We’ve been asked many times what the right amount of time is to date someone before you tie the knot. But this isn’t something that has a one-size-fits-all answer.
Let’s first define “dating.” To this generation, dating might have a vast series of definitions. “Dating” might be cohabiting. It might mean having sex. It might mean talking on the phone or getting to know one another. It might mean courting. We would define dating as getting to know each other through many different kinds of situations. It should not include cohabiting or sex.
We wouldn’t attempt to give a specific time frame because every case is unique. However, our friend Neil Clark Warren (founder of eharmony.com) tells us that the longer a couple waits to get married—and thus the older they are at the onset of marriage—the greater the chance of that marriage lasting.
The obvious reason is that the longer you date, the more you get to know each other. You need to see each other in conflict situations, in stressful situations. I remember when one of our daughters told us she knew her boyfriend was “the one” when they had two flat tires. How he responded to that crisis—by taking care of her and by not panicking—showed his true character. You need to give enough time that will allow different situations to come into your lives in order to reveal whether or not this other person is a good match in your life. You need to see each other not only the good times when you have everything together—hair, makeup, clothes, and on your best behavior—but also at the unplanned for times, the stressful times, the difficult times. Those times reveal character like nothing else. It’s very, very important to see the weaknesses and the blind spots that you won’t otherwise see in a dating relationship when you’re both trying to impress each other. There will be plenty of conflict in marriage—from each other and from outside—and you simply have to be able to handle it, work through it, and get to the other side together.
While longer is better, realize that it may not be so much the length of time as the quality of time. We know couples who only dated a few months and got married and are doing fine. We don’t recommend that, but dating can also go on too long. We know other couples who dated for a long time because one or both was afraid of making the marriage commitment.
Date a person long enough so that (1) you know him or her quite well (warts and all), (2) you have dealt with several different kinds of situations together, (3) God is confirming marriage, and (4) trusted counselors in your life are able to take a look at that person and evaluate with you whether or not this person should be your lifelong partner.
For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!