When Should I Get Married? 7 Secrets Only A Wedding Expert Knows

Finding someone to date can be a challenge. But sometimes, it’s even harder to figure out when to move forward in a relationship. When should I move in with my partner? When should I get engaged? And, maybe most importantly, when should I get married?

It’s scary to make these decisions without any guidance, and most of us don’t have the chance to ask every couple we meet these intimate questions about their relationship. (I still have a hard time talking with my own parents about their own courtship and engagement. I don’t even really know much about their wedding except that it happened at Columbia University, and my mom wore a dress with fabulous puffy sleeves.) This, however, is less of a problem when you’re the weddings reporter for the Washington Post, and your full-time job is to go to a lot of weddings and talk to a lot of brides and grooms and tell the stories of what works and what doesn’t. Working as a weddings reporter gave McCarthy the opportunity to hear, “one of the most meaningful, intimate narratives anyone can have — how he or show found and recognized the person with whom they wanted to spend the rest of their life.”

In her new book The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook , Ellen McCarthy offers some sage advice based off of years of interviewing hundreds of couples and attending dozens of weddings about how to make your relationship last, how to spot the warning signs of a failing relationship, and how to know it’s the right time to settle down forever. Here are 7 secrets from a wedding expert to help you answer the question, “When should I get married?”

You Know Yourself

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You don’t have to be in a romantic relationship in order to have a fulfilling life, and you shouldn’t get hitched until you know what makes you happy outside the context of a relationship. McCarthy writes, “Of all the people I’ve interviewed, no one ever told me they felt that leading a full life held them back from finding love. Only the opposite. They were better able to love — themselves and others — when they fully embraced the life that was right in front of them.” It takes knowing yourself and what you want to make a relationship last, and you need to do that self-reflection before tying the knot.

You’re Not Scared

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There’s definitely a moment, usually right after a breakup, when a person falls into an existential slump and starts questions if getting married is even possible. McCarthy experienced that fear and panic herself, but recognized it as “the aphrodisiac equivalent of raw sewage.” Don’t get married just because you’ve found someone who wants to get married, too, or because you’re afraid that if you don’t marry this person, there’s no hope left for you. “Hint: If, when asked why you love someone, you draw a total blank, perhaps you should not marry them,” writes McCarthy. “My point is that fear isn’t the best position from which to make major life decisions,” so don’t get married because you’re scared of never getting married.

You’ve Already Been Through The Vows

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McCarthy met a couple who described their romance as “part fairy tale, part Jerry Springer episode.” Peter and Kerilyn were on-and-off for almost four years before finally, fully committing to each other. By the time they got engaged, “they’d already lived their vows: ‘for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.’” If you can live up to that promise before the wedding, chances are you’ll be able to keep it up after.

Once You’re Engaged, As Soon As You Can

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“You can opt to stretch things out and agonize over tiny details for months, or you can put yourself on a timetable that forces you to make decisions and move on with your life.” McCarthy recommends the latter. Keep the engagement short to minimize the agony of planning, and to get started with your life as a married person.

You Have Realistic Expectations For Marriage

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McCarthy interviewed Diane Solee, “the wild-hared queen of the marriage education movement,” who had one main message: “Our expectations of marriage are way out of wack.” We expect our husband or wife to be everything and the kitchen sink, from financial and emotional stability to undying love and never-ending passion. Sometimes, marriage will be hard, and it's much easier to deal with if you don't expect it to be all sunshine and rainbows. Marriage can’t do everything, so don’t get married until you adjust your expectations from “Happily Ever After,” to something more realistic.

You Don’t Have Doubt And It Feels Right

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Setting up all of the wedding plans is not a good reason in and of itself to get married, especially if you have doubts. We’re not talking, “Did I pick the right flower arrangements?” kind of doubt, though. We’re talking about long-term, go to sleep with dread in your heart and wake up with your heart in your throat levels of anxiety about your future husband or wife. If that’s you, then don’t get married. It might be embarrassing to call it off, but McCarthy has seen it done — one time only hours before the ceremony — and really, “Whatever agony you endure or havoc your wreak, it will be minuscule in comparison to the turmoil of a bad marriage or the torment of divorce.” If it doesn’t really feel right, and you have lingering doubts, don’t get married.

You Want The Wedding

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This may seem obvious, but only get married if you want to, and do it in the way you want to say, “I do.” This could be a blowout Halloween-themed wedding on the banks of a river or a small private ceremony in your town hall. If you want to have a big reception, then do it! But, as McCarthy reminds us, “A couple hundred weddings into my career, I can promise you: There is absolutely nothing you have to do, and nothing you can’t do.” Get married in the way that you want, regardless of what blogs and Pinterest and magazines say. It’s your wedding, so get married how and when you want.

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