You've been dreaming of it since you were young—your very own prince charming down on one knee. Your Pinterest is filled with engagement rings, and your friends are asking you when it's finally going to happen. But as prepared as you might be, is it too soon? After seeing the season 7 finale of Bachelor in Paradise and watching Lacy and Marcus get engaged after knowing each other for only three months, we had to ask an expert what she thought.
There isn't an exact science to it, but two years is a reasonable amount of time to date before getting engaged, suggests Monica O’Neal, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert. Why? Because before then, most couples don't experience enough challenging moments to work through together, she says. Ranging from everything from fighting within the relationship to job and family issues, these challenges allow couples to develop honest and consistent behaviors. Although you don't necessarily have to live together, figuring out how to communicate and solve problems as if you were married is key. Of course, this is just a guideline, and people adjust accordingly.
An exception: Long-distance couples should spend time living near one another before committing, no matter how long the relationship has lasted, O'Neal adds. Another instance—starting in their mid-30s, most people tend to be set in their careers and lifestyles, meaning there's less likely to be a change in behavior or circumstance. In this case, getting married earlier isn’t as risky, O'Neal says. Even so, O'Neal recommends taking your time and doing couple’s work together will help you form a healthier relationship.
More than anything, couples need to make sure that they're talking about everything with one another. Okay, maybe not everything, but before getting engaged, you should know where the other stands on finances, religion, and children. Making your needs and beliefs known is key. If you feel any sort of hesitation or something is bothering you, air it out immediately before it becomes unmanageable.
What do you think about jumping into a marriage? How long did you wait? Sound off below in the comments or tweet us @Shape_Magazine.