Why do you feel the need to rush into marriage when you’re not sure either, wonders Mariella Frostrup
The dilemma I’m 29 years old, child-free, and I’m about to propose to the love
The dilemma I’m 29 years old, child-free, and I’m about to propose to the love of my life. She is 36 and I know without a doubt that she would make a perfect wife. However, there is one thing I have to come to terms with. I grew up in a big family and always thought I would inevitably become a father, but my would-be fiancée decided in her early 20s that she would be perfectly happy not having kids at all. She grew up in a broken home and hasn’t had the best of lives, yet she’s loving, compassionate and sweet. I’m not sure if I really want to have kids myself, but there’s a part of me that wonders if I’d be missing out on something. After all, without children we’d be able to become independently wealthy, retire younger and travel wherever, whenever. I just don’t want to have any regrets a few years down the road. I feel like my family has placed the expectation on me to have a child and carry on the family name, but when I’m around my nieces I’m perfectly happy just being an uncle, being able to interact with them and then passing them back to my sister. I’m just a little lost, so any insight you could give me would be greatly appreciated.
Mariella replies That’s a real conundrum. I’m glad to see you’re giving it a lot of thought, as it’s an area which it is imperative you agree on if you’re committing for the long term. Not that I think you have to get contractual on your future hopes and dreams, but an aspiration to evolve and make choices together has to be part of any enduring relationship. You are definitely right on the many pluses of choosing not to procreate. Along with the financial upside and freedom it allows, there are also negative side effects – contributing to population growth, bringing innocents into an uncertain world, the increasingly unstable future and the decades of responsibility. Truly, when you look forensically at the pros and cons of parenting, there’s little that is tangible to compel any sensible person to go for it. But billions of us do. The desire to have a family tends to creep up on you and it’s almost impossible to predict whether or not it will become a priority later.
Let’s instead look at the nuances of your relationship as you describe them. Your partner has every right to make her own choice about starting a family, but to express it as a legacy of her own childhood is the least credible argument she could present. The past doesn’t have to shape your future unless you allow it to. Suggesting that history will only repeat itself is not conducive to success. We have to believe in a better future in order to forge one at all. So I certainly think it would be worth getting her to think further on her feelings about parenting.
It’s certainly not essential to rear kids in order to be happy together, and there are plentiful examples of the opposite being the case. Yet when it comes to how you approach committing to each other, the fewer absolutes you bring into the equation – aside from your commitment to making it work – the easier things will be in the future. Living together is an evolving experiment and it requires a degree of adaptability and compromise from both parties, the scale of which you are currently blissfully unaware. Your girlfriend has had the luxury of a few more years with which to shape her choices, but at 29 you really are very young to be having to sign up to such a life-defining decision.
There’s also, let’s be frank with each other, another way of negotiating this. If you really love this woman, but you’re not in a hurry to have children, why don’t you just live together for a while and see how things progress? Obviously her choices about being a mother will become increasingly limited in the next few years, while yours continue to remain open. Wouldn’t it be better to slow down on the “till death us do part” path you are currently on and focus on having a good time together for the next few years?
Religion aside, marriage is a good infrastructure when it comes to bringing children into the world or dealing with inheritance after one of you passes away. Neither are priorities for you at the moment, so what’s the hurry in signing up? If, as you currently seem convinced, you and she are meant for each other and the thought of raising a family recedes into the distance as your lives entwine, then you can tie the knot later, secure in the knowledge that, whatever sacrifice you are making, the relationship is worth it.
Ironically, if it were medically impossible for your fiancée to have kids, it would make the whole decision-making process a lot easier, but with choices come complications and an emphatic position on any aspect of your unknown future together raises the stakes so much higher. Time is definitely on your side.