Quickie Engagements: When Is Too Soon to Commit?

Getty ImagesThat was fast! Kaley Cuoco, star of "The Big Bang Theory" is engaged to her boyfriend, tennis star Ryan Sweeting, after dating for not very long, according to a story published Thursday in Us Weekly

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"It's only been three months but she knows Ryan is the one," a source gushed to Us. "When you know, you know."

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Cuoco and Sweeting may seem like exceptions in a world where people are becoming indifferent about marriage — according to a report published by the Pew Research Center, barely half of U.S. adults are married — yet a growing number of celebs are carrying the torch for "quickie engagements." Actress Nikki Reed and former "American Idol" contestant Paul McDonald got engaged after two months of dating; Jessica Simpson and Eric Johnson after 5-and-a-half-months, Avril Lavigne and Chad Kroeger after six months.

And although the notion seems like a disaster in the making, it's a phenomenon happening in "real life" too. Earlier this month, a Texas man proposed to his girlfriend of seven days. She said yes.

Why are newbie couples rushing to the altar?

Look to biology. People no longer need a spouse to have children, financial stability, or sex, so romance has become the go-to reason to put a ring on it — and in the beginning of a relationship there’s plenty to go around. Couples in love experience a physiological rush of oxytocin (the bonding hormone), dopamine (a feel-good transmitter), and skyrocketing libidos from the novelty of the relationship. As a result, they tend to overlook each other’s flaws, making engagement seem appealing. There’s also a security factor at play: “A quick engagement eliminates all the unknowns in dating,” says Laurie Puhn, couples mediator and author of Fight Less, Love More. “Putting a label on the relationship is like a security blanket. For example, if your fiancé breaks his promise to call, you may tell yourself, ‘It’s not because he doesn’t care, it’s because he’s busy.’”

The urgency of the Internet has also played a part by creating a marriage-obsessed culture wherein getting hitched has become a competitive sport. Need proof? Browse YouTube for “public proposals” and you'll find no shortage of choreographed flash mobs set to a certain Bruno Mars song, fake plane crashes, or celebrity endorsements. It’s possible that couples are feeling pressure to one up each other by prematurely solidifying their status. 

And finally, the fear of divorce is less of a concern among Gen Yers, often products of broken homes who weren’t raised with the notion that marriage lasts forever. “There tends to be a subconscious feeling that if the marriage doesn’t work out, it’s not as taboo as it was among baby boomers,” says Puhn. “The fear of making a bad choice in love isn’t what it used to be.”

What's the engagement sweet spot? It's unclear, says Puhn, because every relationship is different.  “However, since modern couples have more to negotiate than their parents —gender roles, unbalanced finances, parenting philosophies — it’s important to be on the same page," she says. That said, it's not wise to dawdle in the engagement phase for too long. Maintain a "faux marriage" long enough and a couple's commitment could be tested.

If you’re considering marriage to someone you’ve been with for only a few months, ask yourself these questions: Does my partner listen to me? Do I end every argument feeling understood? Do we share the same values and goals? Evaluating your partner's repetitive behavior (during holidays, emergencies, job promotions, tragedies), and how you problem-solve as a couple — can provide clues as to whether your new love could be "the one." 

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