The Appeal of the Fast-Track Relationship
It’s fun to talk about celebrities making shocking decisions, mainly because they’re not us. Take the fascinatingly unrelatable Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson, who’ve kept internet and IRL gossip alive with nonstop Instagram flirting, paparazzi pics, and oh, wait, is that a $90,000 engagement ring she’s wearing after three weeks of dating? There’s plenty to unpack, and it feels like it doesn’t affect us real people immediately—though it can.
But Grandison, as the couple is known, aren’t the only ones choosing to fast-track their relationship in 2018. Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas are reportedly engaged after two months of dating. Emily Ratajkowski married her boyfriend Sebastian Bear-McClard in February after they’d been dating for nine days (at least publicly). And you really need to get out your calendars for Cardi B and Offset: They announced their engagement in October 2017, and their pregnancy in April 2018, but recently revealed that actually, they got married in September 2017 after dating for just a few months. Whew!
Celebrities are known for making what seem like grandiose choices, the likes of which most of us plebes couldn’t possibly imagine imitating. Still, we all know one couple, whether it be a friend’s grandparents or our own aunt and uncle, who got engaged a month after meeting and now they’ve been married 40 years. When you ask these blessed couples, they smile beatifically and say maddeningly, “When you know, you know.”
Is it that simple? “It’s a crapshoot,” says Michelle Afont, author of The Dang Factor and longtime divorce attorney in California, summing up both marriage and life in general. “But there was time recently when everyone was waiting an inordinate amount of time to get married, these 10-year engagements. By the time they get married, the relationship has run its course."
Recently, though, Afont has seen the length of engagements and courtships shrink again, which she believes may actually be a positive change because statistics show that they tend to lead to longer marriages. Exactly how long is the optimal engagement? Marla Mattenson, who co-founded a relationship coaching company, Mattenson Coaching & Consulting, Inc., with her husband, points to research by Ted Huston, who followed a set of couples for over a decade and found that those who had a medium-long courtship—precisely 25 months—went on to have the longest marriages. "The perception of knowing a partner 'very well' at the time of marriage reduced the likelihood of divorce by 50 percent at any given time point as well,” she explains. Of course, “the subjective judgment of knowing someone well, then, needn't correlate with time.”
Maybe you can know someone really, really well after just nine days of dating. Still: why would you rush a legal arrangement?
VIDEO: Pete Davidson Finally Talks About His Engagement to Ariana Grande
“Anybody who’s going to jump in that quickly is what we call a quick start: someone who just wants to start things as soon as they feel the emotion. They can’t see anything negative. They just want to jump in,” Mattenson said. “They have this anxious attention style, which has a codependent kind of flavor to it. It’s a form of addiction, where you’re addicted to the feeling when the brain releases these chemicals and floods the body whenever you think about that person. When that happens, you just want to be with that person all the time. You get this dopamine surge that says, ‘Yes yes yes yes!', whatever this person says, 'yes yes yes!'”
Afont believes that obsession and consequential impulsivity can and do occur at a very specific time, which is when you’re older, often in second marriages. “My own second marriage—I had been married for 25 years, but with my husband now, we met and were married within five months,” she says. “You meet that one person, and I hear a lot of people say, ‘Look, we didn’t want to lose each other.'” She points to George Clooney, the eternal bachelor who, at age 52, proposed to Amal Alamuddin six months after their first date, and married her five months after that.
The difference between that celebrity couple and the three most prominently getting busy in 2018 is not a small one. Grande was 24 when she got engaged, Cardi B was 24 when she got married, and Ratajkowski 26. “Divorce rates increase if you get married under the age of 25,” says Mattenson. “Why is that? When you’re 25 and younger, you don’t really know who you are. So much changes in your twenties about who you are, and what your priorities are, what you care about.”
Still, all of these young celebrities have been working for a long time. Grande and Cardi were on TV as teenagers, and Davidson was one of the youngest Saturday Night Live cast members ever, at 20. They have different careers, better financial situations, and more pressure than most people their age. In that sense, abridged courtships may be particularly alluring to—and more sensible for—people who have been living in the public eye for a long time. “Based on the celebrities I have interviewed, celebrity life can be very challenging. Many don’t know who they can trust, and some are very lonely as a result,” says S. Mark Young, PhD, a professor at USC and co-author of The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America. “Celebrities are also drawn to each other as each understands what the other is going through in terms of work demands, life on the road, dealing with paparazzi, etc. It is comforting to have someone close by to confide in.”
Afont believes that shortened courtships and younger marriages aren’t just a celebrity phenomenon, though, as she’s seen them in her own work over the last few years. And she has a highly specific 2018 theory as to why celebrities and us normal folk would all want to rush into a big, dramatic love affair right about now. “Think of the times we’re living in. I think people are starting to think more with their hearts than with their brains,” she explains. “What’s going to happen next? We’re going to get blown up by nukes? Let’s just get married. I’ve seen a huge swing in people just going for things. There’s no time to be cautious.”
So just go for it, you crazy kids. The world could end tomorrow, and maybe that’s easier to swallow when you have a hot, successful partner by your side.
This article was originally published on June 29, 2018, and has been updated.