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?
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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