According to the Knot, the average engagement is fourteen and a half months. Still, many are longer—as your own experience probably tells you. However, that may not be what is best for a couple.
The Church does not require this long of preparation for the Sacrament. Most dioceses in the United States require just six months of preparation before marriage. As Catholics, we hold the covenant of marriage in high esteem and yet, consider half of the average engagement length enough time to prepare. While some couples may have various circumstances that require or suggest a longer engagement, for many, six months can be all the preparation time they need.
Engagements of several young Catholic couples are shorter than the average. My own engagement lasted just eight-and-a-half months and I am grateful for that. If you’re engaged or may be someday, here’s why I would recommend a shorter engagement.
To avoid temptation
Let’s get this one out of the way. No, just because your engagement is long doesn’t mean you will fall into sin. The danger is real, however, both physically and mentally. Our fallible human minds may settle in to the idea of being married to this person without the actual sacrament. It’s natural and needed to speak of your joint future when you’re engaged. But if you are using the word “our” when discussing the future, homes, and even kids it can become difficult to separate somedays from today. This kind of emotional lack of chastity is imprudent at best. A short engagement helps you have a clear head and means you see from the beginning the day these dreams will become reality.
Significantly less stress
Having a short engagement can be less stressful. From the day my husband and I set the date, well-meaning family and friends were telling me I wouldn’t have much time to plan. Yet, during our less-than-nine month engagement we also managed to move across the country, find temporary living situations for both of us; I started a new job, he started graduate school, and we bought our first home.
It was definitely stressful at times but what I worried about was the important things. There simply wasn’t time to stress about minutia. Two months before the big day when people asked exactly what sort of centerpieces I wanted I could honestly tell them I didn’t have strong opinions. I also didn’t have much time to over-analyze whether the blues of the bridesmaid dresses and the blues of the groomsmen vests were exactly the same. They were, roughly, and that was just fine. Because what I cared about was that I was marrying the man God had chosen for me and that we could celebrate with family and friends.
Discernment is better respected
Engagement is meant to be a time of further discernment. But there is usually no need to prolong that period. For some couples, dragging out an engagement is unduly difficult because they have already discerned they are called to marriage together. If either party has serious reservations that may be a reason to postpone the wedding but for most people this is not the why they extend an engagement.
Although discernment is important, it should not be prolonged unnecessarily. When my husband proposed we had already spent time discerning as individuals, our engagement was simply a time to finish discerning together.
It’s not about planning the perfect party
Sometimes people have long engagements in order to have the wedding they always dreamed of. Unfortunately, our society prizes the perfect wedding more than a beautiful marriage. With less time to plan and to save, a shorter engagement often leads to a simpler wedding.
It is true that I was infatuated at one time with the modern ideas of a gorgeous wedding, but I wound up truly appreciating that our day was simple. One of the best compliments I got was that our wedding made clear our priorities. We had a beautiful Mass that focused on the Lord followed by a brunch reception with family, friends, food, cake, and a little dancing. A couple who has a long engagement could also have a simple wedding. However, a short engagement lends itself to the couple focusing on what is truly important.
With all of this said, a short engagement does not guarantee anything about the couple, their happiness or holiness. However, our world would probably have more joy and even more appreciation of marriage if there were more short engagements.