How To: Date in your 30s when you want children?
December 29, 2017 2:28 PM   Subscribe

I am a woman. Unfortunately, against my wishes and plans, it looks like I'm about to be back on the dating scene at age 33 (after a long relationship that I anticipated would end in marriage and children). I was last single in my mid-to-late-20s. Leaving aside the logistics of finding a date (perhaps for a future AskMe), my question is about when and how to bring up with my future date(s) the fact that I want children - ideally in the next couple/few years.

Things are obviously much more pressured time-wise on that front for me than they were the better part of a decade ago. I am absolutely certain I want several biological children (if at all possible, of course), and it is one of the most important things to me right now. I don't have years (or even *a* year) to waste with a man who isn't sure that he wants marriage or children (with me). That said, obviously I want to give things time rather than exerting too much pressure on an early relationship. I also wouldn't marry a man who wasn't a good match, just to have children. All I'm saying is that I want it to be publicly on the table as something very important to me and I want the timeline of the relationship to be at least cognizant of that. How early can I reasonably bring this up, and how do I do it? At least a few women must have been in this situation before, right? I'm really afraid of scaring away a potential match by bringing it up the wrong way or with poor timing. I realize that men have longer with this sort of thing, but are there many men in their 30s who feel the same way?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure you realize that you can have a biological child of your own without having a partner? I work with a woman who made that decision in her early 30's. She has a beautiful little boy now and still no partner. Of course it is harder without a partner, but lots of women are successful single Moms.

One of the things she did, in anticipation of being a single Mom is find a government job with good pay and excellent benefits with a strong union for protection as well as a fairly good maternity leave policy. She had researched daycare options in advance and basically planned for single motherhood with the same skills she uses in her project management job here.

Having a partner with whom you have a child is still no guarantee that you won't end up a single Mom. If you are as sure as you sound that you want a child, then your planning should be around that. You won't be limiting your potential partner pool if you have a child or not. In fact if you have a child, then the guys who are going to be serious about a relationship with you will be crystal clear that your child is part of the package.
posted by agatha_magatha at 2:42 PM on December 29, 2017 [29 favorites]

Are you using online dating? Because from what I’ve seen, it’s common practice to put it in your profile. That way, nobody is wasting anyone’s time.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:46 PM on December 29, 2017 [18 favorites]

33 is not really old to be on the dating scene and your fertility isn't rapidly declining (unless there is something that you're not telling us) - while it is good to be focused on what you want, this isn't as urgent as it will be in about a decade. If you're really worried, you can see your OB/Gyn to get a bit of a health checkup. You do have a year to figure out if someone is both right for you and right for you to have children with. You don't want to rush into things with someone just because they have sperm, right?

So focusing in on if the relationship is going well is totally okay and I think that it will be easier than you think. I think that your concern about bringing this up with guys is well placed for guys in their 20s, but that guys in their 30s and 40s aren't like that - based on my friends, at least.

Based on my many friends that date in their 30s, it seems like people are far less likely to futz around about their goals - family, career, otherwise. Unlike dating in one's 20s, people (so I hear) are oriented toward serious relationships and these conversations occur early. If people are on the same page, they stop dating. And unlike dating in ones 20's, guys are less on the fence about having children. Guys in their 30s may have children, have good friends with children, and are generally more acquainted with the idea than they were in their 20s. While they still may be not 100% ready to be a father, they probably have figured out, more or less, if they are on board with the idea. Every friend of mine dating in their 30s has told me that they have had this conversation early on.

And once you hit the 40s dating pool, a lot of people already have kids and are divorced. So dudes in the 40s dating pool basically have to be ready for the fact that potential dates are mothers. If you are online dating, you might want to look around at the 40s guys too. There is no better way to judge a man's father potential than to see if he is a good father already (and hopefully has a good relationship with his ex).

I don't think that you need to worry about freaking someone out about your desire for kids, but you're right in thinking that you want to bring it up appropriately. 3rd date perhaps? And just casually - perhaps in context with other topics of discussion like "One of the reasons that I've been taking this whatever certificate is that I think that it will give me a lot more flexibility in my career choices. This is especially important to me because I do want to have kids ones day and I think that being able to telecommute would be better in that case." Or maybe something like, "I'm really close with my sister's kids. I love my nieces dearly and they are a big part of my life. I am really excited about having kids of my own at some point."
posted by k8t at 2:47 PM on December 29, 2017 [9 favorites]

Agreed that you should put it right in your profile if you're dating online. If it scares people off there, then it's to your benefit, since you're looking for someone interested in an accelerated timeline.

Most of the men between 30-45 whom I attempt to date lose interest in me because I don't want to have more kids with them, so I don't think you're in as bad a place as you fear.
posted by metasarah at 2:55 PM on December 29, 2017 [23 favorites]

Guy here. I can't speak for all men, but I will anyway: if dating a childless woman in her early 30s probably the #1 question front & centre in our minds is "What are her attitudes & plans towards children?".

Or maybe the #2 question. But right up near the top, regardless.

Obviously, it could be any of these:
- Not at all interested
- Not capable but open to adopting or being a step parent
- Take it as it comes, maybe with the right partner
- Definitely yes, and searching for the right partner (your situation, it seems)
- Definitely yes, with or without a partner
- Some other variant I may have missed

This is one of life's big ticket items, and probably bigger than lifestyle, interests, where you'd like to live, attitude towards finances, etc. because it's the one decision that has the most impact on all the others.

I think it's worth being completely upfront on a dating profile, but give it a bit of time if you're just meeting people randomly, as k8t suggests.

Any guy who has an interest beyond just getting you into bed will want to know where you stand on this issue quite early in the piece.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:00 PM on December 29, 2017 [18 favorites]

Upfront, as soon as possible. Not in the desperate way, of course, but it is important info.

I agree it's harder to find people who don't want more or any kids, so you can probably find a good match
posted by Jacen at 3:02 PM on December 29, 2017

I am a single guy with kids from a previous marriage. I started chatting with someone online last week and one of her first messages to me said: "I want to be honest with you: I want to have kids and you already have some, and I don't know if the idea of having more would be a problem for you."

I really liked the fact that she was upfront about something important to her. It didn't push me away at all.
posted by tacodave at 3:13 PM on December 29, 2017 [13 favorites]

I was once a women in my early 30s looking for dates, but I was your opposite--I was 100% sure, and always had been sure, that I did not want children.

I encountered many more men who wanted children than did not. When I met a guy I really liked who liked me back and had already gotten a vasectomy, the clouds parted and the angels sang and I married the crap out of him.
posted by jesourie at 3:24 PM on December 29, 2017 [46 favorites]

Another option to consider might be egg-freezing. I believe it costs around $10k. Not cheap, but if you would feel better searching for a partner in a more leisurely way, it could be a gift you give yourself.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:35 PM on December 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Basically, bring it up before you sleep together or have any prolonged physical contact. Make sure they seem to be reasonable candidates. Then, if so, you can get to the physical stuff.

That will make it easier to dump them if you're incompatible on that particular score, and it'll make it fairly clear that it's a priority vs short-term companionship.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:36 PM on December 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

For what it is worth, barring any health issues, you really do have more time than you think. I am 33 and just had a baby, but I was definitely one of the younger ones at our new parent classes. There are a lot more women getting pregnant in their late 30’s-early 40’s these days.
posted by Diagonalize at 4:39 PM on December 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

Another guy who doesn't see a problem. For whatever reason, the media portrays guys as being totally turned off when a date talks about wanting to have kids. This has no basis in reality. I suppose there are some people out there who really do live as if they live in a Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson movie, but most of the guys in their 30s that I know are a lot more reasonable. Even if we ourselves aren't thinking about kids yet, we realize it's something that women (even women younger than you) think and talk about. If you're getting coffee with a guy and you mention you're interested in having kids fairly soon, he's probably not going to start screaming and fall into the fetal position on the floor. And if he does, well, that's helpful for you too. So be upfront.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:03 PM on December 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Honestly, dating in your 30s is a different beast. People are way more upfront and forward about what they want and are looking for. There's still games and bs. But no one is going to be weirded out if you put in your profile that your end game is to couple up and start a family. That's the point of dating basically, and in our 20s it feels so weird and strange and no one really knows what they want. I went on ok Cupid after a divorce, at the rip old age of 34, with 2 kids, and ended up meeting my current husband. Also a little tip for you that myself, and a number of like-minded friends, don't be afraid to date younger. Younger men are awesome! And something about turning 30 whips a lot of them into marrying shape :) good luck!!!
posted by katypickle at 5:32 PM on December 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

Guy here.*

I would say if you like the guy, let him know by the second or third date. You don't have to start by asking him if he wants kids (or more kids), you could make a declarative statement that just kind of slides in there and waits for a response. Such as, "I was at my friend Alisha's daughters 6th birthday party last week and it was so fun! I really look forward to having children of my own." That gives him a chance to respond or if he doesn't, you can ask more directly soon after that.

It is definitely something to discuss before sex or even getting close to sex. And it's OK to tell a guy to choose kids or not kids before considering sex (not that the two of you are making a baby right then.) If kids are your priority make it clear that, "Maybe." is good-bye. And determine long-term intent.

From experience and observation**, most guys in their mid-30's and beyond who haven't had kids are more reluctant to be new fathers than guys who already have kids.

Be true to your desires and ditch those guys who are unsure. You are a pretty cool person for thinking about this so well and knowing what you want.

* 55 year-old guy who never really wanted kids ("of my own") and got a vasectomy at 35. But I mostly had girlfriends with kids after age 25.

**But that's just my opinion.
posted by ITravelMontana at 5:45 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think the "I definitely want to have kids; do you?" piece is easy, but the "I want to have them soon" part gets trickier, especially if he's someone who takes awhile to know if you're a person he wants to date / be with.

this isn't as urgent as it will be in about a decade

True, but OP wants multiple kids, and you never know how long it will take to get pregnant, or to be able to get pregnant again after a first child (it can take 18+ months for your period to come back). I started trying for a baby in 2014 (oh, and got engaged in 2013 -- does a traditional wedding need to be factored into the timeline?) and will be lucky if I manage to have a second child in 2018. So OP totally does have time, but not like a million years of time. Or maybe OP will be on the other end of the bell curve and get pregnant on their first try and get her first postpartum period at like eight weeks post-birth and be game for the whole "two under two" thing -- who knows! But I just think OP is right -- if this is a priority for her, moving steadily in that direction will be great and give her that much more time to enjoy her kids! I think there's too much emphasis in today's career-oriented world on "you have time, don't rush" and not enough on "you'd like to do it soon? well, go for it!"

OP, one more piece of unsolicited advice? Yes, it's important to find a partner if you're someone who wants to do this with a partner, but another thing that takes a couple of years to really get lined up is a good job situation. Ideally, assuming your financial situation will mean that you'll need to work, you want maternity leave pay, job security, a job you can do while you can barely keep your eyes open during pregnancy (i.e., one you've already gotten good at, not one you just started), and paid time off saved up. If you want to change jobs, it's kind of worth doing that before you start trying to get pregnant (e.g., if you're in the US, I think you need a year of tenure somewhere to be eligible for certain job protections). Best wishes!
posted by slidell at 5:50 PM on December 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

My brother and SIL met via online dating 6 or 7 years ago. He was ~34, she was ~33.

They are now married 4+ years with a 4 month old. A very much wanted and wished for and loved 4 month old.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:55 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're dating online, I wouldn't take it amiss if you said in your profile that you were looking for someone with whom to settle down and have children. In person, maybe the first date, if things seem otherwise okay?

The key for me would be for you to communicate that my wanting kids was a necessary but not sufficient condition. It would be a red flag if I thought you were just looking for anyone with two balls and a bank account, for hopefully obvious reasons.

But as one of several reasonable other criteria, that's totally fine. The worst you can do is save me the cost of a second date.
posted by d. z. wang at 5:55 PM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I (34 year old female who online dated from 32-34 and is now happily in a relationship with a guy who wants a kid, which is what I also want) didn't put it in my profile when online dating but it came up fairly fast in conversations with guys who were looking for a longterm relationship. Some guys asked me on the first or second date, younger than me, same age as me, older than me, didn't matter, they're thinking about it too. I have a kid already so it was like "you have one kid, do you want more, and if so, how many more?"

My advice is be honest about what you want, and don't assume a guy who doesn't have a serious profile up isn't looking for the same things as you. A lot of guys spend years online dating on and off and get jaded or don't like to put up "looking for longterm partner, kids, dog" but do want that with the right person, if they put that up they fear attracting women that only want that from them. My boyfriend is 36, never married, no kids, and his profile on tinder was blank, but we matched and we talked and it's been all good since. He has close family with young children and a lot of his friends have kids which helps. I dated a guy with a kid who was hesitant about having more because none of his friends were having kids and he already knew how hard it can be raising one. I dated guys without kids who didn't want to be tied down and had no experience with them, if anything that's an orange flag to look out for if they're in their 30's, if they have no experience with kids and don't seem to enjoy them or seem afraid of what having a kid will do to their social life, or if they're like "I want kids, someday" but no real plan or idea of how that would work like cost of daycare, schools nearby, etc.
posted by lafemma at 5:55 AM on December 30, 2017

I'm a woman. I don't want children, and I dated online so I put it in my profile. However, I'm pretty sure that this question came up early on in every dating scenario (in the first few dates), usually linked to a question about your family. E.g., "how many siblings do you have?" led rather naturally into some conversation about children.

The last time I was dating I was in my late twenties and I met many men who wanted to rush the relationship, lock it down and get serious right away because they wanted very much to get married and/or have children and/or not be forever alone. Be really careful about that. The false sense of intimacy that going too fast creates burns out rather quickly and, IME, painfully.
posted by sm1tten at 10:47 AM on December 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

I’ve been in this situation and it sucks, I am so sorry that the life you strove for got waylaid. Here’s my advice:

Yes to asking early whether the guy you’re dating wants kids. Not only that, but probe important aspects of how you’d raise them (particular religion? Schooling? Etc). And do what you can to test his words against his actions – for instance, a couple of dates in I organized a group outing with the New Date and a friend with a kid, and watched how he interacted with that kid. Also probe any other deal-breakers (yours and his) about how you’d like your lives to unfold. Your goal is to find any glaring mismatches in a month or two, not a year or two.

If you’re like me, the loss of your past long-term relationship was a major shot in the heart. They say you need half as long as a relationship was in order to get over it, but you may not have time to completely heal from the past relationship, THEN start dating, THEN marry and have kids. So, make processing the death of the old relationship its own separate, important goal. You don’t sound like you need therapy, you sound very clear-headed, but paying to vent to a therapist can help you work through this faster. Alternately, have a good girl friend talk through this (and keep bringing it up every few months – your feelings will change as time goes by). The grief from the loss of the old relationship is separate from your current dating life and needs its own outlet. If you just try to bury those feelings while you hyper-focus on the baby goal … well, the feelings will come back to bite you.

Consider artificial insemination. It didn’t even cross my mind, but really, having the baby has a deadline, and having a great marriage can happen later.

Good luck. You’re in a difficult situation but not an impossible one – many families get started in the late 30’s and into the 40’s.
posted by sdrawkcaSSAb at 1:57 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I suggest making sure your desire to only date men who want kids is explicit in your online dating profile (if any). I also suggest making sure this topic is brought up/explored before a second date is planned. It is a valid concern to not want to seem desperate, but IMHO the important priority is attracting the "right" kind of people to date. The type of people worth getting to know are those who demonstrate generosity of spirit and maturity in their interactions with others. They are not easily put off and won't give in to hasty judgment, but will choose to understand and respect your honesty about your immediate priorities. Once you find people who are on the same page with regards to marriage and kids, the next step is figuring out together if you are right for each other.

Good luck.
posted by tackypink at 3:43 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

The advice that I've heard was that if you have any kind of dealbreaker about you, such as not wanting kids (or in this case, wanting them soon), say it on the second date. You don't have to have That Talk with someone you may not even like on date one, but on date two, you want to weed them out as soon as you can.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:32 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you are worrying about this prematurely. Just say on whatever dating profile you make that it’s an important life goal to have children within X years.

Also you do not need a man to have children. And in most cases, having a man around is just an additional burden on the mother.
posted by a strong female character at 7:29 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Are you using any online dating platforms? I left a relationship when I was 34, partly because I wanted children and he didn't, and found that on OKCupid – if you don't want to put 'wants children' upfront in your profile (which is understandable) – there are several questions (in their hilarious & ridiculous set of questions you can answer to give you your matches) which address whether you want children or not.

If I saw someone I liked, and there was no indication either way on their profile, I would look at their match question answers and see if they'd answered any about wanting children. There's been more than a few cases where I've seen a guy on there who's looked amazing, but in their answers they've put something like they're nowhere near ready for children, or have no interest in having children. Incalculable amounts of time saved! I think one of the questions is literally 'Do you want children?'. If you're serious about your fertility (though 33 is really fine, and it's not time to panic, I promise) then if you do message them or whatnot, at least you're doing so with an informed perspective.

It's not much, and it's just a tiny hack, but it's pretty useful! Otherwise, everyone else's advice is great.

More anecdata: My brother & SIL met online 4 yrs ago, neither mentioned they wanted kids in their profiles or indeed to each other for over a year after they started dating – they are both in their late 30s and having a baby now!
posted by considerthelilies at 8:04 AM on December 31, 2017

Hi, I’m a guy in my 40s who had several female friends in your situation, although a bit older, several years ago. This is a bit orthogonal to your question, but of my three close female friends who had relationships end that were expected to lead to marriage and kids, all three made disastrous matches rapidly after having the earlier relationship breakup. My personal history is one of complicated IVF to have kids, so I know that there are real biological imperatives. But you are some years from facing that imperative, and my anecdotal evidence suggests that the biggest danger for women is not examining potential partners closely enough, not the other way around. Please be careful, and I say this with love, don’t let the surprising end of your current relationship lead to you devaluing yourself. You have enough time to find a GOOD partner, don’t jump for the first one.
posted by OmieWise at 5:16 PM on January 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

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