Uncertainty about kids a good reason to stay unmarried?
February 20, 2016 5:51 AM   Subscribe

We have a great relationship. For lots of reasons, it would make sense for us to get married in the near future. But she wants kids, and I'm not sure I do, or ever will. Would getting married be a bad idea, particularly if the likely alternative is to break up?

I'm a guy, approaching my mid-30s. My girlfriend of 2 years is in her late-20s. We have an awesome, loving relationship and want to spend our lives together. For a variety of romantic and practical reasons, it would make a lot of sense for us to get married in the relatively near future - not least of which is the fact that we're of different nationalities, and being married would make basic things like working, having health insurance, and just staying together in the same country immensely easier. At this point, the limbo of being together but not being married is preventing both of us from making progress in our lives, both together and as individuals.

I'd be happy to get married, and she would too, but here's the thing: she definitely wants kids at some point in the future, and I'm still pretty ambivalent about it. It's not like I definitely *don't* want to have kids; I just have real desire for it, either now or in the future. I'd like to leave open the possibility of it happening, but probably not in the next 3-4 years, when it seems most likely she'll want to. I'd guess my lifetime chances are 50%, and then, probably not for another 8+ years at the soonest.

Would it be irresponsible to get married under these circumstances? On the one hand, it would seem stupid to end an otherwise awesome relationship over something that's still fairly hypothetical at this point. It also wouldn't make sense remain together much longer but *not* get married, for the practical reasons I mention above. On the other hand, if we get to a point a few years from now when my girlfriend starts wanting to have kids and I'm still very ambivalent about it, I'm going to feel guilty that I took up some years she could have been otherwise out meeting someone better for her suited. Or I could end up coaxed into having kids with my heart still not fully into it.

We've talked about all these things before. She knows I'm very unsure, and there's a chance I could never end up wanting kids. I'm not misleading her, and it's not something currently on her mind much either, other than a vague desire to have kids at some point the road. So my question isn't about whether staying together makes sense - it's about whether this is something that should prevent us from getting married, when we otherwise both want to (and realistically need to, if we're going to stay together much longer)?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
From the perspective of someone who got married in their mid-thirties and then failed to conceive. If she wants children and you don't (which is understandable) do not get married. Yes I think it is irresponsible.

She may only have a period of a few years to establish a family if that is what she wants. And seriously, DO NOT GET MARRIED if you cannot sit down and have a calm conversation about wether and when you want kids. In all the he permutations.
posted by arha at 6:24 AM on February 20, 2016 [16 favorites]

Personally, I think the "must agree on wanting kids before getting married" thing gets way overplayed. First of all, nobody, and I do mean nobody, knows what being a parent is really like until the moment they become one. And then you spend the next 18+ years relearning the lessons of parenting because everything keeps changing.

Also, getting married changes you, and changes your relationship. Obviously if one partner is way out on an extreme edge of the want or don't want kids continuum it's worth being more cautious. But you two sound like an average couple that haven't given it a whole lot of thought because you are young, not married, and have never had a reason to really think about it.

So I don't see any red flags on this issue here - just normally youthful uncertainty.

Credentials: Married almost 25 years, two kids in college. Was terrified that I wasn't ready to be a parent right up until the moment I held my son for the first time (at age 26), when it just suddenly felt like the most natural thing ever. I'm totally convinced some chemical change in my brain activated parent mode at that moment I held my son for the first time. I can't come up with any other explanation of how something that seemed so foreign became so natural in an instant like that.
posted by COD at 6:26 AM on February 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'd like to leave open the possibility of it happening, but probably not in the next 3-4 years, when it seems most likely she'll want to.

This is about the best time for her to get started trying to conceive. She's been clear about what she wants. You're unclear about what you want. It's not fair to ask for her to wait around while you get clear. I see COD's point that a lot of people don't even realize that they do want kids (when they do) because they kind of have to get into the situation to really understand what it means to embrace it - but if this is a big enough concern for you that you can time-limit it to "not in the next four years," then I'd say it's a pretty big concern that's going to take some precious time for her. Short version, if you don't want to start a family with her, don't get married to her. Free her up to find someone who understands better what they want.

Or, if that sounds overly dramatic, sit down and start talking this out. She needs to know you can't guarantee that you're ever going to want to have children, and she needs to know this timeline in your mind. You have to give her the information she needs to make choices. Don't make someone sacrifice their future plans for you just because you have a nice relationship. There are hundreds of people who you and she can have a nice relationship with. Only some of them will commit to becoming a family with her. She should be with one of those people. If that's not you, she needs to know.
posted by Miko at 7:00 AM on February 20, 2016 [40 favorites]

"I'd like to leave open the possibility of it happening, but probably not in the next 3-4 years, when it seems most likely she'll want to. I'd guess my lifetime chances are 50%, and then, probably not for another 8+ years at the soonest."

Which is it? 5 years as in the first sentence, or over 8 as in your second? The second option pushes her into "advanced maternal age" territory if she's 27 today.

I am 100% bringing my own baggage to this party, but if you are likely going to be only 50% into having kids in 8+ years when you are 40 or beyond and this is not an issue you feel like you can change your position on, you need to gently let her go. Because you said it right here -- "I'm going to feel guilty that I took up some years she could have been otherwise out meeting someone better for her suited."

Her being newly single after a LTR in her mid-30s and still 100% wanting kids is not necessarily a recipe for heartbreak, but it becomes a race against the clock that could have been avoided.
posted by kimberussell at 7:10 AM on February 20, 2016 [39 favorites]

If you want to stay together, you need to want kids. You need to at least move your own personal desire level for kids from "eh" to "probably." Have you spent time with friends' kids? Do you know what about having kids does or doesn't appeal to you? Solidifying your own opinion will go a long way towards helping you figure out your next step. Maybe you've already thought long and hard about it and your opinion is still "eh"--to me that says that you do not want kids, and you need to end this relationship.
posted by chaiminda at 7:14 AM on February 20, 2016 [14 favorites]

your quick move from "not in the next 3-4 years" to "probably not for another 8+ years at the soonest" makes it very much seem like you want to say you maybe want kids to keep this relationship but that you don't actually want kids - or at least not with her. you should not marry this woman.
posted by nadawi at 7:19 AM on February 20, 2016 [24 favorites]

Look at it this way: Is not having children worth losing the love of your life over?

There is no guarantee that the two of you will even be blessed with children. There is also no guarantee that you will ever find a love like this again. It might be best to just take a brave leap and pray for the best. Not everything is in our control.
posted by myselfasme at 7:35 AM on February 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

If she clearly understands the dilemma, what does she say she wants to do? I am pretty sure it takes two to make a marriage. If you are willing to go ahead with marriage knowing she is a yes and you are a 50-50 maybe, is she? You sound like you are trying to get pre absolution about future guilt if it happens. The best way to get that is not from us internet strangers saying it is ok (or not) it is from your partner who would presumably enter into this marriage with full transparency of the situation.
posted by AugustWest at 7:36 AM on February 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

"5 years as in the first sentence, or over 8 as in your second? The second option pushes her into "advanced maternal age" territory if she's 27 today."

I just want to add to this -- if you're in your mid-30s, and not looking to have kids for 8 years, you'll be over 40. While your fertility window is not as time-limited as hers, you may not be aware that the quality of male sperm declines over time. Fathers over 40 are substantially more likely to have children with autism, epilepsy, Down's, mental health problems such as schizophrenia, or learning disabilities. Fetuses conceived by fathers over 40 are more likely to miscarry. Fathers over 40 take five times as long to conceive as fathers under 25. The quality, quantity, and motility of your sperm declines over time. Ob/gyns are now counseling couples that the age of the fathers matters -- not as much as the age of the mother, but as something to be taken into account when considering conception, risk factors during pregnancy, and outcomes for the child.

So she has a window and her biological clock is ticking, but you have a window too, and if you're saying "I don't want to make a decision about this until I'm in my 40s," you'd do well to educate yourself about the possible health consequences for your partner and children of putting off conception until your 40s, and if considering that you also have a limited window changes your own feelings on whether you want to be a parent and, if so, how soon. For some men, finding out that they have a limited window helps clarify their thinking.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:46 AM on February 20, 2016 [57 favorites]

Your question is if you should stay unmarried. But really, it's should you break up. Yes, this is a reason to not get married. Here's my personal anecdote. I know a couple that dated for a few years in their early 20's. She clearly wanted to have a baby and he didn't. He already had a young child from a previous relationship. They broke up and dated other people. Eventually, they got back together. After 8 years on-off, they did end up having a child together. She mentioned to him many times that he was not obligated to be a father and that he can be as involved in the baby's life as he wanted, saying she could raise the child on her own. Now, the father is moving to another state. She is devastated.

What she kept saying was that she wanted a baby and that it didn't matter if they weren't together. When in reality, what she wanted was a family. She believed that once she had his baby, that there would be some magical switch that would make him realize how much he loved her and the baby and that he would become this wonderful dad. Well, their situation is different than yours and I am sure you want to figure out your own feelings about procreating. As an internet stranger, I would say to let her go. You can be friends, if possible, and either of you want that. But she is firmly in the kids camp and you're nowhere near, and won't be for quite some time, if at all. I am a firm believer that bringing another person into the world must be done only if you truly want that child.

The sad thing is, my friend had given herself a timeline. She knew she wanted to have a baby by the time she was 30. Thought about going to a sperm bank and everything. Now she wants another one with the father. Sometimes, what you think you want and what you really want are two completely different things. You've been together two years, not a lifetime. You mention practical reasons for getting married and that you envision a life together. The life you want with her, and the life she wants with you, are two different things. Give her the gift of time to find someone whose life imaginings are more in line with hers.
posted by lunastellasol at 7:59 AM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't end up with children that you don't want. You'll resent them, and they'll be able to tell that you didn't want them. It's not automatically "different when you have your own".

If breaking up with someone is what it takes for you to prevent having kids you don't want, then do it.
posted by Solomon at 8:07 AM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

The question isn't whether you should get married or not, it's whether you should break up and let her find someone who loves her AND wants children as much as she does. Right now, you're getting everything you want while holding out the promise that maybe one day you'll want kids. She sees this and is hopeful that you will come around. You don't sound like someone who is going to change your mind. Your shifting timelines say this. 8 years from now could easily close the window for her. Don't chew up all the time she has to find someone who wants what she wants. That would be an extreme cruelty and is not what you do when you love someone.
posted by quince at 8:42 AM on February 20, 2016 [15 favorites]

I don't think it's wrong, per se, to get married in this circumstance- however- I don't think it's a good idea for her. It takes about 5-7 years to get married, give it the college try, respectfully separate and divorce... That puts her in her mid 30s which is not a power position for a single woman ready to have kids. It doesn't give her enough wiggle room for this to be a safe mistake. Good luck.
posted by catspajammies at 8:44 AM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's not like I definitely *don't* want to have kids; I just {don't} have real desire for it, either now or in the future.

That means you don't.

This is how all those shitty resentful parents you see everywhere happen. This is the greatest of all deal-breakers. Somebody's life will be ruined.
posted by French Fry at 8:48 AM on February 20, 2016 [37 favorites]

Another way of looking at is might be to ask yourself why you are ambivalent about having kids. A lot of people associate having children with settling down into a traditional lifestyle, and that may be what you don't want. There are many alternative, wild, amazing and creative ways to have kids as well (albeit some structure is inevitable).

Maybe investigate that and have a conversation about how you both want your future to be shaped. For example, there is a whole nomadic world-schooling movement going on right now. That might be something that fits your idea of a future with kids better than, prep school and mommy play dates. (Just an example, there are so many ways to raise kids in the world these days...)
posted by Vaike at 8:50 AM on February 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yes, I also thought the question really is, "She wants children and I do not, should we break up?"

This the same question to ask if you are married or unmarried! And the answer is still the same, too! There is not much more going on here, even though you seem to want there to be loads of external factors.

She wants children. You don't. You "maybe" wanting children in 8 years and you are now mid-30's = you don't want children, and you may never actually want children at all.

If you open a discussion with her about this, you are putting the burden of deciding to break up or carry hope against hope onto her. While I'm all for talking things through with a partner, you are presenting her with a shitty choice, and someone who loves you may initially hear that you might change your mind one day. You are mid 30's. You very likely won't change your mind one day. You're not into children, and that's cool! But it's not what the person you are dating is about, and soon she'll be mid-30's, too.

Please tell her you can not marry her because you want vastly different things in the next 5 to 10 years. It's OK to break up if you want different things from life.
posted by jbenben at 8:55 AM on February 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Are you open to it, at least? I am not a man, nor am I married, but in my experience ambivalence is not an uncommon emotion for men when it comes to fatherhood. My own dad was ambivalent and unsure, but he took a leap, and he's been a great, happy father.

You have to ask yourself whether you can take the leap for her. Ask if you could be a father, if you could love your child unconditionally and be gentle and kind and involved. I think it is okay to be ambivalent. It's okay to try, if you both agree that you could be a good father.

But you need to know now that you could take that leap. If you can't, and if you love her as much as you say you do, leave. Don't get married.
posted by Amy93 at 8:59 AM on February 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'm a guy who has never wanted kids, and have ended several relationships over that fact. I'm friends with a lot of my exes on Facebook and when they post photos of the kids they've had since, I'm always extremely happy I didn't stand in the way of their happiness for selfish reasons. Let her go so she can find her happiness, and you can find yours.

And by the way, in 8+ years when you're thinking about kids finally (supposedly), you'll have the opportunity to date divorced women who already have kids so you can try step-fatherhood on for size.
posted by ejs at 9:19 AM on February 20, 2016 [22 favorites]

Don't keep telling her, "I might want to have kids someday." The truth right now is that you don't want to have kids. To marry you, she has to be comfortable with not having kids.

She still has time to find someone else to have kids with. You still have time to find someone who doesn't want kids.
posted by Pearl928 at 9:30 AM on February 20, 2016 [15 favorites]

I don't want kids and my husband doesn't want kids, and man having that settled makes our lives SO FUCKING EASY FOR REALS. If you're ambivalent, please don't have kids. It would be a punishment for all of you. Sure you might love being a dad, but you might also hate it and that risk is pretty huge. Marry someone you agree with parenting on!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:35 AM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I sympathize with your ambivalence about having children; I was ambivalent for a long time, and kept reassuring myself with "well, maybe I'll want to in two years." But you've got to shit or get off the pot at some point; deferring the decision won't make it any easier or give you further insight. You'll always want to hit the snooze alarm for a couple more years, because not having kids is the cheaper/easier/safer/familiar route; I would probably have put it off for another decade if it were possible.

The catch, of course, is that her deadline comes much sooner than yours. The deadline isn't just to have a baby by 35 or whatever age, it's to have all the elements in place for a good environment to nurture and raise a baby. That includes a healthy, secure relationship with a partner who's on the same page as her about children. Your 8+ years from now is her right now.

The advice I kept hearing is that you should have children only if you absolutely 110% want them, can't imagine your life without them, consider them a life goal, etc. For someone who's truly on the fence, who can easily imagine themselves going either way, thinking of it that way doesn't necessarily help find answers. It helped me to reframe it from "do I want kids?" to "would I enjoy having kids?" with a healthy side of "can I handle parenting?" and "can my relationship handle parenting?" You don't have to have an intense burning desire for children to love being a parent or to be good at it. But you should really give it a lot of thought, to the last detail, from the worst-case scenarios to the minor annoyances. It is the biggest commitment and challenge you will ever undertake.

And this is a decision you need to make now. You don't have to have any babies now, but you do have to decide whether, and approximately when. Be honest with yourself and with her.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:52 AM on February 20, 2016 [13 favorites]

Technically speaking, this is a breakup-level question and if you really end up not wanting kids, you can't marry her or stay together.

Would you be willing to have kids with her even if you're ambivalent, in order to keep her in your life?
Would you be willing to give her up forever in order to not have kids?

Those are the real two questions here. You're ambivalent, you're not yes or no right off. Plus you're a guy. A woman cannot be ambivalent about this question, but it's a lot easier for a guy to be because you won't be giving up your whole life and body in the same way. It'll be easier on you to have kids that you aren't 100% psyched about from day one than it will be for her. It's not quite as life-occupying to you. I mean, do you honestly think you'd ignore your child around the house and give it no love? Or is it just "...meh....I don't really care one way or the other, I just don't feel strongly about this?" Because if you don't feel strongly about this but aren't against the idea, you could perhaps get used to the idea. Go hang out with some kids for awhile and see how you feel about it. Unfortunately, you can't stall for the next ten years until you get used to the idea on your timeline.

I'd advise you differently if I had the impression that you really had feelings against the idea of having kids, but I just get the "meh" sense out of you. That can be worked with. A guy who feels "meh" on having kids may very well get more into it in the future, especially if he can keep his relationship and marry the woman he loves rather than losing that relationship to "meh."
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:54 AM on February 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you are currently having sex together you can become pregnant at any moment how does that make you feel, that in nine months you could be holding a baby? If the answer is not hell yes, then it is hell no it is fine to not want children, it is not fine to pretend to be considering children when you know you have set up conditions and timelines that rule out her having a planned pregnancy with you. Two years is when these "shit or get off the pot" questions pop up. Im sorry, i know it is hard to leave a relationship that is good except for what (to you) seems minor, but there are a lot of women out there thst mourn and regret life choices they made based on ambivliant guys who just weren't honest with themselves.
posted by saucysault at 10:23 AM on February 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I wrote a long thing, deleted it. Wrote a long thing, deleted it. Am back for my third try.

Basically, if being a parent is part of a person's plan for life, she needs a good long time to find someone to love, develop her nonparent life with that person and without that person, get on the same page with her partner about parenting things, then have kids. That's a lot of time and investment. And being pregnant is really hard on a woman's body and gets harder as she gets older, without even taking into account the risks (to both woman and baby) of later pregnancies or taking into account the difficulty of conceiving or the possibility of an illness affecting fertility.

If you and your partner don't have quite the same level of desire and ambivalence toward parenting, that's one thing. It's common; it's okay. It's hard to be sure about something that important. But having significantly different levels of desire and ambivalence and significantly different ideas about when or even if having children works for you should be a dealbreaker, whether you are the person who plans for children or the person who does not.

So have a very honest, come-to-jesus conversation where you are extremely blunt about your lack of commitment to having children and your inability to imagine having them for nearly ten more years and if the two of you can't agree that that's okay, walk away.

Every one who has had a serious I Thought This Was Forever relationship end around their late 20's/early 30's thinks it means the end of the world or Alone Forever or Ruined Life. But it's not. We all get over it and lots of us start over with someone we love as much or more or whatever.

But for some people that means the loss of an important life goal: becoming a parent. Don't cause that in someone else's life. Don't lie to someone about the likelihood of that happening.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:30 AM on February 20, 2016 [21 favorites]

Gently let her go. Your life goals are not compatible.
posted by Ostara at 10:41 AM on February 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

For both of your sakes, it is probably kindest, though painful, to end this relationship now. If she wants children, then going further will just make things more difficult should you decide you definitely don't want kids. It's not fair to her and the life she envisions for herself for you to string her along.
posted by missmerrymack at 11:40 AM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I didn't have a child until I was 44. My husband said he wanted children but the time was never right for him to make the leap. I had a very difficult pregnancy and many years of depression and uncertainty about my relationship and commitment that I had made while time slipped by. I would have liked to have more children and been a younger mother. I'm so happy with my little one now but the decision to wait was not mine and it was painful for me in many ways. Luckily our child although born prematurely is very happy and healthy and loved.
posted by catrae at 11:52 AM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think you need to do some soul searching. You have a really specific scenario that's somewhat unrealisting about the circumstances in which you want to have kids. You're maybe willing to do it in your early 40s when age appropriate partners may very likely not be able to have kids. Why the wait. Are you hoping to grow? Get things done? Do specific fun things? Run out the child having clock without ever having to decide? If you don't want to have kids in the next few years, yes you should break up. Make sure that's what you want.
posted by Kalmya at 12:31 PM on February 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

Why is this even your decision? Tell her "In the best case, I won't even begin to consider having kids until you're in your late 30s. I want to marry you if that is acceptable to you."
posted by MattD at 1:22 PM on February 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

If one of you is certain on kids and the other is uncertain, it is absolutely better to stay unmarried until both of you are on the same page. I was in a marriage where that difference largely contributed to us no longer being married. And it isn't a question of 'I'll be ready some day.' It's a question of no or yes and we'll have them at X point in our relationship. (Because not committing to it, then half committing to it, then flip flopping on a daily basis between baby rockers and sterility is the land of unhappy marriages).
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:04 PM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Get in or get out. Don't waste her life on your indecision. That's selfish.
posted by nickrussell at 2:28 PM on February 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

Would it be irresponsible to get married under these circumstances? On the one hand, it would seem stupid to end an otherwise awesome relationship over something that's still fairly hypothetical at this point.
Not stupid, painful.
On the other hand, if we get to a point a few years from now when my girlfriend starts wanting to have kids and I'm still very ambivalent about it, I'm going to feel guilty that I took up some years she could have been otherwise out meeting someone better for her suited. Or I could end up coaxed into having kids with my heart still not fully into it.
So you have a few possibilities ahead of you. Option A is you break up with someone because you are not compatible in the long-term. Option B is you get married and have to divorce years down the line when you realize you are not compatible in the long-term. Option C, you bring children into this world when you are not really committed to it and probably end up getting divorced because you are not compatible in the long-term. Option D, you change your mind and authentically decide you do want kids.

Options A-C are similar fates, each more painful and disruptive and costly than the last. Option C will be very disruptive to both your lives and the lives of any children you have. All breakups are traumatic but divorce has the extra quality of requiring lawyers and division of financial assets.

So either bet on the possibility that you will change your mind, or call it off now and spare yourselves.
posted by deathpanels at 3:14 PM on February 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Please do not say you are uncertain about kids or want kids much later than her. That's not really true and is misleading, and ultimately, unkind.

You do not want to have children. Full stop. You think you might change your mind in 8 years. You think you might not change your mind in 8 years. It's a 50-50 chance. But you do not want to have children. Please own this truth. Do not hedge or modify this truth to sound nicer. You will regret it later.

The truth will set you free. Living a lie is a terrible idea, not just for her sake, but for your sake. The truth always catches up with you. You can't run from it or hide from it. It will find you and force you to change eventually. The only question is, will you deal with the pain now, or will you deal with the pain later? I find denying the truth and living an inauthentic life is never worth the cost, personally. Ever.

I could say some things about why people don't want kids and how some of those reasons are good ones and some of them are not. But I don't really care to convince another person to have a child. Personally I think having children is underrated and mocked a lot more than it deserves, and sometimes for very bad reasons. However, having kids can be very difficult and there are many good and valid reasons to decide not to have kids. To be extremely blunt, you do not come across as the sort of deep, responsible thinker who has explored the difference between these less-good reasons and more-good reasons. Look, if you don't want kids for the oddly specific 8 years because you think that's how long it will take you to break into the cutting edge record industry or something...well, I could recommend you some wonderful literature on the value of realism and the quiet life, and the ultimate meaning of life, etc. But ultimately, that's irrelevant and none of my business. You don't want kids, full stop.
posted by quincunx at 4:21 PM on February 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also just want to say, I think the reason so many of us are latching on to the decision re: kids instead of the decision re: marriage is that having kids is a much bigger decision than whether or not to get married. You can get divorced and get remarried. Kids bond you forever to your co-parent whether you like it or not. Missing the window to get pregnant is not a decision either of you can reverse.

If you two disagreed on something that only affected you, such as:

Should we rent or buy our home?
How should we prioritize our financial goals?
Should I take a job that will make us a long-distance couple for two years?
Should we discuss opening our relationship?
What if one of us is no longer physically able to work?

Then I would say, "Give it a shot and work it out in premarital counseling."
posted by Pearl928 at 5:56 PM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do not get married if you disagree on the question of whether to have children. Full stop.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:04 PM on February 20, 2016

It's not like I definitely *don't* want to have kids; I just {don't} have real desire for it, either now or in the future.

That means you don't.

It's possible that you change your mind some point in the future. Or maybe not. That's your own decision.

If you're 100% certain that you don't want children, don't lie to yourself and don't lie to her. If you're only 20% certain you don't want children, maybe it's a better gamble for both of you. But be clear and be honest with yourself and your girlfriend.

The way things look now, the only way you two should really stay together is if you both converge to an agreement about something. Having children is a pretty binary thing - you either do or you don't.
posted by theorique at 6:13 PM on February 20, 2016

You are not the first person to ask this exact same question of Ask Metafilter (although of course everyone who asks it thinks their situation has all these special details about it that makes it really, really different) and every time I see it I get sicker of it. Yes, you have got to be the bad guy who fucks up your relationship. You have got to tell her the truth about what you want from life, and what you want is apparently "to dilly-dally and refuse to make hard choices until biology makes a choice for me". No, you can't just wait until you're both too old and hope she'll forgive you for the squandering of her prime childbearing years even though you knew motherhood was one of her main goals in life. Grow the fuck up. Get out now while she still has a chance to find a spouse who actually wants to be a father.

Don't do what MattD says. Don't put this on her. You've strung her along for long enough. Own this. Do the emotional work of actually ending it. Be the bad guy, because you know what? You are the bad guy. She has never been anything but honest about what she wants from life.

I actually was ambivalent about kids too. I am the female partner of a man a few years older than me. He was ready and he told me so and I finally realized it was time to either leave him or make a decision. We have a preschooler now. Unlike many people on this thread, I don't think you have to be sure children are something you want in order to be a good parent. I've never been 100% sure of anything in my life so if that was required I would never have done it, and now that I have one I don't regret it. But I do think you have to actually confront this decision and deal with its consequences, in order to be a good partner and a good human being.
posted by town of cats at 9:38 PM on February 20, 2016 [25 favorites]

Echoing town of cats' last point: how sure do you tend to be about major decisions? Is this one of a long line of questions you have felt ambivalent about, or do you typically reach certainty quickly?
posted by yarntheory at 9:56 PM on February 20, 2016

I agree with jenfullmoon. Let me say upfront that I am a woman who emphatically does not want kids, and my father has been ambivalent about children his whole life. And y'know what, my sister and I both turned out fine, we have a healthy and loving relationship with our dad even though he had to be actively persuaded into the second kid.

The real decision you need to make is: what do I care more about, spending the rest of my life with [girlfriend] or the freedom of being childfree? It's an either/or decision and you need to make it now. Choose.
posted by serelliya at 11:34 PM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'd guess my lifetime chances are 50%, and then, probably not for another 8+ years at the soonest.

As a starting point, this means that the chances of your marriage becoming a painful mess are >50%.
There is a 50% chance you will permanently disagree about having kids. (Which is a heartbreaking situation to be in.)
Even in case you decide to have them, there's a considerable chance that your timetable will be way too slow for her to be happy and at peace with.
And even if you both agree to wait 8+ years, you'll then face a statistical increase in difficulties, risks and costs related to conceiving and giving birth.

You say there are practical reasons for you two getting married now. But take into consideration that a divorce will also be hugely impractical - painful and expensive - and there is a >50% chance of that happening within a decade, due to this issue. Add to that, of course, the probability of all the other ways marriages fail even when people are on the same page about kids.

The conclusion is that the odds of your marriage not ending in heartbreak are bad. Really bad. Even worse than for the rest of us married folk. And the cost of failure will be considerably higher for your gf, who will then need to scramble to get the family she wants, and her chances of succes are smaller if she starts looking for one at 36 than at 28.

My advice: Do NOT get married as long as you are not on the same page about kids (and other major life decisions). Don't string her along without making a clear promise you know you can keep and she'll be happy with (you'll need to start working on this now). And don't have kids if you don't really want them.
posted by sively at 3:24 AM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of the things that moved me in the direction of wanting kids is my partner. I know he'll be a great father and having a person who shares his DNA sounds amazing. So I think there's a chance that if you break up with this woman, maybe you'll find someone who will make you want to have kids with, because she's awesome and you know she'll be an amazing mother so you want to be a patent with her. Conversely, the fact that you don't feel that way about this woman makes me think you should split up.
posted by kat518 at 7:15 AM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fwiw, I was ambivalent about wanting kids while my girlfriend at the time was clear she wanted them. We were both hovering around 30 years old at the time.

She decided that as long as I wasn't dead set *against* having kids, she would take the chance.

We've been married over 25 years now and have 2 grown kids.

Marriage changes people. Time changes people. You have no idea what the future will bring. The main thing is to enter into a relationship with love and respect and commit to communicating openly and honestly, as best you can.
posted by jasper411 at 5:49 PM on February 21, 2016

I don't know the answer. But I am a woman who's ambivalent-leaning-yes and I'm marrying a man who's ambivalent-leaning-no.
posted by Lady Li at 11:31 PM on February 21, 2016

... Somehow submitted that early; to continue: I think you owe it to her to have the conversation, and to spend the time - each of you and together - thinking about what you really want and how you really feel.
posted by Lady Li at 11:37 PM on February 21, 2016

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