Relationships: How long should you wait before having sex, moving in together, and getting engaged

Jamie BallardData Journalist
August 03, 2021, 3:15 PM UTC

Relationships are often marked by milestones: the first time you have sex, the first time you exchange “I love you”s, meeting the parents, all the way up to the major life events of engagement, marriage, and children. But when should you be hitting these milestones? A new YouGov survey asked more than 1,300 Americans about the ideal timeline for taking those important steps, as well as asking those who are coupled how long it took for them to get there. 

How long should you wait before having sex with a new partner? 

One in 10 Americans (10%) think it’s fine for a couple to have sex within a week of starting to date. The most common attitude is that a couple should wait until they’ve been seeing each other for more than a week, but less than a month (19%) or after one to three months of dating (19%). Around one in eight Americans (12%) think couples should wait until marriage to have sex.  

Men and women tend to feel differently about this. Men (38%) are more likely than women (20%) to think it’s acceptable for couples to have sex within the first month of dating, with 13% of men saying it's fine for this to happen in the first week (7% of women agree).  

Among those who are married or in a serious relationship and have had sex, 15% say they had sex within a week of starting the relationship. Another 19% say they had sex after they had been dating their partner for more than a week, but less than a month. A similar percentage (21%) say they waited one to three months. 

How long should you wait before saying “I love you”? 

Those three little words can mean a lot. Americans tend to say the earliest a person should say this to their partner is when they’ve been dating for one to three months (19%), or perhaps even longer, four to six months (18%). Fewer think the earliest appropriate time to say it is seven to nine months in (6%) or 10 to 12 months into the relationship (7%). Relatively few (12%) think anyone should wait more than a year to tell a partner that they love them.  

Men and women also have different timelines for this. While 17% of men think it’s acceptable to say “I love you” within the first month of dating (including 6% who believe it’s fine if this happens within a week of starting the relationship), only 9% of women agree.  

Among those who are married or in a serious relationship and have said “I love you,” 26% say they said those three little words after one to three months of dating. Another 17% waited a little longer (four to six months), while some pulled the trigger sooner – 10% said it after they’d been dating for more than a week but less than a month, and a few (6%) said it to their sweetheart within the first week of the relationship.  

How long should you wait before meeting your partner’s parents? 

Just over one in five (22%) say people should wait one to three months before introducing a significant other to their parents and close family; another 22% think couples should wait a bit longer, until they’ve been dating four to six months. About one in eight (12%) say a person should wait until it’s been at least a year or longer in the relationship.   

One-quarter (25%) of partnered people who have reached this milestone say they introduced their significant other to their family (and/or met their partner’s family) after one to three months of dating. Fewer (18%) say waited until they had been together for four to six months. 

How long should you wait before going on vacation with a partner? 

For some couples, taking a trip together is the ultimate test of compatibility. One in five (21%) Americans thinks a couple should wait at least four to six months before taking the plunge, but 14% think one to three months into dating is an appropriate time to do so. Fewer (9%) say that seven to nine months into the relationship is the earliest reasonable time to go on vacation together, while 8% think couples should wait until they’ve been together for 10 to 12 months. A few (6%) even think that a couple should wait until after marriage to travel together. 

Men (26%) are ten percentage points more likely than women (16%) to say going on a trip together can happen sometime before the four-month mark of the relationship.  

Among partnered Americans who have vacationed together, 17% say they took their first couples' trip after four to six months of dating. About one in eight (12%) did so a little sooner, after one to three months of dating.    

How long should you wait before moving in with a partner? 

About three in 10 Americans (45%) think couples should wait at least a year before shacking up, with 14% of these saying a couple should wait until they’re married before moving in together. For 17%, the earliest acceptable time is after dating for more than one year but less than two years.  

Men (42%) are more likely than women (32%) to say it’s fine for couples to move in together within the first year of dating. One in 10 men (and 5% of women) think the soonest a couple should do so is after dating for four to six months; 12% of men and 13% of women think that a couple ideally should have spent at least 10 to 12 months together.  

Among those who are married or in a serious relationship and living together, 17% say they moved in together after more than one year of dating, but less than two. One in nine (11%) did so a little sooner, after 10 to 12 months of dating, while an equal number did so after dating for more than two years but less than three.   

How long should you wait before buying a house with a partner? 

Buying a home is a significant commitment. About one in five Americans (22%) thinks this should be something a couple only does once they are married. About half as many (12%) say the earliest acceptable time to do so is after one year of dating (12%) and another 12% say the earliest appropriate time to buy a home is after a couple has been together for more than two years but less than three.   

Among those coupled Americans who have bought a home together, 15% say they were together for at least six years before this happened, while another 14% were together for more than two years but less than three when they purchased a home.  

How long should you wait before getting engaged? 

When is the best time to put a ring on it? A quarter (24%) of Americans say the earliest appropriate time for this is after a couple has been together for more than one year but less than two years. But a quarter (25%) are more trigger-happy – they think a couple can get engaged sometime before reaching the one-year milestone of the relationship. Of these, 11% think the ideal time to get engaged is after dating for 10 to 12 months.  

Men (30%) are more likely than women (20%) to say that it’s acceptable for a couple to get engaged before reaching the one-year mark. Another 21% of men and 26% of women think an appropriate time to get engaged is after dating for more than one year but less than two.  

Among coupled Americans who have reached this milestone, 18% say they got engaged between the one and two year mark. Slightly fewer (12%) got engaged after dating for more than two years but less than three.  

How long should you wait before marrying someone? 

One in five (20%) Americans says the soonest a couple should think about tying the knot is after being together for more than one year but less than two. Almost as many (17%) say they shouldn’t consider this before the two-to-three year mark, while 9% think the soonest you should do this is after dating for more than three years but fewer than four.  
 
Not everyone is a fan of the long game though: 16% of Americans think it’s fine to get married sometime before your one-year anniversary of dating. One in five men (20%) and 13% of women feel this way.  

Among those who are married, 18% say they tied the knot after dating for more than one year but less than two; 16% waited until the two-to-three-year milestone in the relationship.  

How long should you wait before having a child with your partner? 

Popular opinion on this tends to be that couples should wait until they’re married to have a baby (20% of Americans think this is the ideal time). About half as many (11%) say a couple should be together for more than one year but less than two before they procreate, while another 11% think people should wait until the two-to-three-year mark before doing this.  

Among partnered Americans who have had children, 12% say they conceived after being together for more than one year but less than two, while similar percentages had babies after they were together more than two years but less than three (11%) or more than three years but less than four (12%).  

See full results here.  

Related: Wedding do's and don'ts, according to Americans   

Methodology: 1,323 US adults were surveyed between July 13 - 14, 2021. The responding sample is weighted to be representative of the US population.     

Image: Gender Spectrum Collection