Neal, 28, said the revelation shocked almost everyone. "I think I was questioned more than Michael, but I was constantly being asked 'When is the wedding?' and 'What are you waiting for?'" But the couple, who live in West Virginia, aren't the only ones taking their time. In recent years, couples have been more likely to saunter to the altar than to dash. According to the Association of Bridal Consultants, the average engagement length is now 16 months, which association president Gerard J. Monaghan said is up considerably from a decade ago.
For Dunkle, 37, and Neal, the decision to hold off on the nuptials seemed practical for many reasons. First, the two worked at the same company which, at the time, had rules prohibiting employees from marrying. The two decided that Neal, who had been there for less time, would have to find a new job before the couple could marry. Eventually, company policy changed, allowing them to wed and to keep their jobs. But Neal said there were other reasons that they waited.
"We were also planning a vacation to the beach in August of that same year, and agreed that we wouldn't start making wedding plans until after we came back from vacation," she says. "We wanted to allow ourselves plenty of time to enjoy the engagement, and not get so wrapped up in the wedding details that we lost sight of what got us to that point. We also wanted to give ourselves time to think about the type of wedding we wanted."
More planning time was the reason that Cassie Fenoseff, 28, of Michigan, and her husband Jeff, also 28, were engaged nearly two years before they married in June of 2001. The couple, now both engineers, wanted time to finish school (they were pursuing their master's degrees) and Cassie wanted enough time to plan her ideal wedding. F
or Cassie Fenoseff, who calls herself a "big planner," a long engagement seemed the most practical option. "It doesn't surprise me that more people are choosing longer engagements, because it makes a lot of sense. It's sometimes easier to plan something if you've got more time, and some people also aren't ready to get married right away," she says.
In fact, there are many reasons to opt for a long engagement, says psychotherapist Barbara Bartlein. In 22 years of working with couples, Bartlein also has noticed that longer betrothals have become increasingly common and isn't surprised. She cites an increased emphasis on careers, the growing complexity of wedding planning and a high divorce rate that has left many couples skeptical about marriage all as possible factors in the decision to hold off on a wedding. Bartlein doesn't see engagements getting shorter any time soon, but that could ultimately be a positive thing.
"This could be good news for marriages, particularly if it is combined with a commitment to marital education," Bartlein says. "I think the trend will continue to expand in the future, perhaps with more couples actually going for pre-marital training and education to increase their chances of success."
But lots of couples holding off on walking down the aisle don't need counseling -- they just need money. Neal points out that, today, many couples are footing the bill for their ceremonies, instead of relying on their parents, as they did in the past. "I think you have more couples that are paying for their weddings and honeymoon, and may need a longer engagement in order to meet their budget," she says.
Though cost wasn't a major factor in Dunkle and Neal's decision to wait, it did make a difference to at least one couple. When writer Steve Altes, 41, proposed to his actress girlfriend Diana Jellinek in September 2000, he wasn't planning to put off the wedding for nearly four years. But shortly after he popped the question, Altes was picked as a contestant on the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and he decided that it would be best to wait. "We didn't want to get married on a low budget if a seven figure windfall was in the offing," he explains. "Weddings are so hideously expensive."
It was about a year later that Altes actually appeared on the show, and ultimately, the California couple was glad they waited. Altes ended up winning $32,000.
But Altes and Jellinek had non-financial reasons to wait, as well. Her family is geographically dispersed and his family, who live in central New York, doesn't fly, so finding a venue for their nuptials has been tough "It takes a long time to negotiate things like who is doing what, and who isn't coming." For now, the couple has settled on a San Diego wedding. "My family will just have to fly," Altes says.
Whatever the reason for prolonged engagements, some couples like Dunkle and Neal say there was some shock among their loved ones, but others say people took their announcement in stride. "No one seemed very surprised that we were engaged for two years," said Cassie Fenoseff. "Where we live, many wedding halls book up two years in advance. It's not that uncommon to have a long engagement."
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