Engagement (marriage): How long should a relationship go on before a guy can propose?Okay, when I was in my twenties, I had noticed something: people would go together -- even live together -- for years, before deciding to marry. Then, within a fairly short time, they were getting divorced. WTF?
I concluded that the mechanisms we had for deciding on marriage were badly flawed. I knew that in traditional societies, marriages were arranged by families, who knew their children, and who cared about them. These marriages, apparently, were usually stable.
But I wasn't living in a society like that, I was living in California, in 1968.
I also had a idea that love was natural between human beings, if there was no particular obstacle.
So, my plan: Ask women to marry me, with little fuss. God would arrange who would accept.
I think I may have asked one or two women, but I don't remember much about that. One day, I ended up talking with what I'll simply call a nice girl, 19 years old. I asked her to marry me. There were no protestations of great love. There was no particular drama, it was simply an opportunity presented. She accepted.
That marriage did eventually end, but lasted far longer than the norm in the circles in which I was moving then. 10 years. Five children. We had a huge adventure, we did many amazing things together. And it ended. From my end, I simply did not know how to keep her happy. From her end, something was missing and she decided to go for it. We ended up with joint custody of the kids and we always developed agreement about what to do with them. They are all doing well.
So was I crazy? Well, maybe. Who cares? As to the survival game, it worked.
(By the way, it hurt when she left. I loved her. It hurt like hell. But ... whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger, right? That's actually true, at least so far, I'll testify. Eventually, something will actually kill me, I'm 71.)
There were, so far, six more marriages, two of which were legally registered, the others were declared. Here is how it went:
2. I knew her for many years before the relationship started, but marriage was declared as soon as we were a "number.' Three year relationship. I'll say that here I learned to love much more deeply. She left. I was obsessed.
3. First time we talked, she later told me, she decided she would marry me. She left, at least twice. Second time she vowed she'd never come back. We remained friends, she even lived with me for a short time when she needed that. She died recently and unexpectedly. Puella aeterna.
4. Rebound relationship from #3. I knew she had a crush on me, #3 told me that, and even encouraged me to get together with her. So this was very quick (and we had a ceremony, a marriage party, but no filed paper.) Lasted about three years. I do not recommend rebound relationships, it's rude. I recently contacted her and apologized for "being such an asshole." Her immediate reply was "I don't blame you for leaving, I was always angry with you." So, ultimate result (quite recently): friends.
5. This time I was single for some years, and practiced total sexual abstinence, which many might think impossible. It isn't. Quite an experience, actually. I can't even begin to say, in this post, what I learned. #5 was a writer, a 12-stepper, and deep. We were, again, together for maybe three years. The first time we were truly alone together, I asked her to marry me. She accepted and it was legally registered (we had a big wedding party, the biggest ever, actually). What happened in the end, I'm really not sure, I've been thinking about that recently, so I called her up. Great to hear her voice. We still have not had a full conversation. Bottom line, she wanted to end it, and cried over that. I accepted it. Maybe I was burning out a bit.
6. Again, some decent pause, and then I asked a Sufi shaykh about two of his followers, as marriage possibilities. The first (the one I was most attracted to), "She's not ready to be happy." The second, "She's not your type." He then said, Have you met (#6). No, I hadn't noticed her! He said "She's your type." So I walked up to her and asked to talk about marriage. She managed to avoid falling over. She asked about me and was told that I wouldn't hurt her, why not talk? So we did, and after maybe five weeks or so, we decided to marry. Legally registered, it lasted 17 years. Two adopted children. In the end: gay, and she decided that was important to her. (And yes, I knew that, she had not concealed that she'd come out in her twenties, nor did she do anything sneaky, she was open and straightforward.)
7. I had known #7 for many, many years. At one point, maybe twenty years earlier, I asked her to marry me and she accepted and the witnesses had been gathered, and she backed out. She knows all my children from my first marriage. One of my daughters was travelling and told her I was getting divorced from #6. She called me up, and visited, and we got together. This lasted for maybe two years. At this point, I prefer to keep private what happened. A factor, though, may have been that it was rebound from #6. From history, we had much in common and developed even more in common, yet ... this was perhaps the shortest of my marriages. I ended it (though the full story is not that simple).
Seven times. Yes, it seems completely crazy. However, every relationship was important in my life. I regret and grieve the losses. However, I don't regret any of the marriages, nor do I regret being quick to marry.
There are many Quorans who will write that before one marries, one should have a whole list of elements of life together. With my first marriage, I had only one out of ten listed. Yet that was a truly productive marriage. We made it work. And that's what any marriage requires; partners who will make it work.
Marriage is a life commitment; by which I mean that one is laying one's life on the line. Anyone who isn't afraid is probably in denial. Yet, there is also courage, which is setting aside fear and going for what we choose. The reality in today's world is that marriages often end. Some people, knowing that, avoid "marriage," but create relationships that are like marriage, and that end, and they go through the same mishegas, only without divorce paperwork, on the one hand, and without an understanding of why it hurts so much, on the other. After all, it "wasn't a marriage."
My life demonstrates that there is no particular minimum time. One answer has "long enough for him to be confident that he wants to marry his partner." She went ahead to say that "anything less than a year is kind of bonkers." Maybe. Is that good or bad?
I think that I got such high acceptance because I was confident, I really was committing, not only to marriage, but to love, and the women could tell.
(And then I could write about breakdowns, where I failed to keep my commitment. However, it was still there, merely not fully expressed and maintained.)