Amanda Gooley and fiancé Andrew Faison are approaching their fifth anniversary — of being engaged.
They've had plenty of teasing from their friends about waiting so long — especially since they grew up in neighboring small towns in North Carolina and say getting married after high school or during college is "kind of what you do," says Gooley, 24.
But they aren't stalling. Even though they got engaged the summer before her sophomore year of college, Gooley and Faison, 31, both of Zebulon, N.C., aren't marrying until Aug. 4. Gooley's mother wanted her to graduate first and offered to pay for the wedding if they waited.
It was an offer they couldn't refuse. The average wedding cost $26,500 last year, the 2011 American Wedding Study by Brides magazine found. More than half of all couples do pay for their wedding and don't want to go into debt, so it takes longer to save, says Anne Fulenwider, editor in chief of Brides.
The magazine surveyed 2,985 women engaged or married in the past year and found the average engagement in 2011 was 15.4 months; a similar survey of 17,855 brides, released last month by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com, found an average 13.8 months. That survey found 44% of couples engaged for at least a year and 7% more than two years. Both surveys found the longest engagements (Brides 16.3 months, TheKnot.com 14.5) in 2008, when the economy was in free fall.
"The more months you have, the more potential to put away the money for the wedding of your dreams," says Anja Winikka, TheKnot.com editor.
With the average age of first marriage pushing 30, couples are more self-sufficient and willing to wait for a venue, a date or enough money, says William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota.
"Weddings have become an expression of what's unique about the couple. It brands them," he says. "If you have to wait to have your own unique wedding, that's what you do.
"It's all part of this concern to have the perfect wedding. Rather than saying, 'Let's have the wedding we can afford,' it's 'Let's postpone the wedding, so we can afford the one we want.' "
Finances aren't the only reason couples wait. As in the new film The Five-Year Engagement, which tracks the relationship of Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, careers and logistics can and do delay the nuptials.
Jennifer Corvese, 27, and fiancé Tyler Hyde, 24, were engaged on June 5, 2010 and will be married Aug. 25. They met in 2008 in Boston, where he was visiting from Salt Lake City. Their long-distance relationship of six months stretched further when Hyde, in the Navy Reserve, was sent to Afghanistan for nine months. He came back to the USA in June 2009 and by October, they moved in together.
They planned a long engagement for several reasons, including that his family is in Utah and the wedding will be 40 minutes from their home in Cumberland, R.I.
"I told my family they could save up and make a vacation out of it," says Hyde, who works in sales. "My sister was married in Utah last August, and we would have been competing with that as well."
Says Corvese, "Being able to save for two years allows us to spend a little extra money in areas where wouldn't be able to if we had shorter engagement."
The date also was a factor. "We had five weddings (to attend) last year," she says. Now they don't have to squeeze between others' weddings.
Janine Baltar, 27, and Michele Battelli, 33, of Santa Clara, Calif., are planning a destination wedding in Italy, where his family lives. The date isn't set, but they are looking at July 2013. They met in 2009, have lived together since September 2010 and got engaged that December. "We did play with the idea of getting married a year sooner; I talked to wedding coordinators in Italy, but I was too stressed out," Baltar says.
His family is handling contacts now; in July the couple go to Italy to make decisions.
College student Chelsea Ayres, 22, of Statesboro, Ga., and her husband, Cory, 23, were engaged just over two years when they were married last month. She graduates in May: "I didn't want finals, graduation, wedding, honeymoon and moving all at one time, so we split it up and did the wedding on spring break."
Unlike many couples, they didn't live together before marriage — and still don't. He is a grad student at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
"In May I move to Indiana," Chelsea says, "and we're gettting an apartment and finally starting our life together."