Biological clock anxiety
August 17, 2014 1:41 AM   Subscribe

How can I stop worrying/be more productive with my cat lady worries?

Hey askmefi, basically, I worry about dying alone with cats quite a lot. And lately I've been thinking about how ladies are basically required to find love and settle down and have a career at an earlier stage than guys are because their biological clocks mean that fertility/the chances of having healthy babies decline after the age of 35. I'm still young at age 20, but nothing (in the love life department) has even come close to working out so far, and I worry a lot about it!! What can I do to maximise my chances of finding the right person and not being a cat lady, and how do other people frame this situation so that it is an exciting adventure rather than a game of magical chairs with VERY HIGH STAKES?

Thanks hivemind!
posted by dinosaurprincess to Human Relations (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think the most reassuring thing is to understand that you have at least another fifteen years before you even need to think about it, so why borrow trouble?

15 years is almost as long as your life so far, so there's more than enough time to do your own thing and shop around, make some mistakes and still get where you want to be.

When it comes to settling-down-with-babies its quality that counts, so its no problem to be picky and hold out for the sort of mature relationship you can really be happy with.

Don't panic!
posted by Middlemarch at 2:33 AM on August 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

You're 20. Many people have had 0 relationships by age 20 yet wind up happily settled five or ten years later. Recognize it's early yet. Even earlier than you're thinking -- I know plenty of older-than-35 women who had healthy happy kids.

In fact, it's so early that many of your peers are going through major changes in how they relate to people. Many 20-year-olds are terrible at relationships but do fine later. Even if you're very mature, the pool of people for you to date will be getting more stable and less drama-prone in a few years. Relationship experience so far does not predict the future, unless you're having really specific issues that you're not mentioning here.

As far as maximizing chances goes, get hobbies where you meet lots of people and have a good time yourself. Have fun, make friends.

Framing the situation: I know what you mean, but in my life none of the things I have framed to myself as VERY HIGH STAKES GAMES worked out remotely according to the rules I thought were in force. Not my education, not my career, not my love life. In all cases, chance and circumstance and unanticipated opportunities played a determining role.

Life is too chaotic, unpredictable, and beyond our control to be modeled as high stakes games. And since that's the case, might as well view it as an exciting exploration instead.
posted by shattersock at 2:39 AM on August 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

Your question focuses a lot on what you DON'T want to be. For better framing, focus instead on who you DO want to be at 35, 45, 55, and 65. Who do you want to be at age 90?

Maybe you want to be someone who:
- Approaches relationships with strength, grace, humor, generosity, integrity, and a sense of fair play
- Treats children with respect, kindness, playfulness, and wonder
- Is active in the community and kind to their neighbors
- Is a smart, engaged coworker and a mentor
- Has traveled and has used these travels to inform their perspective
- Has some level of financial stability
- Is passionate about politics, the environment, sports, the arts, food, gardening, church (if that's your thing) -- just whatever it is that you love.

Your list may be different, but it's just an idea. (This list should NOT be stuff like win the lottery, get a book deal, star in a major motion picture. It's about the soul of who you want to be. Think of the people you admire the most and use that as a model.)

So you make your list, and starting today, you work on aligning your actions and mindset so that you become that person through and through. Honestly, every action you take should reflect working toward this.

Then, go on dates. Take your time. Take years. Consider whether each potential partner's list aligns with your own. And be honest with yourself: Would this partner be a good parent? Is this partner acting with fairness? Do we give each other the benefit of the doubt instead of acting on ignorance or insecurity? Would I trust this partner with my life?

The best friends, partners, and parents I know have all seemed to approach life this way and they give me joy.

A 38-year-old dog lady
(who wouldn't have it any other way)
posted by mochapickle at 3:35 AM on August 17, 2014 [43 favorites]

I am going to tell you a story about a young woman who hated cats (thus not me). But for her, like you, having children was a very important part of her future. I think her first major decision was that she wanted kids whether there was a nuclear family unit involved or not. So from her early 20s she trained herself in a career that could be flexible should she be a single mother.

Her second major decision was not to worry too much, to get herself settled and professional in her career. She didn't really start looking for a mate-mate until she hit 30.

Her third major decision was to move with her career to the type of place she wanted to raise children because there would be others of her ilk there too.

Her fourth major decision was to be upfront about her desires to all the men she dated.

Her fifth major decision came just after her 33rd birthday when she went and talked to that guy in one of the other campsites while she was out in the bush with friends.

Her sixth major decision came eight years after that when she agreed that 3 kids was enough and that guy, who is a fantastic father and husband, should have a vasectomy now.
posted by Kerasia at 3:55 AM on August 17, 2014 [17 favorites]

I don't know how you can stop worrying, but maybe start by picking a more positive image of your future self. You are 20. Do you have any idea how much you are going to grow and change over the next ten-fifteen years? There is plenty of time.

So I have a story for you because I worked all night and it is bedtime for me and I like telling bedtime stories.

At 25, my dating history was one long chain of disasters. Suicide, drugs, madness So I took two years off and got my shit together and an entirely different type of woman started hitting on me. I was skeptical, but I became good platonic friends with one and we married after three years of each of us being who we wanted to talk to when things were good or bad. I was 30, she 27. It lasted 3 times longer than the first marriages of any of my friends who married early.

She wanted kids right away. "I want to be a young mother!" (Her mother had died when she was 2. You should read about that situation and see if it doesn't make you think) I don't think she heard everyone who told us to get used to being married first.

Three years later, we started trying and it didn't work, and it didn't work, and it didn't work. So we gave up on all the pressure and restructured our lives around not needing to have a child and undertook a major expansion of our business.

And then: Kaboom! "YOU'RE WHAT?" "Do you still want this?" "Yes...yes...yes."

We were the oldest parents-to-be in our prenatal classes and had no complications. My 37-year-old SO popped out a perfect boy 20 minutes after we got to the hospital. With no medication and just an epesiotomy. The three of us took our young female employees, many of whom had the same concerns as you, out to dinner two days later. And you know what? They all have seemingly happy marriages now with kids and they all married in their late twenties.

You will be fine.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:02 AM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

It might help to read about how the decline in fertility at age 35 is a lie (the actual decline probably starts at 40). You're 20 now - think of how much you have done and changed in the last 20 years. In another 20 your life can also undergo enormous changes.
posted by medusa at 4:15 AM on August 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

I became a parent at 22 to older kids, and now at 36, I have two adult daughters, two teenage sons and an almost 3 year old.

Any age is hard. Every age has advantages and drawbacks. There is NO perfect age to become a parent.

One of the best moms I know just had a surprise baby at 46, after a surprise marriage (she didn't imagine she would end up marrying ever) and it's great. I know fabulous very young moms and older ones, and moms who planned and are freaking out and finding it hard even with support.

Plus, fertility science is changing SO fast. What's possible now and in twenty years will be very very different.

If you want to have kids now and you're very sure about that, explore single parenting. Foster parenting is a good route, and there are lots of fairly young single foster parents. (Fosterhood in NYC).

About the only way you can become an old lady eaten by cats is if you do not want to parent, or you ONLY want to parent by a perfect pregnancy in a perfect marriage. If you're willing to explore alternatives, at some point in your life you will become a parent. You won't be prepared, even if you've spent a decade preparing. But you'll be ready still.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:35 AM on August 17, 2014

When I has those same fears (in my late 20s), I decided to create a life for myself where I wouldn't need a man to have a family. I chose a good paying career, researched my options (ie sperm banks and fertility clinics), and got ready to do it on my own if I was still single in my late 30s. It made me feel like I was in control and not just waiting for some guy to come along and give me what I wanted. (The postscript of the story is that I ended up married at 36, with my first kid born at 36 and my second at 38. We got pregnant on the first try both times, and both kids are perfect.)
posted by amro at 5:09 AM on August 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

When I was 20, I thought I might want kids, because that's just what you do. At 25, I badly wanted children, and if I'd run across a partner who also wanted children at that point, I might have two or three. By 30, I'd realized that taking care of cats and myself and my aging mother and (at the time) his aging mother was about the highest level of responsibility I could deal with. By 35, I'd gotten fixed and it was the best decision ever for me. Now I'm 37 and last weekend I married the best woman ever, but she also doesn't want kids (thank goodness), so we're going to spoil our nieces and nephews rotten and call it good.

20 year old me would barely recognize 37 year old me, some days. :) I'm not saying that you don't know what you want, necessarily, but I sure didn't at 20. Give yourself some time - you never know what's going to happen. :)
posted by joycehealy at 5:35 AM on August 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

Don't stress! Things happen in their own time.

Travel if you want to, take steps towards establishing the life you want to live, date (and don't freak out if nothing really comes of the dates!).

Work out who you are, what your needs are, and what you're looking for in a life partner. Even casual or brief relationships can help you work some of this out.

But you can also work out a lot of it on your own. I learned a lot about my dealbreakers just by paying attention to issues in my friends' relationships and thinking about how those situations would make me feel.

When I was 24 I thought back to how I felt at 22, and I felt so completely different about myself and the world. And that was only within two years! We're always changing and evolving as people, but I think it's especially noticeable in your early 20s. Make the most of it, try not to spend too much time panicking about this distant possibility of becoming a cat lady.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 5:45 AM on August 17, 2014

Give yourself another 20 years (not) to worry about this.

The only thing you should be concerned with right now is finding the right person... watch your cats while you go gallivanting off across the planet, with only a waxed canvas knapsack and a pair of outrageous sunglasses.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:01 AM on August 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing arranging your life so that you can have a child on your own. That puts almost all the power in your own hands, rather than being dependent on finding a perfect partner within a specific time-frame.

Also, I want to point out that fertility does decline on the whole, and the current trope of 'don't worry, you have ages left!' is not necessarily accurate on an individual level for many people, and the oft-quoted article on it has major weaknesses. However, it is also true that using donated eggs and IVF can drastically extend (possibly by decades) the ability to get pregnant and give birth.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:18 AM on August 17, 2014

Girl, you are twenty. There are like, what, three? maybe four? people in the entire history of the world who had their lives all sorted out by the time they were 20 and honestly I think probably two of them were lying.

There is no timeline on this. For now just focus on you and doing your thing and work on being a happy, independent person with her own goals and interests. The rest will fall into place as a matter of course.

For what it's worth, when I was 20 I was a year and a half deep into a relationship that, at that time, was working really well. I already had two very positive shorter relationships under my belt. I think sometimes now, at age 28, about that relationship I was in when I was 20 and I just cringe to myself and wonder what I was thinking. And it was a pretty good relationship! It's just that 8 years of life experience has made me want and expect different things than I wanted when I was 20, and I think that's probably pretty common.

My point is, the surest way to make yourself miserable is to let your dread of being a cat-hoarding spinster dominate your thinking. No one wants to date someone whose main goal in life is "don't die alone with my cats" because that's a downer. Go enjoy your life.
posted by phunniemee at 6:49 AM on August 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

First off, stop reading articles about women with fertility issues and look at your own family history. I come from farm people. I'm 41 and could easily have more healthy children (I have 3). If your grandmother was one in 10 and you have a family history of easy pregnancies with no fertility issues, then you can stop worrying about your biological clock running out of sand.

Second, don't rush things. Look for someone who would be a good father for your future children, as well as a good husband for you. Think things through. I rushed a bit and am now a single parent. I love my children and I don't regret them but I will always feel bad that I didn't choose their father better.

Third, don't get any cats.
posted by myselfasme at 6:50 AM on August 17, 2014

I'm still young at age 20, but nothing (in the love life department) has even come close to working out so far

I think this is the crux of your problem. You're seeing this as "...therefore, I'm no closer to getting the relationship/kids/etc life I want than I was five years ago!" But that's not how it works.

You are at the start of your adult life. What you need at this point is not to find the right person - it's to find what you do and don't want from a partner, what does and doesn't work for you in relationships, how to function in relationships yourself, how to function yourself as the kind of person you want to be so you aren't searching for a relationship just to tick off some 'adulthood achieved' box. Without going through this, you won't be able to identify the right person, or have a good relationship once you have.

After all, you don't just want to find someone to buy a house or have a baby with. You want to settle down with someone you can live with for the next few decades, or parent effectively with until your kids are grown. And at 20, being single is just as much preparation for that as being settled down.
posted by Catseye at 6:50 AM on August 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

Holy crap, you do not want to be in a "serious" relationship at twenty (absent some very unusual circumstances). I know exactly one couple who were together at twenty who went on to have a healthy relationship and children, and they have an open relationship and have since the beginning. On the other hand, I know a ton of people who were together at twenty or so, got hitched or got serious and had a huge, horrible split in their mid-twenties because they changed a lot over those years. Starter divorces!

You will not believe how much you (or at the very least everyone around you) are going to change in the next five or six years. You're going to find your feet in the world, refine your judgment about what you're looking for in a relationship, discover what you absolutely will not put up about a billion other things. It's not that one's judgment is terrible at twenty - plenty of people make very good, solid major life decisions at twenty - but you still have a lot of big life changes ahead of you, and they'll change you.

Also, just between you and me and the lamppost, I tend to assume that it's deeply unwise to be looking for a long-term sexually monogamous (assuming that's what you want) relationship before you've had a reasonable amount of sex with people. (And perhaps you have, I don't know.) But it takes anyone a while to sort out what they actually like and want, and this is particularly true for women, because women are pressured to perform sexuality, to be nice, to put the appearance of enjoyment ahead of actual enjoyment. Not to be all TMI, but it took me some years before I could distinguish between "I feel good because I am performing sexuality correctly for a dude" and "I actually like doing this activity for its own sake". And similarly, you don't want to settle down with a partner who has not figured himself out (I'm assuming from the tenor of your question that you're looking to date guys) and has some kind of monogamy-freakout or whatever when you're twenty-seven and have a toddler.

And also - this may only be true for my social circle, but every dude I know who said he was ready to be a father when he was younger than his late twenties was lying and/or decided that he hated it after the baby was already there, and some of them convinced girls that they could start a family together only to ditch out and, like, go live in a van down by the river when they discovered it was actually difficult.

My point being that your next five or six years - or even longer! - are great years to spend finding out who you are and how to live the life you want, not locking yourself into a relationship and way of life that may not suit you at all by 2020.
posted by Frowner at 7:08 AM on August 17, 2014 [13 favorites]

You have two choices here: Avoid or Pursue.

You can make your choices based on your fear of being the cat lady. You can run away and avoid and dodge and panic and settle and cringe and try to fit in a box for a chance of evading your feared outcome.

You can make your choices based on your hopes, your values, your joy, your integrity and your goals. You can chase and explore and treasure and cultivate and grow and learn and try and celebrate and take a wild leap for a chance of attaining something.

You can choose to Avoid while pushing down your hopes. You can choose to Pursue while soothing your anxiety. We all have both.

Whichever approach you choose, it will eventually become your default mode. You may end up with a spouse and 12 kids or single all your life or in many relationships of varying length. But regardless, this choice to Avoid or Pursue will colour every outcome.

If this sounds helpful, look into Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I recommend Things Might Go Terribly Horribly Wrong. I avoided and ACT is teaching me to pursue.
posted by heatherann at 7:10 AM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Deciding exactly what success and failure in life look like at your age is a fool's game. In 10 years, your life will look nothing like what you expect it to look like right now.

If you create an arbitrary measure of success/failure now and marry yourself to it, I guarantee you you'll be back on Askme in 10 years trying to cope with either the success that is making you miserable, or the imagined failures you're in therapy for.
posted by kythuen at 7:26 AM on August 17, 2014

My initial reaction to your question was pretty much Frowner's first line verbatim ("Holy crap, you do not want to be in a "serious" relationship at twenty."). And speaking as someone who was a single dog lady pretty much straight through from 23-35, but who will be celebrating her one-year anniversary of marrying the most ridiculously awesome person ever this fall, sometimes you've just got to let things take place when they will, and trust that the universe is a pretty good place.

But one thing occurs to me: can you look into statistics surrounding what percentage of people (ideally, people in your home country) are married at 20, 25, 30, etc.? I suspect the percentage at 20 and perhaps even 25 is relatively low, and if statistics about biological clocks are stressing you out, maybe it would help to combat that with statistics that could reassure you that you're doing just fine right now. Just a thought.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:35 AM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you worry about being alone, try some therapy or confidence building activities because fear --> desperation --> turn off. You may be looking for the perfect person rather than the perfect relationship if you know what I mean, and this will narrow how many people you will be open to.

Also 20 is incredibly young!

Finally cats. Don't knock 'em! I know someone who had three cats when she met her guy in her mid-30s. Similarly I had two darling felines when I met my guy (he's a pet person). Lots of guys like cats or at the very least like people who can take care of a living being other than themselves. So many cats need adoption!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:46 AM on August 17, 2014

I am in my early 30's and I praise the Flying Spaghetti Monster almost daily that I did not end up long-term with any of the people I dated or was remotely interested in in my early and mid 20's. I am happily coupled with someone I didn't meet until my late 20's and I am so grateful that I was in a place by that time where I was capable of being in a wonderful, loving, reciprocal relationship -- that, as awesome and cool and smart and fun as I as in my early 20's, I definitely wasn't in yet. Obviously, you are not me and you may be completely ready to be in a long-term relationship! But, I had a lot of things I needed to work on at that age (which I wasn't aware of until later) that I'm so, so grateful that I got to be single for.

I am pretty sure I don't want kids and when I start getting the cultural goosebumpy fears of "You're going to regreeeeet thiiiiiis" I do something that may seem negative but it helps -- I remind myself that even people who have kids aren't immune to being lonely in their old age. You can be estranged from your kids. You can get divorced. Your kids can move far away. You can be stuck in a loveless relationship. That fuzzy image of what would happen in your life if "all of the right things happen on your timeline" is a fantasy, not a reality.

And the best thing you can do to prepare yourself for all that life gives you is to cultivate a loving, open, generous personality; build and cherish community in myriad ways wherever you are; be open to possibilities, whether unconventional or traditional; and enjoy life right NOW.
posted by whenbynowandtreebyleaf at 7:48 AM on August 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think the answers to this question are a bit skewed towards the general sentiment of "Aw, come on, you're 20, you have plenty of time to figure things out"-- and that's certainly true-- you do have time. But in reading your question, I also think that part of your concern is that it is women in particular who experience this pressure to, as you put it, "find love and settle down" due to their biological realities.

I empathize with your concerns. In some cultures or societies or historical past, 20 would have already been considered on the older end of the social clock to get married and "settle down." Apparently, some people still hold views somewhere along those lines. And jeez, these days, not only do women have to do the childbearing bit if they want a family, but they're striving for equality in the workplace and going on to have full careers, too? It can seem really overwhelming. (I know this was the case for me because I didn't have a role model in my family where a woman had that full career *and* a family.) And... even that aside, the mere thought of "ending up alone" IS really anxiety-provoking in and of itself!

My immediate suggestion would be to view dating as a learning experience about how you relate to yourself and to others, as opposed to a means to an end. If you are somebody who likes certainty and planning ahead, this can be difficult, and maybe even a bit scary! But think of it this way: you want to grow into the sort of person such that when the right guy does come along, you'll be better equipped to take care of yourself and your SO, and subsequently get the most out of your relationship.

I think it's really easy to pick up on all these messages, be it from family members, your peers, or clickhole-type internet articles that imply that women's value (yes, value) rapidly drops off once they are over 30, or once they are past childbearing age... but do you really want your sense of worth to be so externally determined?

If you can identify any sources of pressure in your life with respect to this matter (do you have some relatives who constantly bring this up? Are you from a region of the country where people tend to get married much earlier on and have tons of wedding and engagement photos littering your Facebook newsfeed?), it might help to think of ways to step away from those sources of pressure.

Perhaps seeking out a few quality women mentors-- somebody who does have a family and a career, for example-- could also be helpful for you at this point in your life. Learn about how she prioritized things and her mindset at various points in her trajectory. And finally, you can also take solace in the fact that many people are waiting later to get married, and that fertility treatments are a thing now, and that your dating pool increases as you get older.

But in short, focus on growing into the kind of person you want to become, regardless of how old or how young you are, because that is the main thing you CAN control. The rest will eventually fall into place.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 7:53 AM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I will attempt to actually answer your question, from my own perspective. I met my husband when i was twenty. I'm 39 now, we've been married for 11 years, and we have two children. Here's what made it work, and what I wish I'd known / done / been going in.

First of all, and I can't stress this too much, it is critical: a lasting partnership has to involve two people who are both willing to put their shoulders to the plow and work to fix problems. This is TRIPLY true if the partnership begins when both partners are young enough that they still have a lot of growing up and changing to do. Whatever scares you the most, whatever you are the most hoping that nobody will find out about so you never have to examine it? That's what destroys relationships. That's what you'll have to dive in and be willing to work on, because everything's on the table. So get a head start on all that stuff now, if you can, and learn how to develop an open mind and an open heart.

But this doesn't mean totally giving yourself away. There's no use "fixing" a problem to please your partner, if that problem was never a problem to begin with. Learn now how to set boundaries, how to advocate for yourself gently and without drama. Learn how to trust your instincts; learn how to recognize when you're making huge changes and your partner is doing little or nothing. A partner who gets angry when you say you feel unsafe, or disrespected, or unloved, is not someone you need to gift with your time and your energy. Figure out what you want -- marriage? Children? do you want to be a parent at home? Do you want an ambitious career? How important is financial security to you? What does financial security mean to you? The better you know yourself, the better you will be equipped to meet someone whose goals align with yours. You don't want to be nine years into a relationship and realizing that your partner wants totally different things out of life than you do.

One thing I really value in my relationship now that I didn't think about when I first fell into electric lust and then swoony love with my husband is our complementary strengths. If both partners are too similar in your interests and your skills, there can be a lot of resentment around the fact that there's a lot of work in life that has to be done which you both hate and are bad at. My husband is good at a lot of things that I'm not good at, and vice versa -- he's good with money, for example, and I'm good at dealing with phone calls and bureaucracy. Get as good at as many aspects of life as possible (maintaining a neat home, managing your budget, staying on top of obligations, learning to cook, etc), but be aware of the things you shine at vs. the things you really struggle with. I don't mean you have to make a dossier of your perfect mate and interrogate people on first dates with questions like "Are you handy? Can you cook?" but just, you know, be aware. Similarly, it's not at all critical that you both enjoy all the same things, but it can be really hard if your partner has active contempt for things that delight you or make you feel whole. If you're an atheist and your partner believes that religion is essential for moral behavior, that's never going to go well; if you really enjoy fashion and clothes and your partner sneers at it for being wasteful and stupid, that can only end in tears.

A good partner is respectful, compassionate, responsible, and kind; a good partner owns their own shit and is willing to work collaboratively to solve problems. Learn how to look for that person, but also, learn how to be that person. And then, while you're doing that work, date a lot of people, and really look for a connection; someone can be nice and fun and cute and yet not be a good partner for you.

I've kind of rambled here, but I hope there's some good advice in there. You absolutely do not have to be in your forever relationship now, or soon! In fact, despite my own situation, I'd kind of advise against it! But that doesn't mean you can't start doing the work now to be the kind of person who can HAVE a forever relationship. Good luck.
posted by KathrynT at 7:56 AM on August 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

So it's fine to want children and a family one day, but you are loading a lot of cultural baggage onto the idea of childlessness and you might feel less unhappy if you unloaded all of the parts about loneliness and cats and spinsterdom. That's not necessarily the picture of what it is to be childless for a lot of people and if you end up childless it doesn't have to end up that way for you.

For you dating doesn't need to have VERY HIGH STAKES because you have fifteen years to mess around and fall in love and try out the type of relationships you want. Some people end up with the love of their life and want to get married and have kids with that person and it ends up working out perfectly. For some people the having children option doesn't just materialize and it becomes a question of whether you are willing to settle down with someone who may not be exactly right for you and have babies or hold out for love and give that the time it takes to happen. Anyway, life doesn't always work out according to some plan and there's definitely a chance yours won't. But if you are hell bent on having a marriage and a family, you can most likely make that happen. There is someone who will want to love you and be with you. It may not be the person you want, but if you want that it's almost always there. My best friend growing up was big into plans and life schedules. She told me when she was twenty five that she wanted to be married and have a baby by the time she was thirty. She ended up meeting a guy at 26 who she felt kind of lukewarm about their first few years together and who was very in love with her. At her bachelorette party she said she wasn't sure about him. She married him because it coincided with the plan and at age 29 they had a baby and they're quite happy together.

I am thirty one. I kind of want a family. At age thirty I met a guy who is nice and loves me a lot and would settle down with me. I ended up breaking it off because I'm not in love with him and our life goals and values don't really match up. What I'm saying is you have a lot of choices in all of this and sometimes it comes down to what compromises you are willing to make to get the things you want. But you don't really need to think about that now. Come back and read this in ten years, if it is still relevant.
posted by mermily at 7:58 AM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also google "35 woman fertility myth" and there are a host of articles showing that this is based on outdated models and data. If you're going to have fertility troubles they will show up no matter your age. My sister had a healthy baby at 37; my 28 year old friend needed IVF; another friend couldn't get pregnant for years and suddenly had 3 kids in a row starting at 34 last one at 39. Abortion rates for women in their 30s and 40s is on the rise because they're being less careful with birth control because of the "your ovaries die!" fear mongering that is going on. I'm sure there's some societal reason (fear of women in power?) for all this media hype.

There's no predicting life. Anything can happen. You can meet your love at 25 and he dies in an accident at 27. You can train for a career and find no work in that field. When I was in my 20s I wanted certainty and guarantees but now I've learned that life has its own plans. Focus on learning the skills to be a good partner, have fun and date around, have the confidence to dump people that aren't working for you and the rest will shake out. Good luck!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:03 AM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm 42 and so can now have some experience of a few involuntary "cat ladies" I have known since they were your age. But I also have lots of experience with women who started their families in their mid to late 30s. It's socially and biologically very possible.

But, what did the unhappy single 41-43 year olds have in common?

* a strong moral conviction that they were entitled to date grossly unsuitable men, the kind no pragmatic woman would ever want to marry and have a family with, and that anyone who tried to set them up with a nice accountant (or whatever) was oppressing them = they wasted two literal decades of opportunities in some cases.

* a bizarrely wrong and negative view about what young kids are like and mothering is like -- one that they could have refuted for themselves with 10 minutes at a park in a nice city neighborhood, or mall in a nice neighborhood = for 10+ prime years they actively avoided pursuing motherhood.

* a view that career was above all else that also coincided (or maybe was caused by) their objectively fairly mediocre careers; in other words, they had a box to check before mothering and were unable to check in practice.

* finally, to be blunt, they weren't good looking enough so that, when they finally tried to change their destiny in their very late 30s, they could interest men who would want to start a family with them.
posted by MattD at 8:18 AM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ok, so much to say here that I'm just going to make a list rather than drown you in paragraphs and exclamation points.

It's fantastic to know what you want, and there ain't no harm in planning for it. But be careful:

1. If your life is at all like mine or *any* of my friends, you are going to change SO MUCH in the next 10 to 15 years. Don't resist it, because life experience = growth. Locking down a partner when you're super young can backfire.

2. Worry is funny -- it can be a way to subconsciously avoid doing the hard work required to make your life awesome. The more energy you invest in wringing your hands about stuff you can influence but not control, the less time you will spend building a rich life that a future partner would want to join.

3. The more you worry, the more desperate of a vibe you put out. Men can sense that, and it is a huge fucking turn off.

So I would say: acknowledge that you want this thing and then make a pact with yourself to put it on the shelf for a few years while you make the best life you can. Put yourself in new and challenging situations. Meet people. Learn stuff. Agree to check in with the future you at 25 and see how you feel.
posted by jessca84 at 8:22 AM on August 17, 2014

At 20, the far bigger danger you face is that because of your cat-lady fears, you'll jump into matrimony with the first somewhat acceptable guy who wants to marry you too. So I just want to say - slow down! Consider the fact that marriage to a guy who makes you unhappy will be far worse than blessed solitude.

Have confidence that you can have a happy and fulfilling life no matter what, and this will paradoxically make it easier to actually find someone suitable. Why do I feel this way? Honestly, meeting someone you love is more a matter of luck than anything else. I felt anxious at 20 that I might never meet someone either, and I wasn't exactly doing brilliantly in the dating game. However, because I didn't feel that I would be a sad, ruined person if I didn't get married eventually, I wasn't willing to put up with men who didn't treat me well. I believe that this is why when I eventually did meet my husband-to-be, I wasn't locked up in some stupid relationship with a guy who wasn't very good for me. Just live your life, have fun, enjoy your university years, kiss a few frogs and see if any turn into princes. You have so many amazing experiences out there, and it would be a shame if you missed out on any of them because of your worries.

And don't listen to MattD above: by all means concentrate on your career!
posted by peacheater at 8:38 AM on August 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

I wasn't super-eager to have kids anyway, but I did have thoughts about this in my mid-20's after getting a major wrench thrown into my fertility; I had one ovary removed when I was 26 (long story) and while the other one is there, and was still working, it only works every OTHER month. (My doctor said they usually take turns.) So my doctor was telling me that I would have to start paying attention to my fertility if I ever wanted to conceive - do the basal body temperature tracking, all that.

But right when I was mentally starting to freak out about oh my god that sounds like so much work, I thought, "fuck that, if it gets to that point I'll just adopt."

And that realization has taken so much pressure off me - because I went on to realize that if adoption is a potential option for me anyway, then it doesn't matter when I become a mother, because if I'm working with a kid who's already born then my own fertility doesn't matter. And that means....I can take all the time I want, and work in getting my own life sorted out to the point that am ready for a child. (That's taken a lot longer than anyone could have predicted, and that's actually been a good thing.)

So yes. Adoption. If you are worried about being too "old" to be a mother, consider that a child is probably going to do much better with an older mother who is more financially and emotionally stable than she is with a younger mother who is not quite as settled. This is not to say younger mothers can't pull it off - but if you focus on "getting myself ready to be a mother BEFORE I become one, no matter how long it takes," then you start thinking that 20 maybe isn't quite ready yet and you start wanting more time. And if you accept adoption as an option for you, then whatever your biological clock says doesn't matter, and the other elements of your life take precedence and focus.

Either way, you've got PUH-LENTY of time.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was obsessed with baby math at 20, too. Hormones are a bitch. You are in the last stages of puberty, and your reproductive organs are OPEN FOR BUSINESS, DAMN IT PUT A BABY IN IT NOW ANYBODY WILL DO OH NO THERE'S NO BABY ALL IS LOST. You are being fucked with by your own body. It's not the last scam it'll try to pull on you.

Learn to distrust all the little words your juices whisper in your ear. You know that joke about how men think with the "little brain"? Well, your little brain is your endocrinological system.

Do not let it talk you into dating/staying with low-quality men. You are not a cavelady, you do not need to have a man's offspring in order to engage his protection. Distrust feelings like "but I looooooove him" and "nobody else will ever want me" because those feelings are from a time when you could starve to death if you didn't have a man. And then you'd get eaten by an animal that doesn't even exist anymore.

Spend the next 5-8 years working on your development as a human being. Go do education and career, go accumulate life experience. Help people. Push yourself to be healthier and a better leader and a person who follows through. Make friends, good friends, and learn to be a good friend.

If you meet a nice boy in that time, enjoy his company but never make him more than third priority in your life after yourself and community. Do not let the little brain tell you a bad man is good. Question the little brain until it runs out of excuses and then think for yourself. Build a life that you like just fine without a man in it.

I know this sounds counterproductive, stick with me.

Anyone you procreate with before the age of 28 is statistically much more likely to be your ex with whom you navigate shared custody. Navigating shared parenting responsibilities is probably the hardest thing you'll ever do in your life, and look around: many people fail. Don't let the little brain wave that off like no you're special it won't be hard for you. It will be the hardest thing you do, so try to do some actual hard things before then so you'll have some framework for handling the situation.

If you spend that time instead becoming a person who has learned to communicate and be a reliable adult who moves in a world of reliable adults, you are much more likely to meet someone with matching skills who has a decent chance of not being your future ex. There's just a shitload better things you should be doing with your time for the next 8 years, although dating is certainly something you should make some time for. Just not dating for permanence.

Permanence, not virginity, is the beautiful precious thing you have that you should save for the person who truly fits you in a million ways. For the rest of them, be careful about signing leases on places you can't afford by yourself. And skip the pets of any kind until you're properly spinster-aged, because they hold you back from so many opportunities.

Oh, and for all my frantic baby math at 20 (I was definitely going to need to have a baby with my casually abusive pathologically lying useless shit of a boyfriend within a couple of months of graduating from college), by 30 I realized I didn't want kids. Married someone with similar values at 32 (after dating a number of men who didn't want children - they are out there) and 10 years later am really glad that even though I did a lot of incredibly stupid things because of biological urges, none of them were permanent.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:17 AM on August 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

Being 20 is a super exciting adventure inherently -- you're figuring out who you are and what you believe in and what you are capable of and you're surrounded by dramatic people who will calm down and be more reasonable in ten years. Enjoy it!

I would frame being 20 as the time for doing things that make you feel awesome and badass and not thinking about the stuff you cannot control, like playing the game of musical chairs. Put differently, focus on experiences and education that will make you your ideal partner, your very best self. Rather than focusing on The Hunt, think of this as your time to Do Things. Here are some Things:

-Volunteer on a political campaign and become a speechwriter for the next President of the United States

-Live abroad

-Learn an instrument by playing in a band

-Take up Muay Thai

-Date people who you would never guess you would have something in common with but you do and it's low-stakes fun

-Climb a mountain

You get the idea. Not settling down early has its benefits. It's not all Cat Ladies all the way down. Go be awesome.
posted by *s at 11:28 AM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Focus on being the right person! Live a full and adventurous life and learn to like yourself - this will draw other great people to you. Give 'nice guys' a chance. Make your life so awesome that you'll only give up being single for someone truly worthy. I'd much rather be single than unhappily or unhealthily partnered.

Being happily married is worth holding out for. It is the only relationship that came anywhere near 'working out'... Meaning, you only need / want ONE relationship to work out. The rest will fail, and that's okay. 'Almost' is still a fail, and it's not linear - you don't get 'closer and closer' like, move in together > break up, get engaged > break up; score! Learn to dump relationships that aren't working for you - be ruthless, the earlier on the better.

Remember that settling down later gives you better odds. Everyone I know who paired up and had kids before their late twenties (at the earliest!) has had the whole situation implode. It's not the adventure you want... 'Young single mom scraping by' is far far worse than 'cat lady'. I am so glad I didn't end up married to anyone I dated in my early twenties, but glad to have dated, learned, and dumped them ;)

One thing you CAN do is start taking care of your health. Go get those Pap smears, learn to cook, have safe sex etc. Mention anything bothering you to the doctor (a good one who listens) and get it fixed.

I'm 32 and 8.5 months pregnant (and have two cats). Even with an easy healthy pregnancy and a great supportive partner this is hard. I cannot imagine doing this under ANY other circumstances. Although yes... I'd rather be in my late thirties doing this alone but planned than doing this with the wrong person. You can't go wrong to plan ahead for that level of self-sufficiency!
posted by jrobin276 at 11:33 AM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid there was a woman who had lived up the street that was found a week after she died, still sitting in her armchair facing the television. She died alone, and had lived alone for as long as I had known about her in that house.

She had several grown children.

Why do you believe that having babies will prevent that future from happening to you?

Having a miserable solitary existence has nothing to do with whether you have kids or not, as my poor neighbour demonstrates. It's about building community. You have decades to foster and build a community of caring loving people around you, and none of that relies on having children.

Why did that woman die alone in her house and remain undiscovered for over a week? Well, being the kind of kid that wandered up to neighbours and chatted with strangers, when I tried to talk to her she threw open her door and screamed obscenities at me while I ran away. As an adult, I look back and think she probably suffered greatly and had mental illness problems.

If you grow so focused on having babies that you date inappropriate men, get into abusive situations where you end up severing ties with family and friends, and then suffer mentally from all the stress from trying to raise babies alone with someone who hinders instead of helps you, you could very well end up in your elderly years with grown children who avoid you and no community to rely on.

Stop looking at reproduction as being your ticket here, it's a false dream. Seek out supportive and kind people, work on maintaining relationships with the good ones in your family, and do what you can to take care of your own mental health. That's all you can do to avoid dying alone in a filthy apartment.
posted by Dynex at 11:39 AM on August 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

On preview, what *s says. I actually did a number of those things! It really makes starting a family the next adventure rather than a sacrifice. I'm glad I did so much first and know how capable we both are. Think about what kind of adult/partner/mom you want to be, and go start having those experiences!
posted by jrobin276 at 11:42 AM on August 17, 2014

There are two components to your question. The first is "how can I change this situation", and the second is "why is my mind making me miserable with this brooding?".

I don't have much in the way of how-to-meet-guys suggestions, aside from the general caution that you not go casting around for That Magical Someone....romance is best when it blossoms out of plain old human connections rather than a big-picture, overarching-drama determination to create some preconceived future for yourself.

But as for the brooding and mental dramatics, the key is to understand that there's nothing of value in placing your attention (much less obsessive attention) on what's missing (here's another version).

Here's one way to shake off that habit of attention.
posted by Quisp Lover at 1:28 PM on August 17, 2014

Remember you can freeze your eggs if it comes to that. I wouldn't do that right now, but if in 10 years you're still single (And remember A LOT can happen in 10 years), you can go to an OBGYN and think about it. It's kind of expensive and involves minor outpatient surgery. But the option is there if you need. So think of that as your back stop and don't worry about it. Go have fun and be young!
posted by bananafish at 4:15 PM on August 17, 2014

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