4 Years Together: Is the Next Step Always Marriage?

There is a lot of wedding talk going on at my house. My older sister is engaged and as the big day nears, I can't help thinking about my favorite movie --  The Wedding Singer.

Remember the scene where Robbie (Adam Sandler) is talking to Glenn (Matthew Glave) about his upcoming nuptials to Julia (Drew Barrymore)? Glenn basically says that Julia has “paid her dues” and been with him for four years, so he “owes it to her” to get married.

Now for some of us, that scene may not be the first time we’ve heard the saying that marriage is the next step after four years of dating. But is that really the case? My first example of the way things go is my parents, who dated for eight years before getting married. Next is my sister who was with her fiancé for six years before he got down on one knee. When it comes to marriage and dating, you can’t put a timer on it – and I think most women would agree.

To back me up on this, I talked to five women, two of whom are engaged, one is married, one is in a relationship, and another is single. Unanimously, they all agreed that relationships and people are different and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been with a person for one or six years – when you know, you know.

For some, this could happen early on in a relationship, and for others it could take time. For Natacha Montilla, 24, of Greenville, SC, it happened when she kissed her then-boyfriend goodbye as he got on a plane and departed for a yearlong deployment in Iraq.

“I didn’t know if he would come home, or if waving to him as his plane took off would be the last time I saw him. That was when I knew he was my everything,” she says.

The two have been married now for nearly two years, and Natacha couldn’t be happier. When I asked her about the four-year marriage myth, she admitted that she has heard of it before, but has always thought it was a bit ridiculous.

“I don’t believe that there is a ‘right time’ when it comes to a matter of months or years of dating. I feel that the right time blossoms through the experiences you both encounter together as a couple,” she said.

The experiences we face shape us into the people we become, and as we grow, we change. Natacha knew her husband since she was in high school, but since then she has matured and what was once a simple friendship blossomed into a happy marriage.

Nicole Azzi, 24, also met her fiancé during those adolescent years. For her, four (or maybe five) years of dating would not have been enough time since she and her boyfriend were still growing and finding themselves, she says.

After eight years together, Nicole definitely expected and wanted marriage, but not because it was the next step, but because she had found the one man who supports her and whose goals align with her own.

“We were in high school when we met, and we both have changed a lot since that time…but I think [now] what we want out of life has been solidified,” she says. The two are planning a wedding for later this year.

Though Nicole has never heard of the four-year myth, she does believe that there’s this notion that men have a pressure to propose after a certain amount of time. But if there really is a universal time limit in relationships, “people will get engaged because they feel like they have to rather than they want to,” she says, and “that’s not the way I would want to start a marriage.”

From an eight-year relationship to a one-year relationship, you never know when love is going to hit you.  Julieth Ochoa-Canizares, 25, a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, got engaged after dating her then-boyfriend for a year. For some, that might seem roller-coaster fast, but for them, the timing was perfect.

“I believe one is ready for [marriage] when one knows the person well enough – through the good times and bad – and still one feels the same butterflies as in the beginning,” she says.

Before meeting her fiance, Julieth was in an eight-year relationship and never felt ready to get married. Julieth says it could have been her age at the time.

"You need a certain level of maturity to be ready for something as important as an engagement and obviously then marriage,” she reflects.

Maturity doesn’t necessarily come with age, but rather with experience. You’re going to want to experience as much as you can with your significant other before making the commitment for the rest of your life.

Michelle Nader, from Miami, FL, recently celebrated her four-year anniversary with her boyfriend. It’s been exactly four years – time’s up! – so did he follow the “rule?” Not exactly.

“As a person who is only 21-years old, I don't feel a rush or need to get married even though I've been with my boyfriend for four years already,” she says.

Things might be different if she were in her early thirties, but right now things are going great in her relationship and there’s no need to rush. Michelle wants to graduate college and get a steady job before shopping for that white gown.

Though Michelle hasn’t heard of the four-year time limit before, she does think that women in their early thirties have experienced more and know what they want out of a relationship, so four years or less is a suitable time to think about marriage. But at the same time she says, “I don’t think people should rush into marriage because they feel pressured by their age."

And Julieth would agree. What would be the point, she says, if you get married because of your age and then end up getting divorced because you rushed into it and then “ended up single again and being even older?”

Like the other girls, Amaris Castillo, 25, doesn’t take the four-year rule too seriously. However she notes, “I think that if you still don’t know if you want to spend the rest of your life with someone after five years, then maybe it’s time for a break."

Perhaps the time apart will help the couple reevaluate the relationship; as she compares it to The Five Year Engagement (2012) with Jason Segel and Emily Blunt. And she has a point.

Amaris is currently single (probably not for long, she tells me) and doesn’t pretend to be a relationship expert – though she has interviewed plenty of couples while being an editorial assistant for Latina magazine – but she does know a thing or two when it comes to love. Marriage is a huge deal, and getting to really know your future spouse takes time. She would suggest spending at least a year – maybe more – dating and getting to know that special someone before talking about marriage.

Natacha, Nicole, Julieth, Amaris, and Michelle all agree that you shouldn’t put a time limit on marriage and engagement, and even though these ladies agree that four years is a good amount of time to really get to know someone, everyone is different and it can take one person more or less time to decide who they want to grow old with.

One thing that’s important to remember when it comes to marriage is, as Julieth puts it, “The person we marry is certainly not responsible for making us happy, but rather for being able to share in many happy moments with us.” 

Maybe that will happen a year in, maybe four, possibly eight. And maybe much longer than that.

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