felt very little fear in bringing serious things up if I wanted to talk about them. And so far (a bit over a year) things have been wonderful! Anyway, my point to other ladies is, there is nothing wrong with asking for what you want, and the right guy for *you* will not be scared away by these things. Men want families and marriage too… they want you!

avatar HmC September 14, 2011, 1:20 pm

As far as the “I love You” thing… I think there is a lot of leeway with this one. I am personally attracted to very sensitive and emotional men, so in my own experiences, they have said it first and rather quickly (within a few months). But I understand that some men have a mental block between feeling love and saying it out loud, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Some people need a certain amount of stability to be in place before they feel comfortable saying it, and some people are more like crock pots and just need more time to realize they even feel it.

And then there are people who say it too quick, just because they feel lust and want to believe it, and of course there are those who say it and consciously know it is a lie.

I think that as long as you feel the love and you’re happy with the relationship, there are times when saying the word “love” really is just a semantics issue.

EscapeHatches EscapeHatches September 14, 2011, 1:47 pm

Love the crock pot analogy. Those are the folks that usually have “EUREKA!” moments.

avatar honeybeenicki September 14, 2011, 1:30 pm

For me, most of these were pretty dead on (except the worrying about marriage commitments, etc since I was engaged about 18 months after dating my husband). We moved pretty quick in the beginning because he was already living with me as a friend who needed a place to stay, so we technically were already living together before our first date. I think we had our first serious marriage talk around 3 or 4 months though, because I knew he was coming out of a marriage that involved kids, so I laid it out up front of what I expect (that I did want to be married, I wouldn’t wait forever, etc). I didn’t push the issue after that and the proposal was a huge surprise.

JK JK September 14, 2011, 1:32 pm

My relationship with my husband was pretty atypical (although we do live in a country where there isn’t the typical “engagment” like in other countries).
I said I love you first, on our 1st anniversary (corny, I know, I was young haha).
At 1 yr 4 months, we moved in together. A couple of months after that he said he loved me (he insists he had said it before, I know darn well he hadn’t… he’s an extremely closed person).
We never really had specific marriage conversations, I let him know I wanted to get married, he was quite on the fence about it. 4 1/2 years after we started dating I got pregnant (after trying for 6 months), during my pregnancy we decided to get married, we went to get the appt and 16 days later had a small, civil ceremony, so you can imagine there was pretty much no planning whatsoever (afterward we ended up going with our friends and family to a restaurant for a big lunch). And that’s about it!
In a couple of weeks it will be the 9th anniversary of our first date :)

avatar Riefer September 14, 2011, 1:37 pm

My husband and I took a year or two longer, on probably all of these. I even got to the losing hope point. And actually I didn’t expect the proposal when it came, so it seems like my path was atypical. I’m older too (in my 30s), so it was even more out of whack.

But this seems reasonable as an average. The only thing I don’t like about it is that there will be outliers on both sides – people who get engaged really quickly, and people who take a long time. And I can tell you, while I was losing hope, if I had read something like this it may have been the push for me to break up with him. At the very least, it would have made me even sadder than I already was. That’s why I don’t like these kinds of charts.

mandalee mandalee September 14, 2011, 1:49 pm

I think the milestones generally make sense, but they’re also relative to the couple’s age and situation. I had a friend who nagged and nagged her boyfriend to propose to her (she even got to the point where she signed him up for a build your own ring event at a jewelry store and demand that he attend. They fell into your range on your guidelines, but were only in their mid-twenties and she was not working and in the process of racking up a six figure student loan debt. I had a hard time being supportive for her, because they discussed marriage and he was on board “when she was more financially stable”, which I totally understood. She, on the other hand, did not, and continued to drive the bf insane.

avatar Yozi September 14, 2011, 1:55 pm

I know a lot of people say that the girl should wait to for the guy to say I love you first, but I’ve never been very good at keeping my mouth shut when I have something on my mind. I told my fiance I loved him at one month in and he said something along the lines of “holy s*%@ we’re going to have children!”. Which I thought was a very weird reaction at the time but I was glad he didn’t leave me hanging or anything. We took a huge leap of faith and moved in together at 3 months because my landlady kicked me out of my apartment (not something I wanted or would advise but thankfully it worked out). We got a puppy together at one year- which I think should be it’s own milestone as they are a lot of work ; ). Last month he totally surprised me by proposing while we were on vacation. We’ve been together 1 year and 8 months now and were planning to get married next spring. I’m sure Dan Savage would be horrified by this. I forget his exact timeline, but I know he thinks couples should be together for a long while before getting hitched…

avatar Buzzelbee September 14, 2011, 1:56 pm

My husband and I took way longer on most of these but we started dating in college, so we were definitely on the younger side. We dated for five years before moving in together, six years before getting engaged, and then seven years before marriage. We just celebrated our three year wedding anniversary and am so glad we waited because that was right for us. I admit I’m glad I hadn’t seen it when at five and a half years it didn’t look like we would be engaged any time soon.

I understand the need to know where a relationship is going but I wish there were more articles in the mainstream about the solid foundation required for a successful marriage and not just if you’ve been together long enough. Marriage is hard work and when I see shows like Say Yes to the Dress I feel like that message is lost in the desire to be a bride. Wendy is great for this BTW, I just wish the message was more prominent in mainstream media.

avatar GatorGirl September 14, 2011, 2:12 pm

I agree- the wedding has become so much more than the marriage. It’s sad.

My BF and I talk a lot about this, and are consciously making decisions to create a solid marraige, rather than a flashy wedding.

avatar Riefer September 14, 2011, 3:06 pm

There’s nothing necessarily *wrong* with an awesome wedding, as long as you don’t see that as the end goal of your engagement. If you understand that the wedding is a celebration of a starting point, and that the hard work comes after, then it’s fine. Oh, also, ONLY if you can afford it! People who go into debt for flashy weddings are wasting their money, in my opinion.

But my hubby and I had a great wedding, it was in an awesome venue with everyone we love, great music, amazing party! I still think about it sometimes while I’m drifting off to sleep, how fun it was, and all the little moments. Some people say that your wedding goes so fast and there’s so much to do that you don’t really get to experience it, but I made a point of trying to be “present”, and enjoy every little thing that happeend. That was almost 2 years ago, and I certainly don’t regret the money spent.

avatar LA September 14, 2011, 9:04 pm

Me and my boyfriend are on a fairly similar timeline to yours: met early in college and moved in together after 6 years (only recently). Occasionally we talk about marriage, but as something far off. I’m also of the opinion that the marriage is much more important than te wedding (I don’t even think I want a wedding). We talk more about how we want to spend our lives together and how we consider ourselves a family. It’s much more important to be on the same page about your future and timeline expectations than have ultimatums and stress about when the proposal will happen.

avatar Sarah September 14, 2011, 10:48 pm

Ooh, I’m with you. I’ve been with my boyfriend since the end of our freshman year in college, which now puts us at just over 7 years and I SWEAR TO GOD I wouldn’t have it any other way. I basically got really nervous and squeamish whenever we talked semi-seriously about engagement/marriage until I turned 26 when we went to a bar and I got drunk and turned to him and was like, “Whatever. We can get married if you want because I am FUCKING OLD.”

Also I proposed as an April Fool’s joke in 2010, which I thought was funny but all his grad school classmates were like, “ooooooooooooooh, bad” about.

(On the other hand, we were naming our future children within like three months? I don’t know what to say except that 1) I’m really into names and 2) I’m weird.)

Lyra L September 14, 2011, 2:01 pm

I think these are pretty accurate too, but of course, each relationship is different so each stage will come at a different time.

For me, things started very quickly. I think I said I love you first, maybe 3-4 weeks into the relationship. He didn’t respond with an “I love you”, but said it to me a couple weeks after that. We knew things would be long-term pretty much from the beginning, so we were planning things (holidays, trips to see his dad, etc.) after a month or two. We actually discussed potential marriage within the first 2-3 months. We had discussed marriage values within the first month.

After 2+ years we aren’t engaged–we’re still pretty young–but he gave me a promise ring on our 1 year anniversary. Then I look at my cousin who just got engaged to a girl he had been dating for 6 months, tops. He’s 21 and rushing things, in my opinion…

avatar GatorGirl September 14, 2011, 2:06 pm

I like this time table…as a guide line. There are about 400 million different things that could alter it. My BF and I have been together almost 4 years…but almost 3 of them were long distance. His little sister is now engaged, to her BF of 18 months. There was a joke about who would get engaged first, she says she only won because of a “technicallity”- the long distance slowing things up.

Personally, I think every person, men and women, need to have their own time table of relationship mile stones, and communicate them to their significat other. Also, be willing to negotiate and meet in the middle when you have different time frames for things. For example- I wanted to get married Spring 2012, the BF Spring 2013- we’re thinging Fall 2012 is when it will actually happen.

avatar Bethany September 14, 2011, 3:37 pm

My fiance and I were together for a month or 2 before I said I love you- I was drunk and it came out! We planned a vacation together after 6 months, we moved in together after about 2.5 years, and we got engaged after dating a little over 3 years. By the time we get married (next week!!!) we will have been together for 4.5 years.

I would have loved to have gotten engaged sooner, but looking back, I think it was right for us to wait a little bit.

avatar SpaceySteph September 14, 2011, 3:43 pm

I feel pretty accurately pegged so far…
We went to Thanksgiving at his parents house 7 months after we started dating and he met mine at New Years that same year.
We had the first big marriage talk at 9 months, and a follow up marriage talk where we laid out our timetables (specifically we discussed our mutual desire to not be “old parents” i.e. to have kids young and then have them out of the house in our 50s rather than spend alot of time being free in our 30s and have kids later in life).
And I have a suspicion he may propose at Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter (my family is going to his parents house for Thanksgiving so everyone can meet) which would be well inside the 14 months to 3 years timeframe.
At least I can be normal at something!

avatar Christy September 14, 2011, 3:46 pm

Maybe it’s my age (26) and the fact that I still don’t have a real job (in grad school), but 18 months seems like a very short time to think about whether you should make a huge financial and legal commitment like marriage with someone. Is it really possible to know someone well enough after that short amount of time? I guess that’s why you have the conversation, to see if your goals are lined up. Or is it that when you’re older, you’re a better judge of people?

avatar Kerrycontrary September 14, 2011, 4:49 pm

Ehhh I definitely think 18 months is long enough. You are well out of the honeymoon stage, have gotten to know each others families, and you should know something about one another’s finances. But it also depends what stage of life you are in. My bf and I are at 2 years and I would say we know each other very well, but I just finished grad school and we are both at early points in our careers. Therefor we both want to wait until we are a little more settled.

Public Pearl Public Pearl September 14, 2011, 4:32 pm

Heh, not accurate for me (engaged after six months, getting ready to celebrate our 15th anniversary), but I’ve found that I’m not like most people that hang out here or apparently participate in these studies/surveys.

avatar 6napkinburger September 14, 2011, 5:08 pm

Let’s see:

Mine was:
he says I love you at a month and a half.
Talk about engagement: two months.

Meet his parents: 2 months
Meet my parents: 4 months.
Move in together: 8 months, 4 of which were long distance

Get excited about possibility of engagement: 16 months
He expresses sureness of engagment is waning: 18 months
Breakup because I realize I do not want to marry him: 20 months
He moves out of apt share together…

looks like I did everything right, huh?

avatar 6napkinburger September 15, 2011, 4:58 pm

BTW I was totally kidding about doing it right. This is the worst timeline ever and I highly don’t recommend it. (especially the discrepencies between “feel comfortable” and did it).

avatar Eagle Eye September 14, 2011, 5:12 pm

Overall, this seems pretty accurate – he first said I love you at around the 2 mos mark, i followed a week later, we moved in together at 1 yr and probably started to have some vague-ish discussions about marriage. As for the proposal itself, well, the deal is whoever is ready to get married proposes…although right now neither of us is, so it might in a few years.

avatar Eagle Eye September 14, 2011, 5:12 pm

oh and its been over 2 years together at this point…

CatsMeow CatsMeow September 14, 2011, 5:22 pm

I’m glad you posted this, Wendy – I’m at the 6 month mark with my partner and even though I try not to put a lot of weight into time frames and such, it’s always at the back of my mind.

We started saying “I love you” after maybe the 5 month mark. We do talk about “future” stuff, however have NOT had any discussions about marriage/engagement. We’re on the same page with kids, and I know that he does want to get married “someday” but that’s it.

If I can see myself marrying HIM “someday” (not just getting married in general), at what point is it a good time to try and talk about it? How does it come up in conversation? I’ve never felt even a small desire to marry ANY of the other guys I’ve dated so I never thought about it.

Also – what’s the typical/average time frame for the “honeymooning” phase? I’m pretty sure we’re still in it. How will I know when it’s over?

What other things do all you commenters out there think should happen before a couple is ready for marriage?

Skyblossom Skyblossom September 14, 2011, 6:06 pm

I think the honeymoon phase ends somewhere between 12 to 24 months, depending on the couple. So, if you’re still together at 24 months, still love each other and still see each other as someone you want to marry then you know you made it through.

As for how marriage came up in conversation with my husband and I was that he knew that I would be moving across the country for grad school and asked what I wanted for our relationship when I left. I looked at him and told him I wanted to marry him. I think if you just ask him what he wants for your relationship you can get a good feel for where he is at and what he is thinking of for the future.

theattack theattack September 14, 2011, 6:28 pm

I think the honeymoon phase can last between 9 months and a year and a half. Probably factors like the sorts of things you do together could affect it. For example, my boyfriend and I are long distance, so we end up doing more fun things together when we meet up, like camping and hiking and going to restaurants or me making all his favorite foods. Doing only fun things can probably extend the honeymoon phase, where I’d imagine stuff like changing tires and smelling morning breath every day could wear down on a couple more quickly.

I think the honeymoon phase is fading out when you start to find each other annoying sometimes (but obviously still love each other). Like I used to find it really funny and cute that my boyfriend would sing a song about having to urinate or loudly sing the Zelda soundtrack in the shower. It’s still funny but I’ve mostly stopped appreciating it and now find myself rolling my eyes. End honeymoon phase where I loved everything he did. Enter reality phase with both good and bad stuff.

avatar redessa September 14, 2011, 5:59 pm

Well, I always knew I wasn’t typical LOL. I got married very young (19) and it was super fast. I don’t remember when we started talking about a future but we were engaged after only 3 mo & married 8 mo after we met (no living together – or sex – before marriage).

If I couold go back I would do things differently. But we’ve managed to make it work.

theattack theattack September 14, 2011, 6:15 pm

I wish I knew how to bring marriage up a second time. I mean, we’ve already acknowledged that we both want to marry each other, but I’m not sure if we’re approaching a proposal or not. I want to know his time line, but I’m not sure how to bring it up without it sounding like “Why haven’t you proposed to me yet??!”

Skyblossom Skyblossom September 14, 2011, 6:17 pm

I’m older than most of the posters here so went through this when the average couple was married at a younger age and I think relationships moved faster at that time. Personally, I think waiting is good and I think it’s great couples aren’t feeling pushed to get married so early.

I don’t remember when we said I love you. I don’t remember there being as much focus on it then as there is now. People didn’t have friends with benefits and casual sex was rare and so if you were in a relationship with someone it was assumed to be serious. If you went out more than a few times you were exclusive, boyfriend/girlfriend without any need to discuss it.

I knew that I could possibly marry him after knowing him for a week. I also knew that I wouldn’t marry anyone I hadn’t known for at least two years because I wanted to give it time to fall apart.

We talked marriage at the 6 month mark when we discussed what we wanted from our relationship and whether we would continue to have a relationship when I moved for grad school. My husband’s previous relationship had ended abruptly when his PhD advisor moved his research group across the ocean to the US and his girlfriend didn’t want to be in a long distance relationship.

We got engaged at the 16 month mark and married at 24 months. We’ve been married for 24 years so it’s worked for us. I think we were both positive about wanting to be together and get married and were both cautious about doing it too fast even though two years would be considered fast now. At that time alot of couples were married after knowing each other a year and so engaged pretty fast.

avatar Kim September 14, 2011, 6:35 pm

My husband and I met our first week in college. We started dating within 1 week. He said I love you within 1 week of that. I said I love you another week or two later. We moved in together within 2-3 months. And got married 9 years later (after a 3 week engagement). We never really talked about marriage much, but both knew we wanted it eventually – we just both hate weddings so we weren’t inclined to actually formalize things. We finally got motivated to make it legal when I needed health insurance, so we ran off to vegas with friends and family.

avatar Kristen September 15, 2011, 11:21 am

I think this timeline seems pretty accurate for a lot of the people I know. My own relationship doesn’t fit it at all because we started dating when we were 15/16. When people ask how long we’ve been together and we say 8 years, we always get all kinds of questions about why we’re not married yet. I always want to say “hey, 8 years sounds like a long time, but we’re still only 24! You can’t compare it to people who started dating when they were 25, and now they’re 33 and still not engaged. The high school years shouldn’t count!” haha. So yeah, we didn’t hit most of those milestones in the correct order or timeline, but it works for us.

avatar melikeycheesecake September 15, 2011, 11:40 am

I think it’s pretty spot on…well at least from my experience.

avatar LSS86 September 15, 2011, 1:11 pm

I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about any of these things with my current boyfriend. I used to spend so much time thinking about where my relationship was going, does he love me, are we going to have a future together, etc. I’ve been with my boyfriend for just shy of a year now (11 1/2 months!), and I love how open he is about our future and his feelings. A few weeks ago we went to the mall and as we walked by a jewelry store, he said “hey, do you want to stop in and look at some rings and find out your ring size?” I didn’t think I’d ever hear those words come out of a man’s mouth.

avatar LSS86 September 15, 2011, 1:14 pm

Actually, the only pressure I’m feeling right now is to NOT get engaged/married too quickly. I have two brothers who have been with their girlfriends for like 6 years and they’re not engaged yet. I’m a little afraid that if I get engaged in the near future, my family will think I’m rushing into it because they’ll be comparing me to my brothers.

avatar Abigail June 6, 2012, 10:25 pm

I met my husband online. We went on our first date after one day of messaging/texting/phone conversation. We dated three weeks before I moved in, and got married three months after we met. He’s the most wonderful man I the world. It all just happened to be the right one at the right time! We do plan on waiting a few years before we have children though. :)

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