Thank you all for indulging my curiosity in my previous poll. As I mentioned, it was purely for curiosity rather than advice, since I had already formed my opinions and then cast the die, as it were, based on those opinions. I am now prepared to disappear back into the mists of time, unless I come up with some survey questions about marriage where I want to disagree with everything everybody says.
Of course, maybe this is all a big mistake. I'm a Kubuntu man, she's an Ubuntu girl.
Anyway: I discussed my particular views in the comment section. To reiterate slightly, I believe there are four stages you have to consciously navigate through:
1. Figuring out whether it's worthwhile to get to know each other better in order to discern whether or not you would be a good match for marriage.
2. Getting to know each other better in order to discern whether or not you would be a good match for marriage.
3. Deciding to get married and then preparing for marriage.
The point is that suitability for marriage is at the forefront of it all. Additionally, one should keep in mind that the level of intimacy must not exceed the commitment. One is not married until one is married. A man should not declare his love for a woman until he is willing to propose marriage (and does propose marriage). Etc etc. So it seems odd to me that it could take much longer than a year to get to stage 3 if one is intentionally discerning whether to marry somebody, especially as one is undoubtedly going to end up entangled emotionally in a way that is inadvisable and improper for the level of commitment implied by the lack of expressed intention to plight one's troth in that time frame. Yes, that includes declarations of love by a man not immediately followed by proposals.
Well, that's my opinion of the matter. You can take it or leave it. Both are probably dangerous in their own way, but if you at least consider what I have said, well, doesn't it look a little bit more sane than what the world is telling you? The problem with dating somebody for an extended period of time before engagement and marriage is that, well, what ARE you for that long time, and what are you when it breaks off? If you know it won't break off, then why are you not yet committed? If you think it may and are working on figuring out whether you should be married, how long will it take to figure out whether you are willing to commit or not? What are you doing with all this time, young man?
But, what do I know? I'm just a young fool with strong opinions. I got engaged in about 2 months and I suppose I'll be married within about 7 of starting to date this girl. One more instance of my life conforming to my opinions - funny how that works. I don't think that particular time scale can be readily transferred to others, but I really do think marriage within a year is quite feasible for many and engagement within a year should be the rule for most. The caveat is that if you don't think your life situation permits you to do this, you should either not date or reassess your life situation.
Good grief, I think I'm beginning to sound like somebody from Focus on the Family. But, for once, they have some decent ideas. That's something you would never think to hear from me, eh?