Over the course of your life, how many times have you asked yourself when is the right time? should I wait? should I go ahead? Am I overthinking this? When is the right time to go for a run? When is the right time to get a new puppy? When is the right time to say I love you? When is the right time to quit the job you hate? When is it the right time to settle down, marry, start a family? When is the right time to call it quits, start over? I do it all the time.
The good news is, the more you answer that question, the more you can see that maybe there truly isn’t a defined right time. There certainly is no such thing as the perfect time. And, the waters can get even muddier when you let other people in your life weigh in on whatever decision you are trying to make. An incredibly frivolous but extremely illustrative example is when you invite a group of friends out for dinner. Everyone has an opinion – some folks aren’t hungry quite yet, some are vegetarian, some gluten intolerant, some only want pasta… trying to listen to and please everyone can leave me paralyzed and only serving wine for dinner (which is never a good idea!). Listen, you are the host, you invited these friends, you get to make the call. Listen to people’s opinions, but in the end, you get to choose what you think is right. So, for me realizing that there is no perfect time and learning to turn down the volume on outside noise, has been a freeing gift.
I dated my husband for five years before he proposed. We were introduced at a mutual friend’s wedding and immediately hit it off. We stayed up until 4am that night talking. And the talking didn’t stop after that. I was headed back to Dallas and he was going back to Chicago. But, that did not stop us from getting to know each other more. We would speak daily, sometimes through the night. This was so long ago that facetime was implausible and email had only just started gaining popularity! So, the telephone it was. Until one phone call where he said we should see each other again. When he asked what I thought, I froze. What if he was actually a murderer? What if we were only good on the phone and would have nothing to say if we met up in person again? How, exactly were we going to meet up? We lived 800 miles from each other – a dinner date wasn’t an option. One of us would have to fly into town before we could go out for dinner… that all felt very high stakes, and I for one was most definitely not looking for anything serious. I was young. And fun. I wanted to date many people – to experience life as a young woman and all that meant in the dating world. Was this the right time to make it feel like something more? After much internal debate and a decent amount of asking friends to weigh in on the issue, I decided to remind myself of what I knew. I knew that I enjoyed meeting this person at the wedding. I knew that we always had a lot to talk about on the phone. I knew I wasn’t looking for anything serious. I knew a summer fling could be fun. So, I said yes.
That one weekend visit turned into many weekend visits. Turned into me moving out of state to be with him, then turned into more long-distance dating when I went to law school in another state and finally five years later, turned into a walk down the aisle. How we got there wasn’t always a smooth road. And was often met with me asking, is this the right time. Is this the right time for me to move to be closer to him and see if we can make something real of this? Is this the right time for me to go to law school? Is it the right time for him to stay behind and work while I go to law school? And is this the right time for me to get married?
It is hard enough to make a decision when you alone are dealing with your feelings, your set of facts, your partner’s feelings and their set of facts. (Yes, there are always two sets of facts in a relationship – tricky, but true). But, that already hard to make a decision can become nearly paralyzing when you let noise from everyone else seep through.
This happened to us about 4 years into our dating relationship. We are both close with our families, and by then we had become close with each other’s families AND the families had become friendly with each other. The same thing happened with our friends… the ones we each brought into the relationship had become friends. In so many ways it was truly wonderful. And we considered ourselves lucky. Until, one day at a family anniversary party my aunt took it upon herself to tell my boyfriend that the family was expecting him to have proposed by now. She made it seem that we had held a summit and agreed that the time was right for him to propose and now any day that passed was a waste. In reality, nothing could have been further from the truth. I was perfectly happy as things stood in my relationship. And when confronted with it, I didn’t even know if marriage was something I wanted or needed. This nearly broke us and our relationship.
We had a trip scheduled to Paris a few months after this blow-up. We cancelled it. We had a trip planned with my family. We cancelled it. We nearly cancelled us. Not only did this have a disastrous effect on the two of us as a couple, but it also took a huge toll on our relationship with my family. And, looking back, in truth, I think it colored a lot of our relationship going forward – both
between us and between our families.
We recovered. We both had to ask ourselves, is this the right time to end this 4 year long relationship, which by now was so entangled with our families. Or is it the right time to push through the hard and see where it take us. A year later, he proposed. I was very surprised. And because I had let the noise of our families color my relationship, somewhere in the back of my head and heart I was left with uncertainties. I wondered if he was proposing because he really believed that this was the right time for us to get married, or because he had let pressure from my family get to him.
I said yes. It felt like the right time. It certainly didn’t feel like a terrible time. But, was mine a yes because I really believed that this was the right time for us to get married. Or, did I said yes because I had let the pressure of my family get to me. 20 years later, and the actual answer matters much less.
But, the golden nugget that I have learned since then is to stop worrying about the perfect time. To stop searching for the magical moment for every single thing to fall into place. Life is messy and windblown. Waiting for the perfect calm is like chasing a mirage. Sometimes you have to pull the trigger even if there are unknowns and loose ends. Who knows sometimes making a decision helps other things fall into place. But, that decision has to come from you. Everyone will have an opinion to share if you let them. Your job is to drown out the noise from others, no matter how well-meaning they may be. Find your heart and listen to it in the quiet moments.
Focus on your own set of facts, on what your truth is. It is not always easy. But, it is always freeing. And I promise you the more you do it, the better you will become and the easier it will be. And one day, maybe 20 years from now you’ll be faced with a decision. You will be wrestling with whether the time is right or not. You’ll be running through what others have said to you. But, before you get too far down those paths, my hope is you’ll surprise yourself when you realize your mind was already made up.