Can this relationship be salvaged?
January 28, 2013 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Not-insignificant age gap [5 years +] in our long-term relationship: she's the older one. Can it be salvaged? I'm 28, SO is 33. We've had a great, loving, 4-year relationship. The past few months have put a heavy strain on us - work, holidays, a death in the family - this spurred her into thinking more about the future.

She wants to get married and have kids before shes too old - I do too, but not until my mid-30s. I don't feel like I'm even at the right place to start planning for it at this point: I've just taken a big plunge and quit my stable job to try and launch my own company. [This is all to say I'm willing to wipe out my savings on this experiment and start over if it fails - while shes trying to avoid risks]

We had a long conversation last night where all this came up. She wants to end things.

I'm paralyzed between chasing after her/fighting to keep her or letting her go. Were we at the same point in our lives I wouldn't hesitate saying I want to spend the rest of my life with her - but being ready for marriage and kids isn't some switch I can just flick on. Thinking about not having her in my life makes me physically sick. The thought of ruining her life for my selfish happiness is the only thing stopping me from doing something about it.

Has anyone successfully navigated a situation like this? Any couples with a similar age gap care to chime in with their experiences? Should I just let it end and hope to one day establish a platonic close-friends-with-ex relationship or are those just figments of sitcom TVs imagination?

Throwaway email:

Sorry if this rambled, I'm having a hard enough time getting my thoughts together, let alone putting together a coherent question.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (63 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry. This sort of thing is heartbreaking. Can you meet in the middle? Kids in 2 years?
posted by semacd at 1:36 PM on January 28, 2013

The issue here is not an age gap per se. 28-33 is really not a significant gap. The issue here is that she wants to have kids, and has a biological imperative to do so pretty soon, and you don't, and don't.

I don't actually have anything really useful to say here about resolving this issue. But I think it's important to recognize what the issue is, and "age gap" it's not.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:36 PM on January 28, 2013 [68 favorites]

The age-gap is negligible and unimportant.

The issue is that you are in two different places in your lives. This has nothing to do with age and I think it's really important that you understand this and try to reframe the concerns that you have.

You aren't going to ruin her life if you break up with her. I understand not being ready to have kids, but waiting until your mid 30's seems like you are putting an arbitrary timeline on a decision that depends on many other, way more important factors. By the time you are mid 30's, it is very likely that she will have trouble getting pregnant, and if she does the risks of birth defects and genetic issues are much higher. It seems like the real issue is that you aren't ready to commit to a future with this person. Leave. End it. It's clearly what you want to do.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 1:37 PM on January 28, 2013 [16 favorites]

Like most age gap issues (I am not an expert, but my partner and I have a 31 year difference), I think this is about where you are in life and not your age. If your SO is 33 and wants to have children, she's got to start soon; there is a marked and real drop in fertility at 35. While it would be possible for her to have children at 40, it's a lot less likely.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, she has probably spent a long time thinking about this and decided that her need/desire to have children comes before your relationship.

If this is really the woman you want to be with for the rest of your life, and you want kids someday anyway, I say fight for it. I faced a similar (but opposite) issue with my partner. I decided that I wanted him more than I wanted kids. But every relationship is so different.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have questions about our situation.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:38 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Five year age difference is a red herring here. She wants kids; you aren't there yet. Even if you were five years older than your partner, you still might not be there. So don't think of this a an age gap thing.

Wanting/not wanting children is a major dealbreaker, and it should be, because it's not something that can be done halfway or that you can call backsies on afterward.
posted by ambrosia at 1:42 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

It seems like the real issue is that you aren't ready to commit to a future with this person.

I think this is a pretty uncharitable interpretation of this question, actually. What the OP is not ready for is to have children. No one should ever feel pressured into having children when they're not ready. It has nothing to do with being committed to someone or loving them enough or wanting a future with them. It has to do with not being ready to be a parent.
posted by elizardbits at 1:44 PM on January 28, 2013 [40 favorites]

I am so sorry for the stress in your relationship. My now husband and I found ourselves in a similar place at one point in our relationship, with me being certain I wanted to get married and have kids, and him believing that he absolutely did not want to. We talked and talked about it and felt similarly stuck yet sick about thinking about not being with one another. What ended up helping was having a firm deadline by which we needed to make a decision. In our case, I was set to move away for further training as part of my degree and said that we'd have to decide one way or another by then. In the mean time we were able to table the conversation for a little while and just enjoy one another's company. In the end it worked out for us; married a little over a decade and one kid so far.

Keep in mind that asking your partner to wait until your mid-thirties puts her at risk for potentially never having children. It sounds like it is very much a priority for her to have her own biological chilhdren and to ask her to risk that is not fair. It would be similarly unfair for her to expect you to give up your dream of starting your own company. I think semacd is on to something, see if there is some way to meet in the middle, with a firm plan of when and how to walk away from one another if that's what is really needed.

I wish you both the absolute best.
posted by goggie at 1:46 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm in a relationship with a similar age gap. It may be unrealistic to expect her to put off having kids.

If having kids now is the deal-breaker for you, best thing to do is to rip the bandaid off and end things quickly so she can get on with her life.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:48 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, the age difference isn't as big a deal as much as the fact that if she wants kids, and she wants them in wedlock, that wheels for that need to go in motion sooner than later. If you neither want to get married nor have kids, nor see it being a thing you want to do within the next year or two (or whatever her timeline on this stuff is) then this is not a sustainable relationship. Not getting married and not agreeing to father a child because you know you you're not capable of doing that in the forseeable future is the right thing to do. Sometimes a relationship has to end even without someone having done something wrong. Sometimes it ends because everyone does the right thing.
posted by griphus at 1:50 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Should I just let it end and hope to one day establish a platonic close-friends-with-ex relationship or are those just figments of sitcom TVs imagination?

You should just let it end. You're really at an impasse here: she wants kids soon, you want kids much later. There is no way to stay together without one of you having to do something that you do not want to do.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:51 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Meet in the middle. Seriously you don't find what you have everyday. And while you might find the perfect person at the exact. right. time. There are really no guarantees. You sound overwhelmed. I don't blame you, but I would really examine what "being ready for a wife and kids" actually means. Because I think at some point there is always a leap. There is always uncertainty and a big learning curve. I would sit down and actually think about the logistics. What would you need to do in order to have a baby 2 years ago. Pretend like you have no choice, you're getting one in 2 years. Could you do it? I bet you could find a way.

But at the same time your girlfriend will also probably need to take on some more burdens here. She is the one pushing the deadline. You're starting a new business. This is not optimal. How does she propose to arrange for childcare and the added expenses if your business is not immediately profitable? How will she feel if you have to work late while she's alone taking care of the baby after she has also worked a long day?

How is she going to feel if your business fails and you have to start over from scratch? Is she going to be ok being the primary breadwinner for a while? Plenty of people, if not the majority, in our parents' generation had kids before they were launched in their careers or anywhere near financially stable. You find a way, but it means sacrifices.

Talk to her. You might start feeling a lot different if you actually had an idea of what being married with kids would look like. I don't actually think the two of you are as far apart as it seems, but you both seem to be panicking. Her about having children before it's too late and you about having children before you are ready, but the big stuff, as in you want to be together and you both want to have kids, you seem to be on the same page. That's pretty big.

Also, weddings and babies don't happen overnight. You will have some time to prepare and plan.
posted by whoaali at 1:52 PM on January 28, 2013 [23 favorites]

If your partner walks out today and meets her future husband tomorrow, will that help? From the story you tell, I get the impression she wants to have kids within a stable relationship, otherwise she'd have already said what the hell and tossed the BC out the window.

Stable relationships take time to form - I wouldn't have kids with anyone I wouldn't marry, and I wouldn't marry anyone I hadn't been with for at least two years. Even if your partner doesn't subscribe to such long timeframes, there's no guarantee that she'll meet another suitable partner right away or that whoever she meets will want children sooner than that.

So assuming she's lucky enough to form a new stable relationship within two years, and I wouldn't even count on that, she'd still be at least 35 before she could get pregnant.

Meanwhile, you've reached this point of confrontation immediately after taking a big risk whereby you may not be able to provide a stream of income into the future, and you may also not have sufficient time to spend with your family.

If you decided to get pregnant right now, who would provide the stream of income? Could your partner keep her job while you stay home? That would probably mean shelving your new business, but it would be a way of doing it. Or, if you would have to give up your business anyway, you might as well find a day job.

I don't really see a way for everyone to get what they want here, even if you split up. Because you also don't want to be without her.
posted by tel3path at 1:54 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

For people who say age is not an issue, I think it is. (Note: I'm not in a relationship with an atypical age gap, though.)

It's "normal" for a man to want to establish his career and have some savings before he has kids. The OP wants to wait until mid-30s, so that's like 34 for something.

It's "normal" for a woman who wants to have kids to have a biological clock. That used to be 30. Now it's more like 35 for the first child. Having the first child after age 35 is significantly more risky/complicated. Having a second child after 40 is significantly more risky/complicated (than having the second child before 40).

However, by the time OP is 34, the woman will be 39, well past the "safe and easy" to have a child age into the "risky/complicated, might not even happen" zone. If they have a child in the next year or two, he would not be able to spend enough time on a new business, and they would have no financial security.

I would say just let her go, unless you're willing to give up your business. If she truly wants marriage and kids now, and she's a wonderful person (which I'm assuming she is because OP loves her), she will find somebody compatible quickly enough.
posted by ethidda at 1:58 PM on January 28, 2013

I think the OP's partner here can make her own calculations on how long it takes to form a stable relationship.

However, staying in the relationship with the promise of getting married and having kids a couple of years down the road seems like a strategy that is very, very risky for the OP's partner.

I can't see how the previous magical dynamic would be reinstated, either. The genie is out of the bottle, and believe me, you don't want to resist the biologic imperative.

Sometimes it is not a rational or logical process (and that's okay). It is a freight-train of urgency, and if you two are not on the same wavelength, at least one of you will be very very anxious or even unhappy until a child is conceived.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am in a relationship with a similar age difference, and we talked about having kids right away because I was worried this might come up. His answer, however, was so loving and wonderful, it moved me to tears.

"I want everything with you," he said, "including kids. We'll have to have lots of conversations about it, but we can start moving in that direction right now, if you need to." (I am so in love with this man.)

That's the right answer. If you can't say something like that to her, you should break up. Partnership isn't about finding someone whose needs and timing aligns 100% with yours (that's mutual self-interestedness, and just leads to a lifetime of "trading up" or getting the best possible deal out of a partner at any given moment). Partnership is about being willing to take risks, compromise, and meet the other person's needs even when it's not exactly what you might do by yourself. Why do that? Because wanting to be with them, for better or for worse, is more important than any individual thing you might want alone.
posted by amoeba at 2:02 PM on January 28, 2013 [108 favorites]

I do too, but not until my mid-30s

I just want to say to you, from my mid-30s, there's no huge increase in maturity or capability or general adult-ness that you will get in the next 5 years. That stuff might come with life experience (who the hell knows what's going to happen to anyone next year or the year after or tomorrow, right?) but it will not suddenly - or gradually - appear with age. I do not advocate getting married or having kids if you don't want to. That's a recipe for disaster. I just think if you've found someone you really love and the only thing that separates your goals are a few years and if you're thinking those few years will somehow make you totally feel ready to take on more "grown-up" things...I just think you should consider that there might be something between "break up" and "jump into marriage/family instantly." Or, what whooali said.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:07 PM on January 28, 2013 [20 favorites]

You may have all the time in the world to start a family, she doesn't. If she wants the best chance of conceiving a healthy baby, she needs to start trying soon. If you don't want to get married and have kids for another 4-6 years then she has no choice but to move on.
Your choices are pretty simple, propose and agree to start trying for a baby when it fits into her timeline or let her go. Realistically, you should let her go. You've already quit your job, out of interest, how much did you discuss that decision with her? You're no longer able to provide a steady income to support your family and expect to significantly diminish your savings too, I think that told her all she needed to know about your priorities. She wants a stable relationship and a stable home to raise her child in, you aren't willing or able to provide that and she doesn't have time to waste. Even if she meets someone tomorrow it could still be 2-4 years until they're stable enough to think about marriage and kids, and could be up to 2 years to conceive (or more), she's likely going to in the region of 36-40 by the time she has her first child.

Compromise is very risky for her, she could wait another 1-2 years and you might still say you're not ready. You could get to 35 and still not be ready (seriously, you'll be 7 years older but probably much the same person you are now). If you want to save the relationship then you should get into a position to propose in the next few months and agree that if the business isn't successful in the next 12 months then you'll get a real job and succeed or fail you will start trying for a baby after the 12 months. And remind yourself that if you go back on your word you'll be killing the dreams of the woman you love.
posted by missmagenta at 2:16 PM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

Were we at the same point in our lives I wouldn't hesitate saying I want to spend the rest of my life with her

I think that wanting to spend the rest of your life with someone is a desire that's independent of being at the "same point in you lives". When I felt this for my partner, that was that. We were doing different things, but the desire to be together in a committed and permanent way was there. If you don't feel that way deep in your bones, or if it's dependent on a lot of external stuff, let her go. If you do know that she's the one that you want to spend your life with, examine why making that commitment is something you want to push off to some future date.
posted by quince at 2:22 PM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

The age gap is only an issue because of the biological factors coming into play and because she's had 5 more years to work on her career. It's not the issue per se, but it's the reason why the issue is coming up.

OP, before this kids thing came up, what did you see as happening in your future? Did you think this was the woman you wanted to be with forever? Did you think you'd be marrying her and having kids in 5 years?

Think long and hard on that. If the answer is no, let her move on and give her a shot to find someone who will have kids with her before she's too old.

And if the answer is yes, you have one more thing to consider. Is your career more important to you than life with this woman, or is this woman more important than your career? If your career is more important, let her move on.

If she's more important, then ask yourself if marrying her soon and having kids in the next year or two is something you can and want to do or not. Be honest with yourself. Keep in mind that planning a wedding can take a year, and so you'd have another year about until you'd start trying to conceive, and then another year to prepare for a baby. Sometimes it can take a while to conceive, especially as the women gets into her mid to late 30s. Can you see yourself having a baby with her in 2 years? If you can see it, is that what you want too? Only if the answer to all this is yes, only then, fight for her.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:25 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

This isn't just about whether you are ready for kids. You also said that you are not ready for marriage. I have to say, if you've been with her for four years and think you might not be ready to consider marrying her for several more...I don't think the issue of "business start-up vs. the demands of having children" is really the pertinent question here. She is ready to settle down with you, you are not ready to settle down with her. Let her go, and please give her space to move on. If you can't give her what she needs, the loving thing to do is exit her life so she has room to find it elsewhere. Your desire to be friends someday comes in second here.
posted by anonnymoose at 2:25 PM on January 28, 2013 [16 favorites]

I don't think you are having an age-gap issue, you are having a gender-difference issue. (The age gap itself is very small).

Your partner is female. Even if she were exactly your age, having children at 35 or later is a problem for women - she may not be able to conceive, and both she and the child are at a greater risk if she does. But given that she is a little older, you are asking her to wait until she is almost 40 to start trying to have kids.

There is no good time for children. If you want them, you shouldn't put off having kids or you might miss out.
posted by jb at 2:27 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

That's a really tough problem with no easy solution. I feel for you.

...being ready for marriage and kids isn't some switch I can just flick on.

That's true, but neither should you expect that it's a switch that will be "just flicked" at some indeterminate point over the next several years of your life. I understand the financial concerns relating to your new business; that's valid, it's concrete, and in some ways that is something you can count on changing (maybe for the better, maybe for the worse) in a couple of years. But the more general issue that you refer to, about being "ready" for kids, is often not nearly so linear as many people believe or as you seem to be describing.

My advice would be to consider that in your soul searching. Specifically, I would give some real thought to the possibilities that (1) you will find yourself not any more "ready" for marriage or kids when you're thirty-five, potentially meaning that your partner waited around for naught; or, alternatively, (2) you will find yourself discovering at thirty-five that you were read at twenty-eight, and regretting that you didn't take that journey.

That's my only advice for you as an Internet stranger. There obviously isn't a right or wrong answer, only a path of least regret. Your question indicates that maybe you view these things in a linear fashion, and I think that's common but not always helpful or realistic. Good luck with your decision.
posted by cribcage at 2:36 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

The thing is, she's right to worry about waiting. It's easy to feel like when you are young and healthy that, oh I'll be fine if I wait. But as you start to creep into your late thirties, you start to see that waiting is maybe not such a hot idea. Because it can be really hard to conceive after 35 and the treatments are expensive (almost prohibitively so) and painful and time-consuming. And if she waits, she could be putting her chance of ever having children in jeopardy. And you don't want the guilt of having put her in that situation.

There's never a "good" time to get married and have kids. If you really love her, I'd say it's worth at least thinking about whether you can push your timeline up for her. Maybe go to counseling by yourself or with her and at least talk it through.

My husband was kind of terrified of getting married, and he went to see a counselor about it, and I think it really helped him work through it. In the end, it was a positive experience.

If you truly, absolutely cannot push your timeline up and you're not willing to even consider it, then yeah, she's right it is time to end things. And it's unlikely you'll stay friends. That's why breakups are so incredibly painful.

Good luck to you.
posted by bananafish at 2:42 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

To my mind, the four years you've been together is more important than the five year age gap. You're at different points in your lives, and it sounds like your goals are no longer compatible. Part of that is the biological aspect for her, which is tied to her age.

Talk of marriage and children seems reasonable from the length of your relationship alone. If you were both the same age-- 28 or 33 or anything at all-- there would be the same considerations.

I think you should let it end.
posted by RainyJay at 2:44 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just seconding quince's comment.

If 4 years of a "great, loving" relationship is not enough for you to want to think about your combined future with this woman in a committed way then I think it's best you let her go.
posted by like_neon at 2:58 PM on January 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

I also want to clarify what I mean by combined future:

You talk about being in different points in your lives and the thing about how I knew that my husband and I were for real was that we stopped thinking in terms of our individual timelines. The point where I was in my life was inextricably tied with where he was in his, and vice versa. It was no longer "I am at this point in my life and he is here". It switched to, "This is where we are now and this is where we want to be".

I think your girlfriend is being very fair to you. Just as you should not try and prevent her from living her life the way she wishes if you can't be on board 100%, by being completely honest with you she is relieving you of being forced to go along for a ride you are not up for.
posted by like_neon at 3:06 PM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

My ex and I had the opposite age-gap. He was 7 years older than me. But he still didn't feel ready for children. And I've always wanted 4 of them. We married, then I moved out, then we had our baby as the consequence of an unexpected sentimental evening. In real life, he still didn't want children or a family life, so it ended in divorce. I was the one who left, but only because he wasn't there.
He loves, loves, loves our daughter. And I believe he loved me. But it is only now, when she is 20 and he is 56 that he has found a life-partner.
You might be 56 before you are ready, and you can't keep her hanging on that long. Give her a chance to get on with life.
posted by mumimor at 3:08 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having a baby and running a company are not mutually exclusive endeavors. I know, because my husband and I are doing it. We got married during the first year of business and had the baby during the second year. It's difficult, but it's also easy because this is what we want. We did discuss some parameters -- for example, even though I want to work again, I am not sticking her in daycare so I can get a job to subsidize the business -- but it didn't take much heavy-duty negotiation.

It's not fair to her (or her intellect, frankly) to assume that it would take her just as long a time to get settled into a new, stable, baby-oriented relationship as it would for you to get on board with the marriage and baby-making. Believe me, she knows that it's not like sticking change in a vending machine: you don't get to do the risk-analysis for her. Also, now that I am in my thirties, I notice that other people who couple up in their thirties and want a family figure it out pretty quickly and get on with it. So don't keep the relationship going because you hold the thought that she's not going to get what she wants anyway.
posted by stowaway at 3:16 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you've been together for four years, and you wouldn't move heaven and earth to make your girlfriend happy, if marrying her and having babies with her doesn't light you up from within, if the thought of losing her doesn't leave you devestated and bereft, then you need to break up.

Husbunny and I were married 12 months from our first date. You have had a pleasant, easy relationship with someone, with very little committment. It was fine for a while, and you'd keep on in that exact vein if she'd let you. She wants more. You don't. Not now, probably not in the future.

Break up, let her find the man that will cherish her and who wants what she wants.

Keeping her hanging around at your convenience is selfish.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:17 PM on January 28, 2013 [17 favorites]

I just remembered something - we're not even the only people I know who started a business and family at the same time. Really not that strange of a thing. But it's not like you can force your wife and a baby to share a room with 5 coders or something. It just takes more capital.
posted by stowaway at 3:18 PM on January 28, 2013

She wants to get married and have kids before shes too old - I do too, but not until my mid-30s

There is a big difference between wanting to be married/parents (in the abstract) and wanting to be married to/co-parent with someone specific. It sounds like you have no objection to the institution of marriage or children; after four years together you should be able to either make (or already feel) that commitment or let go of the person who wants commitment. For me, I felt we were already married (in terms of the level of commitment to each other) long before the engagement or wedding. That stuff was just the public part of our love.
posted by saucysault at 3:20 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, as some perspective - and maybe if your friendship circle is your age and younger you haven't seen a lot of it yet, but there's something else here, too.

I have some years on you and over the last few years we have seen several long term relationships in our group break up as we moved into our thirties and got into "shit or get off the pot" territory with relationships.

Some of these relationships were very loving, I-thought-were stable relationships, but the men seemed to have an almost-genetic fear of marrying, settling down, having kids etc. The women maybe didn't want all of those things, but they didn't want a repeat of the last 7 years or whatever, and were looking seriously at what they needed for a life partner, and that was more than just someone to have a good time with.

The guys didn't seem to be thinking about this, and the breakups forced them to, in half the cases. Those guys are now super-settled down with new partners. They got it: a long term relationship is about more than having fun together (though that's important). The other half continued not thinking about it; they are on the road to gross, fratty, middle-aged bachelorhood; hitting on lots of randoms, drinking tonnnes, living by themselves or with other arrested-development boys.

I'm not saying that's gonna be you. But I what's missing in this question is why you don't want this. I think the new business is a smokescreen; your feelings seem much more emotional and pronounced than if the business was the reason (because that is not really insurmountable, unless you both want a certain style/standard of living).

I dunno man, you will probably find yourself facing this dilemma again in the future - with this relationship, or with another. There's never, exactly, a right time. For me, relationships are more important than any job or career - that's not right or best for everyone, but I think you need to make sure you do an accurate account of what's at stake here, and at base that includes an actual relationship with years of investment, vs an at-the-moment non-existent business with no-years of investment. Which do you think has produced and will produce better returns?
posted by smoke at 3:21 PM on January 28, 2013 [33 favorites]

I haven't read all the answers, but here is my read on the situation:

Let her go find someone to have children with. She can't wait for you, and it's selfish to keep her hanging on while her fertility has a time limit. Moreover, it's not outlandish for you to consider becoming a dad right now. Twenty-eight is not that young. It's not an age thing, it's a life stages thing, and that is a good reason to break up.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:47 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

i don't think it is so much about being at the same point in life as it is thinking about your lives as a couple and being willing to make sacrifices for one another. that is what you do when you really love someone. at this time you seem to be more focused on your individual goals than thinking like a couple. you've already been together 4 years and you say you would want to wait until mid-30s to get married & have kids. so, that would mean you'd expect her to wait ~10 years for those things if she hadn't brought this up? despite the biological clock issue a lot of women would not be willing to wait that long if they wanted only to get married.

i don't mean this to be harsh so please don't take it that way, but to me it sounds like you are just not mature enough right now to make the sacrifices that are necessary for a successful marriage. when you are thinking more in terms of "we" than "me" then you will be in a better place to plan for marriage and kids. of course you may or may not find ms. right at that time. maybe the thought of never being with her again will prompt you to start looking at things as a couple, but if not, then do let her go and don't insist on a close friendship.
posted by wildflower at 3:57 PM on January 28, 2013

If you wanted to, you would find a way. It is quite simple. Jump into it or jump ship.
posted by i_wear_boots at 4:05 PM on January 28, 2013

Another vote for seeing if you can find a way to stay together.

How much money do you have? How open is she to IVF with donor eggs, or adoption, in the worst case scenario of infertility? What are both of your general feelings on this? Can you get engaged and married immediately, even if you wait 2-3 years to have kids? Waiting until 34 is n.b.d. for fertility, especially if you get married sooner. She might be worried about the scenario where you stay together for 2-3 more years, then break up, and she has to date for 2-3 more years before marriage which is sort of cutting it close. These are all details to work out.

I'd suggest you see if there is a meet in the middle compromise. If you love her, she loves you, and you have a good relationship, then it's worth it to try to stay together.
posted by kellybird at 4:12 PM on January 28, 2013

I don't think it's fair to her to suggest that she wait and take a chance with IVF. That's not really a compromise. IVF doesn't always work, it can be extremely expensive, and it's hard on a woman's body. She wants to get pregnant, she probably still can get pregnant, and that's the sensible way to do things.

Seriously, fertility treatment is the fix-it that some people think it is.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 4:22 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

Please don't let any kind of pressure (to be "mature" rather than a frat boy, to keep your partner, whatever) push you into becoming a parent before you're ready. You may change your mind in short order, perhaps, but if you do it mustn't be because Her Way Or The Highway or, worse, It's What You Do.

I mean, a kid is another person. You gotta do right by this putative person. And by you.
posted by tel3path at 4:29 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

I agree with other posters suggesting that there's no "right time". It's a matter of deciding whether this is the person for you and putting both feet in or getting out.

For various reasons (one of which is that I'm 38) I had to initiate a conversation setting a timetable for my partner (of just over a year) and I. His response was "well we've both left things late and so we might as well do it". I don't know that either of us could say 100% that we're ready, but we both know we want it to happen and we're in it together, acknowledging the timetable we're up against.

Talking to my friends who have children, it seems quite a few of them didn't 100% know they were ready either. I honestly believe that having children is a decision you don't make from a fully informed, knowing 100% point of view.
posted by prettypretty at 4:39 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think if you can't see yourself being willing to compromise and envision having kids in your early 30's rather than mid-30's, you need to break up for both your sakes.

If it were me, I would say being 30 rather than 35 when you marry and have kids is not going to matter much over your whole life course. If you really think she's the one, I would try my damnedest to make 5-years-earlier than you planned work out.
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:58 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is not an age issue. I'd listen hard to what amoeba said. A lot of wisdom in those words...

Should I just let it end and hope to one day establish a platonic close-friends-with-ex relationship or are those just figments of sitcom TVs imagination?

What's with breaking up with potentially great partners and using them as collectibles for the ex-turned-friend box? Personally, I would find it a bit insulting. You want her to hang around so you can feel better and not lose all the good stuff that you get from this relationship? Grow up and just breakup, if you choose to do that.

Oh, and stop taking cues from TV programs for real-life relationships!
posted by xm at 5:14 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

elizardbits: It has to do with not being ready to be a parent.

With this woman. If she waits until he's ready, which he says is mid-30s, she'll be 40. Many women don't want to wait until they're 40 to have children. OP needs to decide if he loves this woman and wants to parent, together, in a relationship, with her. If not, he needs to leave so she can find someone else who fits with her life goals within her timeframe. He can be a first-time parent when he's 70, should he not be ready until then - she, barring major technological breakthroughs, cannot.

For me, having children was something for which I was never going to be ready, even though I'd always wanted it. I just had to do it, and make it work. And it has.
posted by goo at 5:29 PM on January 28, 2013

Your girlfriend doesn't have a ton of time to wait for you to make up her mind. Especially if she wants to have time to plan a nice wedding, and when you factor in the time it takes to get pregnant and the 9 months of pregnancy, she's looking at becoming a first-time mother at 35, 36. If she wants to have more than one, well... there's even less time. There's no way you can expect her to do this on your timeline. You guys have officially entered the shit-or-get-off-the-pot-NOW phase of the relationship.

I don't feel like I'm even at the right place to start planning for it at this point: I've just taken a big plunge and quit my stable job to try and launch my own company. [This is all to say I'm willing to wipe out my savings on this experiment and start over if it fails - while shes trying to avoid risks]

I don't fault you for wanting to be financially stable before starting a family. This is not a bad or unreasonable thing to want. But the kicker is, you chose to disrupt your financial stability while knowing that your girlfriend wants to settle down and start a family as soon as possible. This to me says that your career is a bigger priority in your life than your girlfriend. It's not a judgment against you, you're perfectly entitled to pursue your dreams. It's just how things seem to stand between you and your girlfriend. So, will your new company succeed? Will that success make you happier than she does? Only you can weigh that risk.

If you choose your career, the kindest possible thing to do is to let her go now. I mean, REALLY let her go, no hanging around trying to be friends when she needs the time and space to forget you, and REALLY now. Every day is an opportunity for her to find someone else who will be a true partner to her. She seems to be well aware of this, so don't make it more painful for her than it already is.
posted by keep it under cover at 5:47 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

If it's truly a matter of timing, you should suck it up. It's been four years, and you're 28. That's enough time to know if she's the one you want to have kids with. That feeling that you're not quite an adult isn't going to go away. You are an adult. And your life is happening right now, without waiting for you to be ready for it.

Of course, if after four years, you can't imagine yourself ready to marry someone, that's a voice you should listen to. Is this a relationship that felt like it only worked as indepent folks dating, and never getting to that next level? At four years, I would expect that a wedding would only be rubber-stamping a relationship already in place, not taking a dramatic jump into the unknown.

For example: I find it weird that you act as though she's not part of this decision to quit your job and start a new company. In fact, she seems rather opposed to it, but you don't seem to think that you wiping out your savings and starting over affects her enough to consider it a joint decision. No matter how financially independent you two are, that risk is something that she would be experiencing with you.

If you are genuinely conflicted, I might suggest some couples counseling with the express intention to figure out why you two are on such different sides of this issue, and if you can make it work. Your reaction to moving forward might be rooted in fear or panic, which can change. Or it might be rooted in a desire for a significantly different life than one with her would offer. Likewise, she might freaking out about her biological clock, and genuinely needs to move on. Or she's comfortable with the risk, but interpreting your blase attitude about spending your nest egg on a quarter-life crisis run at entrepreneurship as you saying you're never going to prioritize her needs.

One or two sessions with a neutral third party might help you two get clarity on where it is.
posted by politikitty at 6:00 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

You love her and you both want kids. If that's really the case, I don't think you're as far apart as you seem to think and there may be hope for you two.

For lots of people, there's no time that you feel ready to jump off the high dive and have kids, but if you know you want them you just have to go for it. It sounds to me as if you are just having the conversation now for the first time, and maybe you are just confronting this issue now for the first time. (She has almost certainly been thinking about this the whole time you've been dating and has been holding it back so as not to scare you off.) If that's the case, I think you should give this a long hard think before you ditch the relationship. If you've been grappling with this issue for a long time and still really don't feel ready for kids in the next couple of years, then I do think the kindest thing you can do is break up with her right away because it will take her years to get over you, find someone special and new, marry them, get pregnant, and have a kid.

Also one last thought - we're learning more and more about men's biological clocks. Your clock is ticking too. As you age, you are more and more likely to have a child with serious health problems as well. Women have had the shit scared out of them about their biological clocks for years but I think a lot of men feel like they can wait to have kids until they're mentally ready.

So. I'm sorry this is so tough. I think if you really love her, and you really do want kids, you should probably meet in the middle. If you don't really love her or really don't want kids, then let her go asap.
posted by semacd at 6:07 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

If she waits until he's ready, which he says is mid-30s, she'll be 40.

Sorry, where in my comment did I say that she should wait until he's ready? I said that no one should have kids that they feel they're not ready for. End of story. Telling someone "oh, if you want kids someday anyway just have them now even if you're not ready!" is like, the shittiest advice ever.
posted by elizardbits at 6:29 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've recently been through this exact scenario except I am the older (by three years) one in the relationship.

There is obviously a complex back-story here that may be hard to convey, so I can only speak from my experience and how it may relate to what you've been able to share with us.

In my situation I knew for a long time that having children, for me, was a very iffy probability, something I left to chance. I naively thought if I was meant to have kids, it would happen with the person I truly loved and fell for. I would later meet and marry someone I truly loved but it didn't change my mind about having children. You see, the person I married was everything I wanted in a woman: intelligent, insanely witty and gorgeous. My mistake was not being completely honest with her or myself when we discussed early on the possibility of having children when our relationship got more serious. I was afraid to lose her, simple as that.

So we get married and by luck, we both settled into and focused on our careers. I thought I was off the hook but one day out of the blue we had the discussion I had been dreading since we had gotten married. I told her, out of fear of losing her, that I am open to the idea of having children just give me a little more time. I would talk to friends about this and every single one of them said "no matter how prepared or ready you think are to have children, you're not. It just happens." So I thought okay, let's give this a go but deep inside I knew it wasn't authentic. I wasn't being authentic, I was being a fraud to keep someone very dear to me for me and only me. In the end, I had to fess up and tell her I madly love her, but I cannot have children with her. The relationship ended but at least I freed her and myself from committing to what I would feel as a mistake in an otherwise perfect relationship.

So be honest with yourself, be honest with her. Let her know this is where things are and give her a chance to live a life that may not include you, as scary and heartbreaking a thought it may be. You'll hurt for awhile, you might even stay friends if you can handle the thought of her achieving a happiness you could never give her. But at least you were honest.
posted by nataaniinez at 6:42 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Telling someone "oh, if you want kids someday anyway just have them now even if you're not ready!" is like, the shittiest advice ever

No, it's not. It's very easy to never be ready, particularly if you're a man. Sometimes it's just something you have to do, regardless if you're ready or not, particularly if you're part of a couple (and who the fuck is ever ready to have children? I certainly wasn't, but it was the best decision I ever made).
posted by goo at 6:46 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

It really sounds like you love her in your post. I think you guys should try to work it out.

I mean, you have some idea of a vague mid-30s age. If your mid-30s is really 31 or so, then you guys are fine and you can stay together. And sometimes just thinking through these issues is enough to get you "ready". Over the next few months you might feel a real shift in your thinking.

Having come to this crisis, you might find a way that you can make this work. For example, she could continue working and pay for most of the baby expenses. You could give your company 2 - 3 years and if it doesn't work out, then get a job and have a baby then. Or a million other combinations.

If you love her, talk about ways to negotiate this. This is like buying a car when the asking price is $35,000 and you only have $31,000. You're not that far apart.
posted by 3491again at 6:46 PM on January 28, 2013

I guess what it all really boils down to is: are you willing to lose her over "not being ready yet." I totally agree with the "35k vs 31k" thing, actually. If you do want kids at some point, within the next ten years, it seems a shame to me to lose a good relationship over a few years worth of time. Especially since who knows if she'll find a babydaddy in time or not if you two break up. It sounds like a hell of a gamble for both of you to end it rather than suck it up and go into marriage and parenthood within a year or two.

I mean, if you'd rather lose her than have kids in 2 years rather than 8, then I guess you have your answer. And you've been together for 4 years--you know enough about her to know whether or not you'd want to marry her. If both of those things are big factors for you, then let her go. But otherwise... you may just need to suck it up if you want to keep her. You won't be making as huge of sacrifices as she will have to anyway, so it might not be so bad for you as you think.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:58 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thinking about not having her in my life makes me physically sick. The thought of ruining her life for my selfish happiness is the only thing stopping me from doing something about it.

You need to make a decision - she is feeling the ticking of the biological clock, and you want to be her partner but you want children at some undetermined time in the future, when you feel ready. Perhaps, you both need to seek the advice of a fertility specialist if children mean that much to both of you - is she so fertile that having children at 40 is no big deal? Can you wait; can she?

You say you love her, you feel physically sick about not having her in your life, and she wants children. You need to make a decision - can you have children, despite being not quite ready? Or are you willing to let her go, if that's where she is.
posted by goo at 7:22 PM on January 28, 2013

I do too, but not until my mid-30s

You never, in your four years together, thought your girlfriend might want babies before she was 41 or older? That seems a bit obtuse.

Anyway, my husband and I have the same age gap, though I'm younger. I decided this year I want babies--he suddenly seems to want them even more than I do! So we're trying. That being said, it's still terrifying. I mean, really scary! A big risk! We're way more poor than I'd like to be and don't even own a house!

All my friends with kids laugh at me. They tell me that part of having children is learning to be flexible about your life and your expectations of control over your life. I'm still scared shitless, but I think it will be good for me. I think I'll grow through the experience.

I think if you love her and you want kids and you're not totally impoverished you should go for it. It's a big scary risk, but it always is. Much better to have children with someone you love and cherish than with just some schlub who happens to be around when it's time to get on the baby train.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:28 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

You say in your question that she wants to end the relationship.

Please respect her wishes.

Please don't make this any harder on her than it has to be. She has made her choice about what she wants and if you cling and make this difficult she'll quite possibly take longer to actually end the relationship and miss her chance. "Biological clock" doesn't even remotely explain what this is like.

Don't make her miss her chance when there's already no guarantee that this will happen for her. If you love her, help her to have the best possible chance to have what will make her happy. Let her go.
posted by windykites at 7:38 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Or have kids and don't resent them.
posted by windykites at 7:41 PM on January 28, 2013

The quality of sperm declines after 36, according to some studies. So you'd also be cutting it a little fine in your mid-thirties if we're talking the 'optimal' time to have a baby.

I like the suggestion above about having a deadline for the decision. Maybe you need that space to get comfortable with the massive life change that has just been suggested to you.

Don't make any rash decisions while you're tired and emotional and upset.
posted by pink_gorilla at 10:52 PM on January 28, 2013

You sound like you are pretty set on her. I would throw away this totally arbitrary "right time for kids" that you have in your head. I suggest you tell her that you love her, that you want to have kids, and that you want to have kids with her, but that your financial situation needs to be clarified first as you're starting this business.

Think about this way - the time it would take her to break up with you, get over the relationship enough to find a new man, and then get to the point of having a child with this new man, will take about as long as it will take you to get the business going (or fail and find a new job) and will be long enough for you to adjust to the idea of having kids several years earlier than planned (i.e. 30, 31).
posted by molecicco at 4:20 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also - I don't mean that as an excuse or diversion. I suggest you repeat that secon-part rationalization even. That you are willing to throw this arbitrary date away, but can't have kids immediately, and that the stress of starting your own company makes it even more impossible for you *right now*, but not impossible in the nearer future.
posted by molecicco at 4:26 AM on January 29, 2013

You are 28, and have been with her for 4 years... And this stuff never came up before?

Weddings Take time to plan and babies Take time to conceive and be born- if you do want children and marraige in your "mid-thirties" (assuming you mean between 33 and 37) sweetheart, now IS the time to get on that road.

If you know you cant get started that way pretty quick, you really do need to let her go completely. Its ok to break up because of that, but it isnt ok to drag your feet and let her linger with some hope.

If you cant be her partner, at least learn from this and learn hard. Talk about desires and goals and life plans very early on in relationships so you dont end up breaking your own heart and a slew of others while you figure yourself out.
posted by Blisterlips at 6:59 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

[Seriously, don't even joke about suicide here. Please just answer the question.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:53 AM on January 29, 2013

Getting married and having kids are both big, big decisions, and I feel for you being in this situation.

Together, you've been through enormous stressors (a death in the family) recently, and your relationship survived them. Think of yourselves as lucky: you got to road-test your relationship, hard.

For a lot of people, that's what being married is about. Having each others' backs. And, even while you're asking us whether you should try to "salvage" this, look at your own words:
We've had a great, loving, 4-year relationship
Thinking about not having her in my life makes me physically sick
Marriage and kids, I think, are just proxies for a conversation you need to have about risk tolerance. Because you are more alike than you are different.
  • You're risking "everything" on your start-up. You may lose your savings and have to start over.
  • She's willing to risk "everything" on the issue of children. She may lose you and have to start over.
Both of you are taking chances that might be a bit scary and even terrifying to the other. You said she tries to avoid risk; what you're doing with your career might scare the hell out of her.

And, similarly, her drive and commitment for kids might be totally alien to you, and more than a bit scary.

You don't have to feel the same way about it as she does. My wife, for instance, knew she wanted to be a mother from the age of 16. When I met her, we were both in our late 20's. Her absolute conviction that she was going to be a mother scared the hell out of me, because I'd never felt that strongly about anything in my life.

So we had an instance of one person being completely convinced of something and the other going "hey, whoah, I like the idea of kids, but you're kind of freaking me out here". What helped us negotiate that was realizing that I didn't have to feel the same way about it as she did.

One of my big reasons for wanting to wait on having kids was that I wanted us to be "ready" for them, where "ready" was something like financially ready, had done all of the things we wanted to, etcetera.

I guess what I'd say is that if you wait until you're ready, you'll never be ready. Because there will always be something else. You can't really "be ready" for something like kids, because they affect your life in ways you wouldn't expect (good ways!).

Now, fundamentals. You have some time pressures operating here, and you need to be aware of them. And, frankly, you're going to have to make a decision one way or the other, because if you guys are going to have kids, it should happen Real Soon Now.

And, if you're not, you need to let her go, learn from it, and move on. So that she can move on.

Speaking for myself alone, based only on what you've told us, I think you could make this work with some stronger communication. But there have been some compelling answers in the other direction here.

Read, reflect, and then go make a decision. Don't drag this out longer than you need to.
posted by scrump at 1:24 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

One very simple solution is obvious to me. She does a few rounds of ivf right now, creating embryos with your sperm... freeze them for a couple of years, then defrost and implant at the time of your mutual convenience.

It doesn't address any of the other complexities of this issue.... just the biological clock.

If I were to do this, as an ivf graduate, I'd be doing a few rounds and wanting at least 10 embryos in the freezer. Which might be very easy for her at her current age, or really difficult. You wouldn't know till she had some investigation. Usually starting with blood tests.
posted by taff at 1:30 AM on January 31, 2013

Doing IVF seems ass-backwards. He has no job and has invested all his money in his business so he would asking her to front the expensive cost (and no guarantee she would get reimbursed by him if they broke up). IVF is an invasive medical procedure requiring a large time commitment and is usually used when "natural" methods have failed. It does come with possible mild to serious complications for the woman; she still has no commitment from him so if they break up she then has the difficulty of choosing to attempt to get pregnant with her ex-boyfriend (and most likely limiting her chances of a relationship/parenting with another man) or then deciding what to do with the embryos (discard, store or donate - some people would have no difficulty here but some people have VERY strong ideas about what to do with their embryos, does the OP know what his ex thinks?). Not to mention the legalities about ownership/child support for IVF embryos/babies when the parents are no longer together is still in flux in some jurisdictions. IVF is not for the faint-hearted and almost requires a team commitment to navigate the psychological pitfalls successfully, but there is no team if he isn't going to make a hard and fast commitment first.

It just seems like there is a simple question here - is he ready to make a commitment now to get married and have children or not. She has already said she wants to end their relationship due to his lack of commitment. Delaying tactics like IVF will just needlessly prolong the relationship, serving his needs (being loved, having a commitment from a partner, support while starting a business) at her expense (risk of unable to concieve naturally or with IVF, no commitment from him to marry/parent, smaller future dating pool). If I were in her shoes and my soon-to-be ex's only suggestion was that -I- get an invasive medical procedure at my own expense so he could avoid commitment for another seven years, I would feel even more strongly that he was incapable of ever prioritizing my needs over his own (and judging from his reluctance to be selfish and ask her to stay without a commitment he wouldn't be happy in that situation either).
posted by saucysault at 7:10 AM on January 31, 2013

The way I see it, the OP's desire to delay marriage/kids could be due to practical reasons (such as wanting to save up a certain amount of money first) or emotional reasons (such as just generally not feeling "ready", wanting to have more time to be a single guy first, etc).

A lot of the responses are approaching the question as if it's a practical problem to be solved. If the OP has practical reasons for wanting to put off marriage and kids, then I agree that the relationship can probably be salvaged; there are some great suggestions above.

However, I suspect that the OP's reasons are more emotional; that's how the question reads to me (of course I could be totally off-base!). OP, if you just generally want to continue life as a single person without kids for a number of years still, and just don't feel like you're "old enough" or mentally/emotionally ready for settling down, I think you should break up. It really comes down to whether you would feel like you missed out on something by getting married/having kids sooner than you planned, and whether you would start to resent your girlfriend due to that feeling.
posted by whitelily at 7:35 PM on January 31, 2013

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