For singles who are motivated to marry, dating isn’t a pastime. It takes on a strategy and focus on your goals. Granted, you’re not trying to rush down the aisle or marry the first good-enough prospect that comes along. But you’re also not willing to waste your time in a relationship that’s not going anywhere. And if you’re over 40, how long to date before marriage is an even bigger consideration than it is for 20- and 30-somethings.
As a dating coach, I work with clients across the dating spectrum. Many are in their late 20’s and 30’s and are looking for their first-and-only fairytale wedding and happily-ever-after.
But many are nearing mid-life, are already there, and/or are considering besides first marriages, a second marriage after divorce or even widowhood.
And I don’t give the same advice to my younger first-timers as I do to those over 40. How long to date before marriage is a factor that has to be taken seriously. If you’re in the market for finding true love, you have to consider things that younger singles can sometimes put aside for a while.
One thing I’ve noticed with some people approaching or in mid-life and are never married is a tendency to “float through life.” They go along with no timeframe for their relationship life as if they have all the time in the world. Or some may not be interested in becoming part of a couple.
On the positive side, that can be a testament to being comfortable with who they are and the life they have created.
On the flip side, however, it can also be a statement of not taking your relationship goals seriously. At least not seriously enough to have a strategy and timeline. And if you don’t think about time, you may run out of it and miss out on your goals.
Common recommendations that couples date for a minimum of a year or two before marriage are only guidelines. And they really have more to do with readiness for marriage. How well do you know yourself? How well do you know your partner? What kind of relationship experience from your past has helped shape your relationship experience in the present? Have you learned from your past relationships, or do you repeat the same mistakes with the same kind of partners?
You would hope that with age comes wisdom. And with wisdom comes the ability to make confident judgments and decisions more quickly than when you were younger. Hopefully, by the time you are over 40, you’ve filtered through your values, opinions, needs, and wants. You can quickly articulate your non-negotiables. You know what’s essential for your fulfillment in life and what’s just a matter of preferences and desires.
I generally advise my younger clients to date for longer periods of time precisely because they’re usually still getting to know themselves. And you can’t deeply know someone else until you know yourself well.
Take Debbie, one of my mid 30’s clients. She was a shy accountant. I got her to go out of her comfort zone and there she met Steve at a singles event for young professionals. He was in his early 40’s, divorced with no children. There was an immediate attraction and they started dating right away. They even moved on to exclusivity within a month’s time. When Debbie left our coaching, she and Steve were an “item.” Within a year’s time of their meeting, Debbie shared with me that they got engaged – right on schedule!
But when you’re over 40, how long to date before marriage really comes down to your readiness. Sometimes all you need is someone guiding you with a timeline and a strategic perspective on what to look for.
During the first three months of dating, you should be building your exclusivity as a couple. It’s imperative that you’re very clear from the beginning that you’re a marriage-minded person (if you are) and that your partner is on the same path as you.
This is also the time that both of you must be transparent about your key values and life goals. Are you aligned on topics like children, religion, lifestyle expectations and attitudes about finances? These “big” issues are usually so anchored in a person’s value system that they don’t invite much in the way of compromise.
Women are usually the ones most concerned about their biological clocks. By the time a woman reaches 35, her fertility has begun a sharp decline. For this reason, women who want children tend to build the intention of family into their lives from the get-go. They are more focused on quality in a mate, and they don’t want to be dragged along for the sake of “fun.”
Men, on the other hand, tend to delay their focus on family in deference to their freedom to “play” and to focus on their careers. By the time they start thinking about marriage, women in their age range are usually starting a decline in their fertility in their mid to late 30’s.
This is one of the reasons that middle-aged men seek much younger women. They want to have children, but they’ve waited so long that women their own age most likely will have difficulty reproducing (unless they had previously frozen their eggs).
It’s also common for men to want time alone with their wives before having children. This poses a great challenge to women who want to have children but know they’re limited on time and their pregnancies could be high-risk.
So, if you’re over 40, how long to date before marriage will involve answering big questions like the desire for children. Sometimes the childless mate is content to be a “bonus parent” to the children of the other mate. In that case, there isn’t as much need for expediting the relationship.
In general, however, I recommend that my clients who are over 40 date for no more than six months before making a decision. Do we want this relationship to lead to marriage? If so, then build on that intention. Get deeply familiar with one another, not just in the big ways, but in the subtle, boring, daily ways, as well. Make sure your values and visions for the relationship and the future are in alignment.
By the time you’ve reached the six-month mark, you should be prepared for engagement, unless there are extenuating circumstances, or you may have to break off the relationship if you are not both on the same page with respect to timing.
This happened for Nate and Debbie who were 40 and 41 respectively. Within 3 months they got engaged and married within the next 6 months. They were both motivated to marry and have a family! Debbie and Nate had their son the following year.
Of course every relationship is unique. Every person goes into a relationship with a unique history and a unique palette of gifts, yearnings, fears and experiences.
When Mary met Geoff, she was 42 and he was 49. Due to family issues and personality issues, their engagement lasted 18 months. And they got married in the next 6 months. For them, having a child was not a critical factor, so they were able to take their time.
The point of making a timeline isn’t to put absolutes onto the road to becoming an engaged couple. It’s simply a way of expressing the relativity of goals, age, experience, and self-awareness to the readiness for marriage.
And, perhaps most importantly, it’s a way of reminding people in search of lasting love that their time is precious and matters. And that time deserves to have a plan for achieving a happily-ever-after future.