Your engagement should be a romantic and exciting time for you and your partner to share, but it also comes with a huge to-do list (you know, for that wedding you’re planning), making it easy to get caught up in what needs to be done and to lose sight of the celebration. As you’re trying to find the balance between enjoying this unique moment in your lives and making sure you’ve got ample time to plan, you might be asking yourselves: How long should our engagement be? Or, you may be wondering if a short- or long-term engagement is best. Well, we're here to help you figure out an engagement length that’s not too long, not too short, but just right.
“There’s no one rule when it comes to an engagement length,” says Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life and founder of The Protocol School. “It’s more about the couple's preference and how much planning is needed.” Your engagement should be as long or as short as you and your partner want (or need) it to be. A number of factors will play into how long your engagement is, from when your dream venue is available to what your work schedules look like to whether you need extra time to save up for your big day.
Therapist Jeannie K-Suh, MA, LPC, married her husband only three months after he proposed. “I was super-efficient at making decisions because I had little time to think about options, but it wasn’t easy pulling things together so quickly," she says. Corinne Ugarte, a stylist, allowed for more time but says she still felt overwhelmed. “My husband and I put our wedding on hold for two years; however, having all that extra time to plan gave me more time to stress, change my mind on pretty much everything, and overthink the planning process," she says.
Having said that, we asked top wedding planners—aka the people who have to move quickly when faced with a short engagement and keep the momentum going with a longer timeline—to share their thoughts on the perfect length engagement below.
The Average Length
The average engagement length in the U.S. is between 12 and 18 months, which explains why winter is the most popular time to get engaged, but summer is the most popular time to get married. "Set yourself up for success by settling into the process slowly and then start the planning," advises Mindy Weiss, owner of Mindy Weiss Party Consultants.
"I think 12 to 15 months allows couples to enjoy the wonderful halo of that time together but not lose sight of their future marriage or momentum in the wedding planning process," says Bronson Van Wyck, founder of Van Wyck & Van Wyck. That might be the perfect fit for you and your partner, and an engagement of that length is a great balance: It gives you ample time to plan your wedding but also allows for a little downtime between major tasks to simply bask in your engagement instead of hammering away at your to-do list.
"I encourage my clients to enjoy the engagement period and not rush right into planning, as there should be a couple of blissful months where they can daydream about the wedding," says Jenna Lam, event director of Jenna Lam Events. "I think the ideal engagement is one year, with a planning process around eight to nine months."
Of course, your personal circumstances might mean a shorter engagement. Some can barely wait to start their lives together. "Three to five months! Once you decide to marry someone, why wait?" says Tara Guérard, owner of Tara Guérard Soirée. "The longer the engagement, the more you may start to question things when your first instinct is usually the correct one."
A shorter engagement is a great fit for a couple planning a smaller wedding with an intimate guest list as well as a couple working with a full-service wedding planner who can help take care of the details quickly. "You have to be super decisive and flexible if you go with a shorter time period," explains Troy Williams, principal and event designer of Simply Troy Lifestyle + Events. "Trying to book venues, photographers, caterers, and wedding attire can be tricky, but not impossible if you have talented people working with you." If you’re great at making decisions or know exactly what you want on your wedding day, this is a great option for you.
"I personally had a four-month engagement and had so much fun every single day of planning!" says Lynn Easton, founder and creative director of Easton Events. "Literally no dull moments, only momentum and no rethinking decisions!" Shorter engagements can also be more conducive to those with hearts set on an intimate elopement. "You’ll likely need less time to figure out all the details and can plan in only a few short months." adds Michelle Cousins, owner and lead designer of Michelle Leo Events.
Having realistic expectations is also important. If you tend to lose steam at the tail end of a long timeline, a short engagement period might be right for you. "Eight to 12 months is the perfect length for an engagement. When clients allow it to extend beyond that, they find lots of reasons to not plan their wedding and will start receiving save-the-dates cards from other engaged couples for the day they were hoping to book!" says Matthew Robbins, founder and creative director of Matthew Robbins Design.
David Stark, chief creative officer of David Stark Design and Production, adds that "a slightly shorter engagement—eight to 10 months—keeps things exciting and means less time to get pulled in different directions by family and friends."
Planning a wedding is a huge undertaking, so if you’ve got other things on the calendar (like your last year of grad school or a big move), you may want to opt for a longer engagement to ease the pressure. "Cliché as it might sound, a perfect time frame should be based on what couples have going on in their lives and how they want to prioritize the planning process," says Jacin Fitzgerald, owner and creative director of Jacin Fitzgerald Events.
Planning more DIY projects, or unsure where you want to have your wedding or what you want it to look like? Aim for a longer engagement so you have plenty of time to get it all done.
Some of this could very well be out of your control, too. If you have a specific venue in mind, you might find that they book up two years in advance, meaning you’ll either have to wait or will need to find somewhere else to get married. "Time gives you choices," notes Bryan Rafanelli, founder and chief creative officer of Rafanelli Events. "Planning far enough in advance will secure the ideal venue, reserve the perfect band, or lock in the photographer who will capture your memories forever."
And when it comes to finances, if you and your partner need to set aside some funds to pay for the big day, it could be hugely beneficial to have some extra time to add to your savings account. And don’t forget to check when your VIPs are available since you’ll definitely want them there with you when you walk down the aisle.
And, of course, you might opt for a longer engagement simply so you can really enjoy this time in your lives. You’ve decided to spend your lives together, so what’s the rush to plan a party? Take a month (or a few months) to just practice calling your partner your fiancé, and enjoy all the congratulations you get as you introduce one another in your daily lives. Then, when you’re ready to buckle down and address the task list, go for it.
Ultimately, you may even start off in one direction and find your true timing in the process. "I recently had a bride and groom start planning with a two-year lead time, and after six months, they realized they didn't need that long and moved their date up by 10 months," shares Leslie Price, president of In Any Event. "Luckily, the stars aligned and all of their vendors were available."
Still unsure what's best for you? We averaged all of our expert's responses to calculate the best middle ground. The numbers tell us that a nine-month engagement seems to be the sweet spot — just sayin'!