The Ideal Engagement: How Long Should I Be Engaged?

The Decision to Delay or Fast Track Your Wedding is Complex

Hispanic couple looking at engagement ring
Ariel Skelley | Blend Images | Getty Images

In some cultures, couples only need to declare their intentions before family to become husband and wife. For others, a long-term partnership and proposal is enough to seal the lifelong commitment in their hearts.

Most of us, however, fall somewhere between these two extremes. This means one of the first choices an engaged couple makes together is whether to postpone their nuptials or jump on the fast track to wedded bliss.

From religious beliefs to career plans to logistics, the length of time you stay engaged is a complex, deeply personal decision.

Delaying the Nuptials: A Long Engagement

Historically, a long betrothal period gave men time to build a house and get a good job that would pay for the dowry. It was not uncommon for engagements to last two years or more.

Although modern engagements are much shorter, starting a family is taking a backseat to finishing college and establishing a career, which has pushed up the average age of first marriages to 28, according to the latest U.S. Census numbers. These ages are significantly higher than in the 1970s when men were 23 and women almost 21 years old. 

Making magic happen quickly requires celebrity-sized bank accounts, so most couples find that financial obstacles are a huge deterrent to setting a wedding date right after the proposal. Although weddings are definitely rebounding after the recession, saving for a dream wedding, which averaged $31,213 in 2014 excluding the honeymoon, pushed the average length the engagement up to 14 months.

While two year engagements are still common, most couples tie the knot within 18 months of the proposal. 

This is a perfect amount of time to save enough money and plan meaningful moments without panicking and over obsessing about every small detail. You will also avoid paying rush fees and have the option of getting married during the less-expensive peak wedding season.

Fourteen to 18 months also gives you enough time to ensure that you are truly compatible and making the right decision. 

Cultural and religious beliefs play a role as well. The Catholic Church wedding requirements include participation in a six-month pre-marital preparation program. Wiccans believe that one year and one day is the proper amount of time to fully understand the weight of one's decisions. The Chinese engagement period typically lasts for two years, although the wedding date can be postponed or hastened based on the auspicious date the fortune-teller chooses.

On the Fast Track: A Quickie Engagement

Other life events, such as graduating college, joining the military or having a baby, can speed up the planning process. Some couples are concerned about getting married before elderly grandparents pass away while others feel like they are simply settled on a path that they are ready to travel. If patience is not one of your virtues, this three-month planning guide will help you tackle the essential items on a wedding planning list.

Couples who want a quickie engagement often encounter logistical nightmares that delay the wedding date. Guests traveling from far away, the availability of a coveted venue or another wedding in the family can derail every plan you try to make.

Some locations are booked two years out, and if you plan to buy your wedding dress from a boutique or have it custom made, you will need at least six months before it is ready.

Contrary to popular practices in the U.S., a long-term engagement is not the norm around the world. Although the average engagement length in India is six to eight months, it is not uncommon for couples to wed the day after they announce their betrothal. In Russia, marriages take place within one to three months after the paperwork is filed with the Department of Registrations. Any delay requires applying for a new wedding date. 

Persian Baha'i couples have exactly 95 days to tie the knot, although most marry within one month of receiving the approval of all parents. The great spiritual leader Abdu'l-Bahá once explained that the requirement is meant to prevent the "serious difficulties and problems that arise when a long period of time elapses between the engagement and the marriage." The simple ceremony requires little planning since only the writings and prayers ordained by Bahá'u'lláh can be recited.

Whichever choice you make, just cherish the few shorts months you have wearing the title of fiancé. The time goes by quickly, and you do have the rest of your lives, after all, to spend as husband and wife.