Love

Dating Over 40? This Is How Long You Should Wait Before Thinking About Marriage

Photo: oneinchpunch / shutterstock
middle aged couple on a date

You might be wondering, if you're single and over 40, how long to date before marriage. 

For singles who are motivated to marry, dating isn’t a pastime. It takes strategy and focus on your goals.

Granted, you’re not trying to rush down the aisle or marry the first good-enough prospect that comes along. But, you’re also not willing to waste your time in a relationship that’s not going anywhere.

It's an even bigger consideration if you're over 40 than it is for those who are in their 20s or 30s

You might be nearing mid-life, are already there, and/or are considering a second marriage after divorce or even widowhood.

RELATED: 10 Best Dating Sites & Apps For People Over 40

If you're over 40, how long to date before marriage is a serious question.

You have to consider things that younger singles can sometimes put aside for a while.

One thing I’ve noticed with some people approaching or in mid-life and are never married is a tendency to "float through life."

They go along with no timeframe for their relationship life as if they have all the time in the world. Or some may not be interested in becoming part of a couple.

On the positive side, that can be a testament to being comfortable with who they are and the life they've created.

On the flip side, however, it can also be a statement of not taking your relationship goals seriously. At least, not seriously enough to have a strategy and timeline. And if you don’t think about time, you may run out of it and miss out on your goals.

Guidelines for how long to date before marriage are just that: guidelines. 

And they really have more to do with readiness for marriage.

The recommendation that couples date for a minimum of a year or two before marriage, for instance, is only a guideline.

How well do you know yourself? How well do you know your partner? What kind of relationship experience from your past has helped shape your relationship experience in the present?

Have you learned from your past relationships, or do you repeat the same mistakes with the same kind of partners?

You would hope that with age comes wisdom. And with wisdom comes the ability to make confident judgments and decisions more quickly than when you were younger.

Hopefully, by the time you're over 40, you’ve filtered through your values, opinions, needs, and wants. You can quickly articulate your non-negotiables.

You know what’s essential for your fulfillment in life and what’s just a matter of preferences and desires.

I generally advise my younger clients to date for longer periods of time precisely because they’re usually still getting to know themselves.

RELATED: 40 Red Flags For Dating Over 40

When you’re dating over 40, how long to date before marriage really comes down to your readiness.

Sometimes, all you need is someone guiding you with a timeline and a strategic perspective on what to look for.

During the first three months of dating, you should be building your exclusivity as a couple. It’s imperative that you’re very clear from the beginning that you’re a marriage-minded person (if you are) and that your partner is on the same path as you.

This is also the time that both of you must be transparent about your key values and life goals.

Are you aligned on topics like children, religion, lifestyle expectations, and attitudes about finances? These "big" issues are usually so anchored in a person’s value system that they don’t invite much in the way of compromise.

Women are usually the ones most concerned about their biological clocks. By the time a woman reaches 35, her fertility has begun a sharp decline.

For this reason, women who want children tend to build the intention of a family into their lives from the get-go. They are more focused on quality in a mate, and they don’t want to be dragged along for the sake of "fun."

Men, on the other hand, tend to delay their focus on family in deference to their freedom to "play" and to focus on their careers. By the time they start thinking about marriage, women in their age range are usually starting a decline in their fertility in their mid to late 30s.

This is one of the reasons that middle-aged men seek much younger women. They want to have children, but they’ve waited so long that women their own age most likely will have difficulty reproducing (unless they had previously frozen their eggs).

It’s also common for men to want time alone with their wives before having children. This poses a great challenge to women who want to have children but know they’re limited on time and their pregnancies could be high-risk.

If you’re over 40, how long to date before marriage depends on answering big questions.

Sometimes the childless mate is content to be a "bonus parent" to the children of the other mate. In that case, there isn’t as much need for expediting the relationship.

In general, however, singles who are over 40 should date for no more than six months before making a decision.

Do you want this relationship to lead to marriage? If so, then build on that intention. 

Get deeply familiar with one another, not just in the big ways, but in the subtle, boring, daily ways, as well. Make sure your values and visions for the relationship and the future are in alignment.

By the time you’ve reached the six-month mark, you should be prepared for engagement, unless there are extenuating circumstances, or you may have to break off the relationship if you aren't both on the same page with respect to timing.

Every relationship is unique. And every person goes into a relationship with a unique history and a custom palette of gifts, yearnings, fears, and experiences.

The point of making a timeline when you're dating over 40 isn’t to pave absolutes onto the road to becoming an engaged couple.

It’s simply a way of examining the relativity of goals, age, experience, and self-awareness while investigating the readiness for marriage.

And, perhaps most importantly, it’s a way of reminding people in search of lasting love that their time is precious and matters. And that time deserves to have a plan for achieving a happily-ever-after future.

RELATED: Is Getting Married & Having Kids After 40 Still Possible? Here's What You Need To Know

Amy Schoen is a D.C.-based national expert in dating and relationship life coaching. She holds Meet Your Mate Strategy Sessions for singles who are ready to meet their true loves.

Sign up for YourTango's free newsletter!