When Will I Know That It’s Okay to Get Remarried?


Six months? A year?

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

a couple in love

Q:I met my current boyfriend, Nat, six years ago in college. We were friends with feelings and after I challenged him to commit, he backed away. A month later I met the guy who I would end up marrying (and divorcing).

What friendship with Nat that ensued during my marriage was a far-away, on-and-off-again friendship that always remained respectful and platonic. We both maintained feelings for one another though never once spoke of it (I ached to absolve myself of my feels, resorting to all sorts of crystal bath rituals and burning letters to rid myself of the attachment, to no avail).

My marriage was loving and strong, until it wasn’t anymore. It fell apart the way things often do—many tiny chinks in the armor until it no longer can withstand life’s heavy blows. After irreparable disagreements in finances, parenting (he had two kids from a prior marriage), sex, priorities, and careers, we eventually were no longer suitable partners. A year and a half of marriage counseling did not save us. I left in May 2016 and our divorce was final in September.

This summer, Nat and I met in person for the first time in five years. We maintained a friendship from three hundred miles apart as we always had, and through the summer and into autumn we visited each other almost every weekend. We were both shocked (and also not at all shocked) that all of our feelings were as strong as ever. In October, I moved to the city where Nat lives and we started “officially” dating.

Now we’re two months into this relationship (and six years into knowing one another) and we both are certain we want to be life partners. Marry, live together, have babies, do the forever thing. And I need the APW community’s advice because I’m confused here; I’ve known this guy for years, I see his consistency, I know his family, we have shouldered storms and fight and resolve well, we’ve dared to broach the tough topics and come out stronger. We are a strong couple and I have faith in this thing.

And so this is my problem: I don’t know when it’s okay to marry him.

I have all these strange nebulous numbers in my head like, “Wait until at least a year after you left your ex. No, until a year after the divorce. Yeah, a year sounds about right.” But like, is that STILL too soon? Should we live together before marriage, to “Test-Run” this thing? (I lived with my ex before marriage and that didn’t seem to benefit us?)

If I am sure of someone… and they are sure of me… I know forever starts today, but really, logistically, how do I sort through the puzzle pieces of timing, of planning, of engagement and marriage and babies and home buying?

Sincerely,
In Love Too Soon?

A: Dear ILTS,

Yeah, I’d wait a bit.

You’ve known this guy for a long time. But the majority of that time has been spent in ways that don’t really offer insight into what kind of long-term partner he’d be, or how you guys would be together. You’ve known him as a friend, as the-one-that-got-away, and as a long-distance boyfriend. None of that tells you much about what it’s like to see his dopey face every single day, to listen to his recaps of that show you don’t like, to tolerate the weird sound he makes when he breathes. Fantasy, long-distance, coulda-been dudes are sometimes what they seem, sure! But they more often have a shiny gleam of novelty that leaves their flaws out of focus.

On top of that, when you’re with a very-nice-guy-that-you’re-not-getting-along-with-right-now, like your ex, it’s really easy for practically anyone else to seem amazing just by comparison. You unintentionally end up focusing on all the ways your friend is not like the guy you’re divorcing, and as a result, maybe you don’t notice all of his incompatibilities or irritating quirks. Also, divorce can be kind of traumatic. I wouldn’t fault you for just wanting to settle into something comfortable with someone you’ve known for a while, whether it was a good fit or not.

There’s no standard amount of time that guarantees you officially know one another well enough to get married. There’s no list of boxes to check (like living together) to ensure you know exactly everything about someone. But I’d suggest you at least get used to being around him for a while. And sure, set an arbitrary time marker. How long is up to you—like I said, there’s no ironclad rule here. Just a pick a deadline! The point isn’t, “Well after six months we’ll for sure know enough about each other,” but instead, giving yourself that cutoff forces you to see your relationship differently. Rather than being blinded to any potential issues, you’ll likely be on high alert for them, anxious to suss everything out in advance, knowing that date is looming ahead.

To be honest, I’m guessing you know. I’m guessing that as you’re reading, you’re thinking, “That’s not us! I know him! I really like him!” Frankly, more time will probably just confirm that for you. But isn’t that worth it? Wouldn’t it be nice to rule out that other stuff—the possibility that you’re just starry-eyed, that you’re still hurting from divorce, that you’re just looking for comfort—just dismiss it right off the bat?

Do that. Set some arbitrary time, a year from now, a year from May, whenever. The amount of time itself doesn’t matter, but shifting your perspective does.

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Photo by William Stitt

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Amy March

    So in the space of a year, your marriage ended, you got a divorce, you got together with this other guy, and you moved to be with him. That can all be really really good and really really a lot. Give yourself some time to actually live life. Make friends in your new city, figure out who you are when you’re living alone and unmarried. Enjoy dating for a while. Maybe even take talking about the future off the table for a couple of months. Sometimes I think its easy to lean into the fantasy of the future instead of living the present- try and give yourself a bit of space so when you do want to move forward, you know you’re ready.

    • idkmybffjill

      Yes! Totally agree. Particularly – “Enjoy dating for awhile.” You don’t get that time back! When you’re married/engaged you’ll be having all those hard finance and parenting etc conversations again. Which is awesome and fulfilling! And of course you can (and should) continue to date your spouse. But I think the dating period up to that point builds the foundation for those conversations. And god what a relief after a tough disolution of a marriage to just get to go on dates without having to think about shared finances for a bit!

    • Her Lindsayship

      +1 for “make friends in your new city”. This guy is the center of your attention, or at least, from this letter it sounds like he’s been the top distraction from divorce crappiness. Even if you know he’s this amazing person, he probably shouldn’t make up your whole social life. Allow your life to expand a little – that’s the one good thing about a breakup, it throws out your routine so you have to reevaluate how you spend your time. You can’t properly do that if you just sub in a new husband immediately.

      • idkmybffjill

        Extra +1. PARTICULARLY if you do see marriage & kids on the horizon. You’re gonna want a new community that goes beyond just this guy. It’ll be good for you and for the relationship. The double pressure of being your only person + the person who was supposed to be SO MUCH BETTER can become… alot.

      • Jess

        Definitely. This is so much upheaval in a life (leaving one relationship, starting another, moving), it may be good to let the moving pieces settle a little bit.

      • zana

        Especially since moving to a new city and making new friends as an adult is *so hard*. You don’t need to make friends if you spend 100% of your free time with this dude, but how long will that be enough? Might as well start the hard work of building friendships now (i.e., be very proactive about it).

        • Greta

          So so so hard to make new friends as an adult. And it only gets harder when you have a relationship sucking up a lot of time and attention. Make a point to really reach out there and meet new people!

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        YES. I was my moved-to-town ex-bf’s whole social world for a while, and I begged him to branch out and find anybody else to talk to ever, because it was draining to be everything he needed from other people. It wasn’t the only reason things didn’t work out, but his complete reliance on me sped things along. Which, in hindsight, was for the best.

      • Katharine Parker

        Yes, making friends is so important. I think you need three friends nearby at any given time. Not every friend is a forever bestie, but you need people you can reliably meet for drinks or go to yoga or go to the farmers market or see a movie with, outside of your relationship. Other people probably have a different number that they think is necessary, but for me, three is key.

        • ‘Three is key’ could be my new motto.

    • Greta

      +1 to “take talking about the future off the table for a couple months.” I am such a planner and it’s so easy to get sucked into always planning the next thing, instead of enjoying what is happening right now. My husband is constantly reminding me to “be in the moment” which I really need. I love my husband and I love our married life, AND I also love thinking back to when we first started dating – the puppy love, the late night conversations, the giddy excitement of a date night, holding your hand at the movies: All of these things are so exciting and fun – just enjoy the moment for a while. Enjoy where you are, enjoy who you are with, embrace all the feelings!

      • idkmybffjill

        Yes! I love my husband, I’m so happy we’re married! I wish I hadn’t spent so much time wondering when we were gonna get engaged already and just enjoying our relationship.

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  • idkmybffjill

    “Fantasy, long-distance, coulda-been dudes are sometimes what they seem, sure! But they more often have a shiny gleam of novelty that leaves their flaws out of focus.”

    This this this this this. Also, I don’t want to use the word “rebound” because I don’t think this sounds like what this is for you. But I think often the “next relationship” after a tough breakup benefits so much from your relief at ending a damaged one, and those feelings of newness often get misinterpreted as feelings of rightness (even if ultimately they’re correct!). All of which Liz has articulated perfectly. So – upvotes for Liz!

    • Gaby

      Yes! I knew my now-husband was a good match for me pretty early on, but I had just gotten out of a three year relationship and didn’t want to ruin our friendship with a failed rebound. So we “avoided” dating each other for about 6 months after my break up (but were together all the time haha). Still, I’m glad we took things as slowly as we could so that I could really get a grasp on what it was like to be single out in the world and to see what our relationship felt like.
      We also didn’t move in together for another 3 years after we became official but that had as much to do with outside life circumstances as anything else.

      • idkmybffjill

        I think that’s so smart! I had a great many “oh my god he’s so perfect” rebounds who were… clearly just bandages for how I was feeling and looking back I think, “what”? I feel like I was so happy to be with (anyone) who appreciated me, they seemed like god’s gift. No shame in being a little more certain that you’re thinking clearly.

        • Gaby

          I don’t want to question LW’s judgement, but I do think having already admired this person through a long distance, on-and-off friendship for years puts them at a disadvantage of seeing this partner through very rose-colored lenses even WITHOUT the recent divorce.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes – I COMPLETELY agree. There needs to be some time to square fantasy him and reality him. There’s a lot of history of longing that will be coloring her perception of him. That doesn’t mean he won’t turn out even better than she’d imagined! But still, give it a sec to make sure.

          • Gaby

            Exactly! I think everyone in the comments agrees, they might be right about this new partner, but there’s no sense in rushing anything.

        • flashphase

          I was just thinking the other day how a lot of my friends’ first relationships post-divorce have ended. Not everyone’s, to be sure, but why rush when a little time will make things clearer.

  • Excellent response!
    I agree, give yourself some time ILTS. After my divorce (13 years ago now) I felt like I knew all the things about what I wanted in a bigger, better, more of everything relationship. I felt liberated, turns out I was just 22. I was convinced of my new guy really early on and wanted to prove that I coulda/woulda been a good wife/partner. Years later while on a drive with a friend, wise beyond her years, I realized that while I was over my ex-husband the person, I wasn’t over my divorce the concept. That realization was a huge hit to my pride, but it was a pivotal moment in my self-growth, self-love, and ability to more openly communicate with that same new guy (coming up on our 12 year anniversary – still not remarried). So for the benefit of future-you, of your partner, and your future family give yourself some time. Get a therapist (everybody needs one), spend time doing things on your own (alone time is so good for you), and enjoy the beginning of your relationship with Nat. :)

  • In a similar vein here, I moved to a city an hour away to be with a boyfriend. I totally thought we were going to get married. (He now lives in his car by choice and just got a DUI.) When I moved there, I was kind of miserable because I didn’t have any of my own friends there, which adversely affected our relationship at first–I wanted to spend all of my time with him, and he was overwhelmed. Fast forward a year and a half later, and we were broken up. I was lucky enough to move into a house with a girl who was super social and invited me to all of these events, so the breakup wasn’t awful. And now I still live here! And honestly, my group of friends here is so much more fulfilling than my relationship ever was, even at its highest point.

    So yes, make some friends. Get to your know city. Find out what makes it cool to you, aside from this dude. It’ll be there for you no matter how your relationship works out.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    Hooooboy, the long-distance-to-local shift can change things dramatically. That can be a (very) good thing or a (very) bad thing, but in my book you owe yourself some time to see how things really shake out when you live in the same town instead of spending a weekend just doing the fun stuff.

    • Alyssa

      Yes. My now-fiancee and I were long distance for the first 2 years of our relationship before I moved to his area, and we moved in together six months later. I don’t know that I’d say it was a “rough” transition to being in the same area, but there were definitely ups and downs on both sides, and we had to adjust our ways of relating and communicating to each other since we were literally sharing space instead of chatting on the phone. Things worked out fine (that was five years ago), but +1 to giving yourself time to let things shake out.

  • emilyg25

    My best advice is that you’ll know you’re ready to marry him when you don’t feel drawn to write to an advice columnist about whether you’re ready to marry him, and I say that as someone who did the very same thing many moons ago.

    I met my now-husband when he was still in the process of getting divorced and within two months, we were joking about running off to Vegas. We moved in together once his divorce was finalized (11 months of dating) and got engaged shortly after. In the beginning, I had a lot of those questions (Is it too soon?? How do I know this is real??) but with time and careful listening to myself, eventually everything became clear. If you don’t know what to do, do nothing. The right path will reveal itself with time.

    • Greta

      +1 “If you don’t know what to do, do nothing. The right path will reveal itself with time.” YES.

  • JenC

    If I understand the timeline correctly LW didn’t actually date Nat the first time around and stayed as friends that had a spark? So this is the first step out of just-friends (but maybe more) into real dating. Aside from all the other things going on that shift just doesn’t sometimes work. I dated my best friend and we really were close, I knew his family and he knew mine. And it flopped. The chemistry was there for more than friends and we took that step it was electric but somehow we just couldn’t be nice to each other when it was more than friends and weren’t having sex. Somehow we just became intolerant of each other’s personality flaws, flaws that we were perfectly fine with as friends. Just because friends first and mis-matched timing is a rom-com favourite, doesn’t mean it actually works all the time.

    That’s not to say it won’t work but don’t force it just because you think it should work and give it time for those feelings of friendship to really morph into in love. Falling in love with my ex got all mixed up with the feelings of existing friendship love and it made it all seem so much more intense.

  • Eenie

    You may want to get his input into this as well. I’m sure there are some feelings he is having after watching you throughout your marriage and subsequent divorce. He could have some insight into “when too soon is” and justify yourself with setting the arbitrary time frame of taking the future off the table.

  • Jess

    LW, I got so swept up in your excellent question and situation (it’s so good to be happy!), that I was hit by the real world in Liz’s very excellent advice.

    Congratulations on being happy, and good luck as you figure out how much time you need!

  • Abs

    On the question of whether or not to live together before marriage, I just want to link to this old NYT piece that completely changed my life (and my sister’s and a couple of my friends’).

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/the-downside-of-cohabiting-before-marriage.html

    The thesis is basically that people assume that living together is a test run for marriage, but in fact couples who live together are more likely to get divorced, UNLESS they treat the decision to move in together as seriously as the decision to get married. So often it seems like just a matter of convenience, when in fact, in terms of closing off other life choices, it’s Part I of the decision to get married.

    So basically, if you want to live together, that’s great, but talk to your partner about where the relationship is going, and make sure that you’re both planning that you’ll never move out.

    • It’d be interesting to see that research repeated in other cultures. In the UK, marrying without living together would be seen as very impulsive; it’s really hard to see taking a step as serious as moving in together as something you’d do out of convenience. I think it says as much about the comparative housing markets as attitudes to marriage, in a way!

      • Abs

        It probably does! I know a lot of people who moved in together because “they spend all their time together anyway and rent is expensive” without thinking a lot about where the relationship was going. Including my parents, who then got married because they were living together, and then ultimately divorced. Because of this article, my partner and I talked about moving in together and what it would mean for a full year before we actually did it (although to be fair, there was an inter-city move involved as well). It made our subsequent marriage conversations sooo much smoother.

        • Rent is expensive enough in the UK now it’s rare for under 30s to live alone, so often moving in with each other is more expensive because you’re moving from a three or four person shared household to just two of you (culturally there’s a bit of a taboo for a couple to share with other people). We decided to move in together within two months of dating, and spent a few months saving up for the deposit and then another few looking for somewhere affordable that wasn’t hideous. It cost me about £100 a month more rent (and more in most bills, but cheaper in some) moving in with J than if I hadn’t, and more for him because his previous place had been cheaper than mine.

          • TeaforTwo

            For a lot of people the savings come from being able to share a bedroom (less common for platonic roommates to do). In my city, the average two bedroom costs $2400/month to rent, but a one bedroom averages $1700. So sharing with a flatmate can be much more expensive than with a partner.

            I don’t think it’s uncommon to move in together for convenience. It would be unusual to SAY that’s the reason, but as you get used to spending every night together, and are surrounded by other long term monogamous or married couples, and then someone’s lease comes up or someone’s roommate moves out…it happens all the time.

      • Katharine Parker

        I know people who’ve moved in out of convenience, and it’s worked out for some of them and other people have gotten divorced. The piece does a pretty good job of laying out why people don’t think of it as such a serious step as marriage, but it just seems to happen–sliding in from spending most nights together to living together, then getting married. For a lot of couples, it can seem like “why shouldn’t we move in?” as opposed to “why should we?”

        I would be surprised if convenience doesn’t weigh in for the decision in other places. Rents are expensive in London, too! But it would be interesting to compare.

        • I think the rents in London are so expensive it skews things the other way – people are making choices about moving in together on the basis of moving from a four person household to a two, or from a single room to a flat. Or (as my OH pointed out last night) from their parents’ house to their own place. Most of my direct peers are still sharing with housemates, but people I know who are a couple of years younger are living with their parents – the 2007 crash just changed the whole trajectory of people’s housing in their 20s. Of course, this does mean people are more likely to move in together more quickly, because they want their independence – in my line of work I see more people who’ve got into trouble due to splitting up after moving in together too soon and run up debts because they’ve got to pay the rest of the year’s rent alone, but I can definitely see it going the other way as well.

          • Katharine Parker

            Interesting! I think the convenience factor goes beyond just money spent for rent–in the case of someone living in a cheaper house share or living at home, the convenience of living with your partner means not living with roommates or your parents, having your own place, seeing your partner every night, not having to deal with anyone hearing you together.

    • Ellie

      I read this article and thought about it so much in relation to my last relationship over the last few years! It is in fact one of the reasons that I was hesitant to live together in the first place with my ex-husband, and why I told my current boyfriend that probably I would not want to live together until after we got married. However, then I ask myself if I’m ready in any way to get married anytime soon, and when I know the answer to that is not at all, are considerations of moving to a new city feel frustratingly complicated because both of us would be looking for new apartments. And what about traveling? If we decided to travel somewhere for 1, 3, or six months at a time… Is that just a trial phase of living together? I don’t know. Maybe I’m overthinking all of this haha!

    • emilyg25

      I broke up with a live in boyfriend and it was TERRIBLE. It’s just so hard. I swore the next time, it’d be a guy I was going to marry.

    • fellt

      A study in 2014 basically debunked the link between cohabitation and divorce : https://contemporaryfamilies.org/cohabitation-divorce-press-release/

      BUT it does make sense to take it as a serious step!

      • Katharine Parker

        “What leads to divorce is when people move in with someone – with or without a marriage license – before they have the maturity and experience to choose compatible partners and to conduct themselves in ways that can sustain a long-term relationship. Early entry into marriage or cohabitation, especially prior to age 23, is the critical risk factor for divorce.”

        This is fascinating!

    • Lisa

      An issue I’ve always had with this study is that it doesn’t account for the fact that a lot of people who don’t move in together are the type of people who don’t view divorce as an option and might stay in a less than optimal situation because of religion, societal pressure, etc. I agree that moving in together should come after a serious discussion and should be done thoughtfully, but I don’t think there’s a direct correlation as @fellt:disqus has indicated.

      • Katharine Parker

        Weren’t they trying to account for that, though? “Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics.”

        The study @fellt:disqus links to makes a good argument for age being the critical factor, not cohabitation itself, and, of course, age at marriage/cohabitation is also affected by one’s religious and cultural milieu.

  • Ellie

    Hey ladies! In love too soon here. I am surprised by how much the comments have turned to talking about making friends. I actually have a handful of very close girlfriends here in town, a few guys too from work, and have a tight social life I’m pretty active in. So, setting that aside, because I agree and am already working on that, what do you all consider are practical considerations moving into contemplating a second marriage in a year or two?

  • TheHungryGhost

    My dad proposed to my mum three months after he met her. She was divorced, ten years older than him with two kids already. My dad had just moved to the area and was temporarily living in a caravan because he was so desperate to move out from where he was before that he took the quickest option.

    She turned him down, not because she didn’t love him, but because you know what? Saying yes to him another few months later did no harm at all. They’ve been together over thirty years, and those extra few months are a drop in the ocean.

    My boyfriend proposed to me after we’d been together three months and guess what? We’re not married! We’ve lived through university together, long distance, living together, and we’ve just bought a house. We’ve had ten years together, and in another ten years, (if we’re even married by then!), I can guarantee you that we won’t think that these years ‘didn’t count’ because we weren’t married.

  • Sarah

    So I’m going to own my bias from the get go: My 7 year marriage got sticky and gnarly in March last year, he came clean about the affair in September, we’ve been seperated since (he lives with his affair now) and are just beginning divorce proceedings.
    I am really glad that you’ve got someone around who cares for you so deeply, who you clearly care for a lot, and who is available and able to help you at a tough time. However- I also really advocate letting yourself feel allll the feelings and process all the emotion that comes with the end of your previous relationship- however good or bad it was by the end. My therapist talks a lot about our need to grieve the end of things- hopes dreams and ideas that I’d held onto for what my marriage was and would have been. Jumping quickly forward from such a big loss can feel wonderful and head over heels, but those emotions may still need to be processed and dealt with at some point- and the longer you leave it the harder it can be.
    I’m not in any way saying don’t date and be with this guy- he sounds wonderful and I wish you every happiness! Just make sure that you’re giving yourself time and space to grieve, heal and learn from what went wrong last time before you get all caught up in next time.
    My personal mantra at the moment is ‘if I learn all I can from it, then good will have come from it, however sh*tty it feels at the moment’.
    All the very best my lovely! xx

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  • cpostrophe

    So, here’s the story of me and three partners. I met “Alison” 20 years ago when were both in college. We met through mutual friends, liked each other on first sight, and dated for three months, but she wound up dumping me because we were both young and dealing with baggage that neither of us could fix. We didn’t see each other until a year had passed. We ran into each other again in the city and saw that we’d gotten over each other. We chose to be friends and then she moved away for grad school. We kept up being penpals. I visited her a couple of times in the South, and there were feelings, but they were not feelings that I acted on. In one of those encounters, we forgave each other for the ways we were in college and that was so so good.

    I met “Beth” 14 years ago. We both got each other and we both clicked, but at the time I was specifically in a celibate/not-dating mode because another dysfunctional relationship had ended and I was focusing on learning to be happy and complete outside of a relationship. So we chose to keep it as friends. She wound up getting into another relationship with the person that she would eventually marry, who was also a mutual friend. We stayed present in each other’s lives, and I participated in their wedding.

    I met “Cindy” a year after Beth. At that point, I was ready. Cindy was specifically against getting married, but we wound up being together for seven years. In most of those years, it felt like the relationship that I would grow old into and in my mind it felt like marriage without the paperwork. But as with your relationship it ended in the way that many happy commitments do, when small cracks and nicks wear away at it until it’s no longer happy.

    Cindy and I broke up amicably, and we continue to be friends, though gave ourselves a six month period of no-contact to grieve and move on. A few months later, Beth approached me saying that they had opened their marriage and wanted to know if I was interested in dating. I took her up on the offer. It was intoxicating in the way that a new relationship was, and it was thrilling for both us to consummate these feelings that we had long had for each other.

    But then Beth’s marriage ended for reasons unrelated to the open marriage. Beth and I broke things off to just let her and her partner focus on their divorce, which was sad and tragic all around. But then we wound up trying to get back together again after a year and … it just didn’t work out. The pause that we had given ourselves dampened enough of that initial heady limerence that I was having with being in a rebound and for her in seeing that I was a band aid for her marriage not work. Eventhough we had been friends for years and really knew each other, we didn’t know how we would be in a relationship until we tried it, and once we saw what it was on its own terms, we also knew that staying friends had always been the best choice for both of us.

    A couple of years pass, Alison and I were still talking on Facebook and email. I had been in a couple of other relationships that were short-lived but valuable in their own ways. She was in a four year long relationship that had ended in February of that year. Six months after her breakup, we were in a really fun and intense conversation, and I just confessed to Alison, “I sometimes wish we didn’t live so far apart.” and she said, “I feel the same.”

    So, we gave that a shot. Alison and I did about nine months of long distance before she moved up to live with me. I had all of the feelings that you describe — We’ve known each other for years. We get each other on a fundamental level. We trust each other in the way that old friends trust the other. Our chemistry was amazing. She brought up marriage at about the third month in the relationship.

    I told her that I wanted to be married to her eventually, but we needed to give ourselves space to see how we’d be together before telling all of our friends and family about our intentions. Let her move up. Let her establish her job here. Make friends. Reconnect with old classmates from her university days. Go through the process of setting up life together. Each of those things can be a complex and fraught process. Let’s not add an engagement as a moving part until those were done. We didn’t set an arbitrary timeline. We just gave ourselves milestones that we had to go through to know that we were ready.

    That was our plan and it was the best plan for us. Moving in together was good and a very real test of how we’d share a life together, have and resolve disagreements, manage compromise, understand how we balanced each other, and how we treated our living spaces. Re-establishing her career and friendship circle was good for bringing some parity into relationship — so it’s not just about her hanging out with my friends and attending my work functions. Two months after those milestones were passed, I bought a ring and we were engaged for real.

    So, yeah, I get the feelings of grief and sadness that come from the end of something that was once so good and something you could’ve pinned your future on. I also get the heady thrill of consummating feelings for a friend; but I agree with everyone else that you’ve got to let those feelings overlap with the need for understanding how that person can be a real partner and not “just” a dream come true.

    It sounds like you already have been through disagreements and compromise and have been stronger for it. That’s great! Don’t be afraid of seeing how more examples can emerge as time goes on. Definitely move in together, and use your previous experience as a baseline (but ALSO don’t expect your new cohabitation arrangement to have the same rules as your old one. Every cohabitation is different in the way that every relationship is distinct). See how you share your everyday. Make steady, incremental progress towards that uncovering that commitment, and then eventually the rightness or wrongness will be clear.

    • Ellie Hamilton

      This reply was everything. Thank you so much for your directness, your vulnerability sharing your story, and for giving some really concrete advice. I can’t say enough how much I appreciated this!!!

  • Another Meg

    I’ve been exactly where you are. I was separated at 23 and divorced at 24 and already in love with my now-husband.
    I set an arbitrary time frame for moving forward. NH and I were together for 3 years before getting engaged. I had been with former husband for 3 years total between dating and marriage, so it made sense in my head.
    Your time frame is different, and you are not me, so YMMV, but my main goal was to feel so solid in my relationship with NH that marriage didn’t feel like a big step. Our lives were already intertwined to the point that pretty much everyone’s reaction to the engagement was “about damn time”. I never wanted to go through a divorce again, so I took my sweet time living with a roommate and dating NH for 2 years, then living together for a year and having every major talk I could think of before getting engaged.
    As a result, I’m having my first baby a bit later than I had hoped, but it is absolutely worth it. We’ve been through so much over the last 8 years that I know in my bones we are solid.

  • Liz

    All of this advice about waiting is sound, solid, and very smart.

    With that said: I didn’t follow it. :) Not quite two years ago, my partner of almost a decade left me for her intern. (Yes. I know. I KNOW.) I called up my oldest friend, who I’d known since middle school (with occasional, er, interludes), and said, “Hey. I’ve been having dull, infrequent sex for years. I’d like to have some great sex, and I’d love it to be with you.” We were dating within four months, engaged within six, we married last summer, and our wonderful little girl is now two months old.

    Which is to say: make sure you know who this man is as a partner as well as a long-distance boyfriend and as a friend. But you have a head start on knowing all those things, and your heart can be trusted. I wish you luck every bit as good as mine was.

  • Kris

    Late to the conversation, but reminded of something Dan Savage wrote: If he’s the one today, he’ll still be the one 6mo from now, 1yr from now, 5yrs from now.
    I can understand why wanting kids could make you feel the need to hurry up (most people don’t want to be pregnant for the first time in their late 30s). But kids are all the more reason to take your time. As I’m sure you know, once you procreate with the guy, your stuck with him even if you do divorce! And babies are a real test on a relationship: you either come out stronger, or badly weakened.

  • Kara E

    This is a bit late, but I noticed a lot of comments re “be in the same place” before committing. I’d actually flip that a bit and note that where ever you physically live, isn’t as important as whether you have your own identity independent of the relationship. My now-husband and I were long distance until we married and I don’t think that proximity would have helped our relationship in a meaningful way. Yes, the logistics would have been easier, but the distance meant that we had to work through our garbage efficiently rather than running away from it since our time together was so limited.

  • Sarah

    My husband of 27 and a half years past away. How long do I have to wait to remarry if I am in love with my boyfriend? I was not in love with my late husband for almost the last 5 years of our marriage but stayed because of our children. My late husband has only been gone less than 6 months but I know in my heart that my boyfriend loves me and wants to spend the rest of his life with me.