Recently, after having dinner with a friend, we decided to take a walk around town to catch up, and got into one of those conversations about the deeper issues you don’t tend to verbalise very often. He talked about his decision to drop out of university a couple of years ago and change his studies and I talked about my issues with dating. Because dating’s hard enough as it is.
Enter marriage and kids. Or at least just the pressure of it.
I come from a very small family. My grandmother has 3 daughters, born when she was 18, 26 and 28. Those 3 daughters have her 4 grandchildren. My oldest cousin is 40 and while he’s been a stepfather a couple of times, he’s not currently in a relationship or about to have kids of his own. My sister is 32 and still single. I’m 28 and single. And my younger cousin is 26 and in a long-term relationship, with no immediate plans of extending the family. My grandmother is in her mid-80’s and begging for a great-grandchild. Similarly, my mother wants a grandkid, especially as nearly all of her friends are already grandmothers.
It’s not a deliberate pressure, but rather a throw-away joke, a “aren’t you going to give me a grandkid to dote on, soon?”, spoken between giggles, or a pouty “I want a grandbaby too” when yet another friend eagerly shows thousands of pictures on their iPhones.
It’s a societal pressure more than anything. It’s the constant Facebook updates announcing a new pregnancy through pictures of sonograms, bodystockings and stuffed teddies. It’s the awareness of the fact that your biological clock is ticking, the knowledge that come October, I’ll be the same age as my mother when she stopped having children.
And it’s dating.
Dating’s hard enough as it is. It’s difficult to meet new people once you become an adult. Unless you frequently join new clubs or societies around town, your options are usually limited to people you meet a bars or clubs, meeting someone through your friends or family, or finding your next partner at work. Otherwise, you’ll have to do with dating apps, in which you have to weed through weirdos, sexists and people who are only looking to get laid. It’s tiresome, to say the least. Regardless – once you do find someone and they’re nice and you decide to go out for drinks, there’s a choice to be made.
I’ve never had the ‘kids and marriage’ conversation on the first date. I’m not desperate to kickstart adult life, especially since I, in many ways, still feel like a 23-year-old with a lot left to experience before embarking on that massive next step. Secondly, I’m not insane. I know how freaked out I would get if 30 minutes in, my date began asking me about how many kids I potentially want and if they should attend private school or not. I wouldn’t put someone else into that situation either. But I do feel like it’s a conversation that needs to happen before either of us become too involved. Is that crazy?
I feel that I need to have those conversations, mostly because I think I would feel like I was wasting my time with someone who wouldn’t want the things I would. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting marriage or children, but if we’re not on the same page, would I be wasting time hanging onto a relationship that might go nowhere? I think I would. The TV show Friends initially portrayed Richard Burke as the perfect man and an ideal match for Monica. It might have seemed like a tough decision for her to leave him due to his unwillingness to father any more children, but in hindsight she entered into what became a fan-favourite couple and ended the series as a mother of twins. While it is a TV show, it does give a bit of inspiration to how to – or how not to – live your life, and, like Monica, I wouldn’t spend too much energy on a partner who wouldn’t want the same as me.
To be honest, I’m still not sure what I want. I don’t need to be married for anything other than legal stability if my partner and I ever have a child. I wouldn’t be heartbroken if I had to spend the rest of my life as someone’s girlfriend rather than their wife. But even at the ripe age of 28, I still have yet to discover if I ever want babies. I love and adore them, but bringing a child into this world is a massive responsibility and I’m not sure I could ever live up to that responsibility. And that’s okay.
I’m not sure if my mother or my grandmother would ever quite get over me being childless, but it does seem that even though there is an enormous amount of pressure to get married and have kids before you’re 30, there’s an even bigger pressure on getting children altogether.
Regardless, it’s still a conversation I feel needs to happen and I feel a pressure to have it sooner, rather than later. It’s just figuring out that fine margin of when is too soon and when is it too late? Is the third date too early or is the fifth too late?
When I think back to my family, I’m relieved that my sister is still single and child-free. I’m relieved that none of my close friends have children, are married or have really begun discussing those things. Once they do, don’t get me wrong, I’ll be thrilled and so happy on their behalf. But while they’re not, it gives me more time to not have to worry so openly about it. For now, it’ll just be fleeting thoughts about the uncertainty of how, where, and mostly importantly, when.