What’s the Right Amount of Time to Date Someone When You Want to be Married?

I focus on dating topics for 30- and 40-something women who want to fall in love and get married. A big question that we ask ourselves in this age range is “how long should I date the man I’m with?” In other words, what’s the right amount of time to date someone before you’re on a path to marriage or it’s time to move on. After all, if a woman wants to be in a committed relationship with someone who wants the same thing, shouldn’t there be a limit to dating time? This is a loaded question, of course, because women are in such a variety of situations.

For the sake of talking about timelines, I have to make a few assumptions. It takes everyone a different amount of time to fall in love. Sometimes love comes quickly and other times it’s a slow burn until the embers turn bright. My first assumption is that you either can see yourself falling in love with this man or you’re already in love with him if you’re asking yourself how much of my life do I invest in this person? Let’s be candid. Dating is an investment of time. If you want to be married while you’re in your 30s or 40s, you need to be mindful of time. We’re all getting older and most of us would prefer to be married while we’re younger than whatever we personally consider old.

My second assumption is that you’re clear on whether you want children (or more children if you already have some). Like it or not, the biological clock reminds us that we shouldn’t take years and years to make up our mind about staying with someone. And we shouldn’t take years waiting for things to get better if they’re rocky or outright terrible. I’m sorry if this is a painful statement for you who are already overwhelmingly aware of your clock. Some women need more reminders than you do.

My third assumption is that you’re only considering someone “qualified.” This is serious business. I have to assume that if you’re serious about finding love and marriage that you’re only spending time with someone who shares similar values with you and someone who has at some point revealed that he sees himself married one day. Don’t ever waste time on someone who says they just want to have fun or they aren’t sure about ever getting married. You want to be married someday (sooner rather than later), so why would you want to date someone who doesn’t or who is lukewarm about it? Even if you have strong feelings for such a person, realize that you’ve put yourself in a spot that doesn’t serve you or your goal well. Ultimately you’re responsible for your choices, so choose well for yourself!

I’ve broken down my suggestions by age and the desire to have children. Remember, I’m writing to women who know they want to find love and marriage. It’s fine if someone is perfectly happy in an unmarried, long-term relationship, but they’re not the intended audience here.

Age 30-32, Wants Kids
If you’re 30-32 and you know you want children (or more children), then date a man a max of 18 months to three years. By the end of this time frame, you should either be engaged or married. If you’re not, seriously assess moving on.

Age 33-40, Wants Kids
If you’re 33-40 and you know you want children (or more children), then date a man a max of 12 to 18 months. Obviously stay on the lower end of that timeframe the older you are in this age range. By the end of this time frame, you should either be engaged or married. Yes, I’m saying a year to a year and a half is the max time you should give someone if you really want to be married and have kids at this age range. If you’re freaking out a little over this, then maybe you’re too used to dating men who “like to take things slow” or men who say “just go with the flow, what’s the hurry?” A relationship with such a man can eat up your precious time.

Age 30-39, Having Kids Isn’t a Factor
If you’re 30-49 and you know children (or more of them) aren’t a must, or if you don’t want kids but you still want to be married, then you’re time frame is a bit more relaxed. Date a man a max of 2 to 3 years. After 3 years of dating in this age range, one has to wonder if there is a strong desire to be married. Marry or move on.

Are there exceptions to these suggestions? Sure, there are always exceptions. But an exception should never include factors about you or him being unsure about your commitment.

I realize that talking about dating timelines can drive you crazy. It’s possible that you already have your own set of expected timelines to date someone, fall in love, be engaged, and start a family. Don’t overwhelm yourself with where you want to be. Keep timing on your mind, but try not to let it consume you. Remember, you have control over the dating choices you make. Sometimes the decisions you have to make are tough ones but the right ones. Be your own boss of who you spend your time with and for how long.