Panicking about breaking up because I want kids and she isn't sure
January 11, 2021 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I (28F) just realized that my girlfriend of 3 years seems to be more in the "maybe no" camp than "maybe yes", while I've been clear from the beginning that I want kids, and am now panicking about breaking up with her.

2 days ago we talked about kids and for the first time I actually heard more of a no than a yes, and she said she's not sure she'll ever be ready. I'm now completely panicking and have barely eaten since then, and it's turned into a fight. We both feel that we've been honest with each other this whole time. We've talked a number of times about how hypothetically, I would carry the baby but she likes the idea of IVF + embryo transfer so she'd have a role in the conception; that she's like her dad in that she probably wouldn't choose to have children on her own but could end up thrilled with her kids like her dad is; that we would both try hard to make time for each other and not lose our identities as people (which I think is healthy), etc. We moved in together last summer after many talks about our commitment to each other, if we were ready for that next step, that we wouldn't be moving in together if we didn't see this as something serious and long-term, etc. I guess I figured she just needed time because she's never given me a no, and I'm seriously struggling to figure out how she thought this would turn out, considering I've been super clear on my position on kids. I'm now panicking and she's feeling defensive and pressured, because this is suddenly a big deal.

I've spent much of the past 2 years coming around to the idea that things like a house, marriage, and babies are more of a medium-future thing than they were in my early 20's (obviously), while my girlfriend has only just started her first full-time job in her field and has student debt, so she isn't in that headspace at all. I understand this and we've both grown a ton in the past few years, so it's not unreasonable that finally being financially stable and professionally successful will help shape her vision of being a mature adult, instead of a big kid still trying to figure things out (her words). She's more of a-live-in-the-moment kind of person and struggles to visualize things long-term, and has told me she can't give me the answer I want right now, because she doesn't know how she'll feel in 2-4 years.

Having kids (ideally between 32 and 36) and being exhausted definitely scares me, but I also feel like it would be rewarding and that I could handle it. Everything on Reddit screams to go for the Band-Aid approach – get out while I can and find someone who is enthusiastic about having kids. I want to give her time, but I can't afford to wait 4 years, fall even more in love with her, and have her say she doesn't want kids. However, the idea of breaking up with her over this makes me want to die (not suicidal, but anxiety is a beast) and am struggling to figure out if it's worth it. We are very happy together, get along well, have a decent sex life, moving in together has been much easier than we thought it would be, etc.

I've run the thought experiment through and the idea of dating again practically disgusts me. I have no interest at all in trying to establish this degree of relationship with someone else. Yeah everyone has good qualities and bad qualities, but she and I know each other's bad qualities and can live with them just fine. I'm very very scared of breaking up with her and not finding anyone else, and ending up lonely and childless. I've had a taste of what it's like to share my life with someone else and giving that up for a hypothetical child just seems insane. The lesbian dating pool is pretty small and I'm pretty picky. I'm not sure I would willingly have a child if I had to single-parent it.

I know that no one else can make this decision for me, and obviously she and I will make this decision together. I'm just looking for stories, advice, and some words of hope that if we do break up, I actually do have a chance of finding love again. I'm just so scared.

Thank you for making it this far. Brevity is not my strong suit.
posted by Anon4689 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Straight opinion here, but I have been the "not ready to talk about kids yet" person in a bunch of relationships. It wasn't until I was about 30 that it solidified into "will not parent children ever, under any circumstance." (People are fucking hostile to women who are vocal about not wanting children ever, so I'm sure that was internalized and I hedged as a self protective measure.) I was also always real sticky about progressing relationships on the escalator.

All of those men I dated and did not move in with or make plans for children with are now (presumably very happily) married with kids. And I am very happily raising a dog and not making long term relationship plans with any humans.

So speaking only from my own personal experience, to me, I see your girlfriend telling you very clearly she does not want to be actively involved in the creation or maintenance of a child, with some window dressing to protect feelings.

Staying in a relationship that will not give you what you need because of fear is not a path to happiness.
posted by phunniemee at 8:19 AM on January 11, 2021 [34 favorites]

I don't think you should leave right away, but I wouldn't escalate into a marriage until you were sure you were happy with that outcome. You guys got lots of time, and so enjoy your relationship for what it is today, not for distant questions.

Not only would her opinion on children likely change over time, but so likely will yours. There's no reason to completely stress over a decision in 4 years today, when nobody can predict the future!

On the other hand, you should be open to considering the fact that your partner might just not want kids. I don't want kids. It's relatively common. Is that a situation you could be happy with long term?
posted by bbqturtle at 8:21 AM on January 11, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: You're in the unfortunate position of choosing between options that may be mutually exclusive: a certainty that you will eventually be a parent, and the ambiguity that you may or may not be a parent with someone specific. Which one of those you're most interested in is unanswerable to anyone but you.

However you pursue this, I encourage you to avoid referring to discussions you've had with your partner in the past. It's counterproductive, and no one is swayed out of how they feel today by being told how someone interpreted how they felt yesterday. You two have to sort out your own timeline and comfort level boundaries for discussing this, and that itself tends to require a lot of patience. But, yes, talk to your partner about this as gently and openly as you can about your convictions. If your ultimate decision is that having children is more important to you than your relationship, you don't have to lay out an ultimatum to make that clear, you know? Find what's comfortable for each of you by talking about this, maybe routinely, and maybe for a long of you will arrive at a decision before the other, perhaps, but it can be framed as a decision that must be made eventually.

My heart goes out to you. These situations are rarely simple.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:23 AM on January 11, 2021 [16 favorites]

Best answer: I'm now panicking and she's feeling defensive and pressured, because this is suddenly a big deal.

I know that this is much harder to do than to say but I think your first move needs to be to let your feelings move through you and stop panicking. There is nothing that you have to do today, next week, or next month in this situation. And I would see if you two can do some low-key connecting activities - make homemade pizza together, binge a show - and just not talk about this for a couple of days.

It's not an emergency, and it's best to let that first reaction go.

After that...give yourself a date a few months in the future by which you'll have decided whether kids or the relationship is more important to you. Then once you know what your bottom line is (as best you can know, human knowing is not perfect), then you can let her know and if it's kids, you can give her an equivalent amount of time to think it over. So for example, you give yourself three months, that's May 1, and then you give her three months, that's September 1. I think your heart can manage that many more months of "falling in love" or not and if it doesn't work out, that's when you can start thinking about decoupling.

Take some breaths here. Everything is the same as yesterday except you know your current partner better.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:33 AM on January 11, 2021 [41 favorites]

It's very normal to be unsure about having kids in your 20s, and it doesn't mean she wasn't honest with you earlier if she's become more sure by now (is she? it's unclear). You still have lots of time before you're in your preferred 32-36 time frame, and likely more time past that too, though nobody can really say for sure. The big thing to figure out is whether she's actually still unsure (and if so, whether you can live with the possibility that the answer may eventually be no) or if she's made up her mind and is just scared to tell you what she likely knows will end the relationship (consciously or not).

Either way though you do have plenty of time to think things through carefully, and for your partner to do the same. Take some time for emotions to settle before making any big decisions or having any more big talks. If you need some help to get your mental health more stable in the meantime there's no shame in that either.
posted by randomnity at 8:40 AM on January 11, 2021 [6 favorites]

I'm a queer woman. I spent my 20s being pretty sure I wanted kids, to the point of questioning whether I should even go on dates with people who did not want them. Now I'm in my mid-30s and am pretty sure I don't want them. I'm realizing that for me a lot of my intensity was coming from the narrative(s) around (the possibility of) infertility (seen as endlessly sad and awful in communities I've been in) and some perfectionist belief like if I was prepared and intense enough I could avoid that. I wish I had been less intense about it when I was younger and focused more on myself and relationships.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:59 AM on January 11, 2021 [8 favorites]

I don't have much advice to offer but I wish childfree people would refrain from telling OP that they're overreacting. People have the right to want kids and to have that be a firm dealbreaker.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:06 AM on January 11, 2021 [27 favorites]

We both feel that we've been honest with each other this whole time.

If your takeaway here is that she hasn't been honest, there's no possible win here for y'all or your kids. Not everybody is born having pre-made all their big life decisions; some people need to factor in additional information obtained by living in the world for a while and seeing what's up. And I have to tell you: that information is pretty shitty, when it comes to women and children.

This may be an easy decision for you to make in the sense that you know what you want, but something to remember is that this is no guarantee that you will find parenting easy and never second-guess yourself and never need to communicate through parenting issues with your partner. Maybe the two of you should formalize the discussion of this decision, ideally with a therapist for communication coaching, because if you can't talk through this and then have a baby anyway, the relationship is highly at risk.

You need to be able to talk about this, talk about the hardest of hard impossible stuff, with anybody you decide to parent with, so maybe redirect all this anxiety into becoming a person who is better-armed to be a parent and then additionally invest some time into figuring out if you will be doing so with this person or not.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:14 AM on January 11, 2021 [10 favorites]

Do you need to solve this problem right now, or do you need a problem you can solve right now?

I noticed in my own twenties that I often felt driven to confront relationship problems when I was stressed out by situations I didn't control (job hunts, family illness, etc.) The issues I identified were genuine, but with time and reduced stress I often found ways to negotiate them that weren't obvious in the moment.

Please be kind to yourself and take the time you need. Especially if you're in the US--the ambient stress of this past week has been at eleven.
posted by yarntheory at 9:30 AM on January 11, 2021 [12 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds to me as if you've both been honest with each other, but you've also been together through a really critical set of years where it's super common for goals and wishes and plans to change in some ways and solidify in others. It sounds really tough and scary for you and I'm so sorry. I do think that you should try really hard not to make a snap decision right now about something where your optimal scenario is four years down the road.

Please take some time to be kind to yourself and take care of yourself - maybe that looks like talking to a therapist or a close friend or doing some journalling or taking long walks or whatever gives you time and space to process. And please be kind to your partner, too, because it sounds like she thinks that she's tried to be open and honest with you, and somewhere in between the two of you a communication disconnect has happened where she thought she was saying a genuinely undecided "maybe" and you thought she was saying "not definitely no, which probably means yes". That's got to be really hard on both of you to be realizing now and I hope you can find a way together to de-escalate the fight so you're not making decisions while emotions are running so high.

Don't wait four years to figure this out, but also don't do it this week while you're in a full on panic spiral. In your shoes I would sit with this for some time - a few months sounds like the right general ballpark to me but your support system can hopefully help you figure out what's right for you - and see what it feels like to move through some stages of thinking differently about your relationship and the potential futures you might see for yourself individually or together. Maybe once you've eaten and slept and processed, one path or another will stand out more clearly as the one that's best for you.
posted by Stacey at 9:31 AM on January 11, 2021 [9 favorites]

For us, we had our one and only kid after being together for, oh, about 15 years if you count when we started dating, and I was just about to turn 35 when she was born. It was a more cerebral discussion though I'm sure hormones played a role. As a society, we are told by loads of people that we will just know when we are ready for children and the pull will be SO STRONG. Well, I didn't feel that and neither did my husband. What happened is all our friends started having babies and we started thinking about our future. We had a long period of no kid time and then we thought about whether we would look back and regret not having the parenting experience. With that kind of framing, we both thought we would feel regret. It honestly wasn't until we committed to it and started really trying that I became more obsessed with the idea of having a baby. I've never been obsessed about motherhood though I've grown more comfortable with the role and the world of it.

It sounds like "next steps" for you two is probably the process of freezing eggs? You are still very young and have lots of time but you are also the perfect age to put those eggs aside for later use/consideration. I know it is expensive, time-consuming and bodily immersive project but maybe you two can do that together while continuing to think about things? If your girlfriend is having cold feet with this action, then that tells you that her eggs and her wishes for her eggs aren't really going to be part of this conversation in the future. That's fine and doesn't mean that you won't or can't have children. I think you should move forward, if you are able, to freeze your eggs.

Secondly, you have to be able to have these conversations now without freaking out. It's a sign of a healthy relationship if you can be open and honest about your fears and anxieties without the other person completely losing their shit. As we approached the decision to try for a kid or not, we had an open conversation about our fears and anxieties about parenthood (many! especially on my part) and committed to being aware of and open about those as we moved along in the process. Many of those things that I was so worried about did not come to pass. Other things have come up in the process of parenting that have been harder than I thought. However, we do have the foundation of working through that as a definite "good mark" of our relationship.
posted by amanda at 9:34 AM on January 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

Whether to have kids is a decision based on emotions based on facts based on emotions. Given the events of the past week, I would expect everyone's thoughts to be all over the place.
posted by amtho at 10:01 AM on January 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

I wish childfree people would refrain from telling OP that they're overreacting

I'm not sure if that was directed at me, but I have kids and went through 12 pregnancies to have 2 surviving kids. I was actually speaking directly from the experience of those years of infertility and lots of moments where one of my husband or I went through emotional yes/no/can't do it anymore/want to adopt right now today moments.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:04 AM on January 11, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I was/am in the same mindset of your partner. Kids were a “of course I’ll have them” in my teens and early twenties, but by late 20s/30s, it became a very real thing to face, that friends were having kids and kids are difficult and my fertility has a time clock, and I suddenly realized this “of course but in the future” became something I had to make decisions about now. My partner at the time was blindsided by my switch to being a “most likely no children”, because the conversation had turned from the hypothetical to the very real imminent future/we are engaged/when will I get off my birth control to get pregnant. And these pressures made everything real, and solidified my thinking.

I can’t know what your partner is thinking. So, I can only share what happened to us. I broke up with him, largely because of this difference. It was hard. Dating was hard. But he almost immediately found someone else, and last I heard, they are very happy together. I have dated many people since, and have been happy, and am now in a committed relationship. And not a day goes by that I wish I had stayed and had his children.
posted by umwhat at 10:09 AM on January 11, 2021 [18 favorites]

For whatever it's worth, I'm another woman who went from "probably wants kids" to "maybe, who knows" to "yeah, probably not" over the course of my mid-20s to early 30s. It's normal, and doesn't require anyone being dishonest.

This stood out to me your post:

has told me she can't give me the answer I want right now, because she doesn't know how she'll feel in 2-4 years.

We cannot read your girlfriend's mind, and it's unclear whether this means she is just truly unsure because either a) the world seems to be falling apart or b) she knows she's not ready now, and is truly unsure if a few years of career stability will change that -or- if c) she is leaning towards "no."

You are clearly certain you want a kid (or more?). You should not accept 2-4 years as a timeframe to wait for her to make up her mind, but I agree with those suggesting you not feel the need to decide right away. I also agree this seems like a good reason to see a couples therapist, even if only for a few sessions.

This part of your post also stood out to me:

I'm very very scared of breaking up with her and not finding anyone else, and ending up lonely and childless. I've had a taste of what it's like to share my life with someone else and giving that up for a hypothetical child just seems insane. The lesbian dating pool is pretty small and I'm pretty picky.

If you haven't been dating for 3ish years, you don't 100% know who is in the dating pool (well, maybe if you're in a really small town). You might consider making a fake/nondescript dating profile on one of the main apps just to see who is out there - not to cheat on your girlfriend, but just to get out of the mindset that your options are either her or a lifetime of loneliness. Because that's definitely not the case.
posted by coffeecat at 10:23 AM on January 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

If your girlfriend is having cold feet with this action, then that tells you that her eggs and her wishes for her eggs aren't really going to be part of this conversation in the future.
I don't think this is a fair assessment at all. Even if I were maybe open to potentially having a child later, freezing my eggs would still give me pause. It's invasive and expensive, you have to go in for a series of multiple hormone injections leading up to it (and with COVID I would be hesitant about going in for medical procedures unless really necessary), it costs around $13-15k for the initial procedure plus $500-$1000 a year for storage plus $3500-$5000 per round of IVF (later required to use the eggs) according to this site. Some of those costs might still be necessary later, some of them might not, like the storage fees. I don't see how this is any less of an ultimatum than just making the girlfriend decide immediately.

I would second the advice to give yourself a deadline to reassess this, maybe 6 months out or so (or maybe align it with the ending of your lease in case you decide parting ways would be the best option) and give yourselves some time to relax and think about it without the pressure to constantly discuss it and decide right away.

Also, do you have a therapist you can talk to? I think it would help you a lot in thinking through this situation and working through your feelings. Sometimes we may decide a relationship with a particular person is more important than having children. Sometimes we may decide having children is more important. Maybe think through a few possibilities once you have given yourself a bit more time and space and less panic.

Sometimes things don't work out the way we want them to despite our best plans. What would happen if she commits and you find yourselves unable to have children? What would happen if you changed your mind about kids and she decided she definitely wanted them?
posted by music for skeletons at 10:24 AM on January 11, 2021 [10 favorites]

Wow! Social interaction!. I feel like I haven't thought about them in a year, but - I think there are some additional things you may want to consider.

I'm a straight guy, but one of my son's friends has two moms. They are divorced for probably seven-ish or so years but, live maybe 2 miles away from each other now and share custody. Their son is very well adjusted. They both wanted kids, but _they_ didn't work out. They both have activities that they specifically share with their son, and they are supportive and present for all his accomplishments. They are both amazing - amazing - people. But, it didn't work out for them.

Point being... they both wanted kids. They were both ready for kids. They both wanted to be parents in the present. Even though they didn't wind up on the same page together, kids has been one thing that they have always been on the same page about.

I also have a set of straight friends that had kids, that _weren't_ both on the same page about kids, and didn't get divorced. It is far more painful to watch them interact with their kids and each other. It feels like they are unhappily biding their time...
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:47 AM on January 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am writing to you from about two years after this kind of breakup. I am a woman who was with a man, but otherwise the story is similar. Over the course of our relationship he went from "I always thought I'd probably have kids, and I like the idea" to "I'm not so sure about kids anymore" to "that is not an experience I want to have" while I remained firmly, vocally committed to future motherhood. I was 28 too. I had many of the same thoughts as you, about how horrible dating again would be, how I'd never find anyone I liked as much, how foolish it felt to sacrifice a real relationship for a hypothetical kid. I decided to wait through his uncertainty, hoping we could talk more and eventually get back on the same page. Those were a painful couple of months, and our relationship did not feel pleasant or functional as he figured himself out. We ended it when his answer became as close as it could be to a firm "no."

I'm not going to lie, it was a devastating breakup. It took serious work to get through it. But here I am at 30, in love with another man who vocally wants the same things I want. And I can't tell you how much of an existential relief it has been. I'm not dragging anyone along. I'm not fighting to protect my desires while simultaneously tiptoeing around his to avoid scaring him away. We can dream about the future together. It gives our relationship depth and security I didn't have before. I feel calmer and more free.

No one can guarantee that you'll find another person to love who wants children as much as you do. I agree with the above posters that you don't need to decide immediately. But to address your last request for words of hope, I've been through this and I'm glad we ended it. I'm glad I found a partner I didn't have to convince.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 11:05 AM on January 11, 2021 [11 favorites]

I am currently involved with some research on the topic of reproductive decision-making, so can add some more academic/generalized thoughts to the personal experiences and perspectives others have shared. Obviously my thoughts below don't apply to all people and ymmv; they are based on literature and the work we are currently doing.

-feelings and plans regarding having kids change a LOT for many people throughout their reproductive years. Take your girlfriend at her word that she's been nothing but honest; leaning toward no currently doesn't mean that she wasn't leaning toward yes previously. Many folks' expectations, plans, and decisions around having/not having kids fluctuate.

-People often move from vague fertility expectations to more concrete intentions after life transitions like a new partnership, establishment of a career, marriage, and other personal factors. Also, things like feeling financially secure, secure relationship-wise, and established in one's career are associated with feeling ready to have children. Your partner might decide conclusively she does not want to have children ever, but based on what you have said (debt, for example) she may not feel like it is an option currently because of where she is in life. This may change as she achieves some of the milestones that many people associate with being ready to have children.

-As a couple of people have pointed out upthread, there is still a dominant expectation for women in most (all? not sure) cultural contexts that they will have children one day. It is not at all uncommon for women to think they will want them or be on the fence mainly due to the expectation of having kids, whereas when they move into actual decision making mode they realize that they do not want that life. This is often facilitated by seeing other people model choosing to be childfree. Your partner may be at the stage where she is moving away from vague expectations/plans and into actual decision making, and realizing this isn't what she wants.

My advice for you is similar to what others have said. Don't think of your partner as having been deceptive. She is sorting through her feelings, which may have changed over time and which may continue to change (in either direction). Don't move immediately to break up, but keep communicating about this over the next months (with counseling if needed). Talk through desire for kids vs. feelings of having not hit life milestones/feeling ready. Have some patience as your partner thinks through what she really wants, and come to a decision on things together. This may mean breaking up in the future if she decides she does not want kids and this is a deal breaker for you, which is 100% fair. But don't rush to break up now if the relationship is otherwise a good one.

Best of luck to you and your partner sorting this stuff out, it's tough.
posted by DTMFA at 11:10 AM on January 11, 2021 [11 favorites]

I was in your girlfriend's shoes. It took a long time for me to realize I didn't want kids, and then even longer to admit it to myself. I wasn't being actively dishonest with my husband. I just kept thinking I'd be ready "some day" and then I was 35 ...and it took a lot of therapy and self-reflection to finally say it out loud. Completely agree with phunniemee that society is hostile to women who don't want kids--even my own therapist kept trying to convince me that I did.

Like you, my husband felt like I had been hiding this from him and he was really angry about it and we fought a lot. It did not make the situation better. If you can try to empathize with your girlfriend about this, it will go a long way towards having an open dialogue.

That said, my husband and I did split, although that was definitely not the only reason for the divorce (we never really got along in the first place). He started dating someone very quickly after, I don't think they're engaged or anything but they seem solid a year and a half later. (I am not dating anyone and totally happy about that.)
posted by radioamy at 11:17 AM on January 11, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: We moved in together last summer after many talks about our commitment to each other, if we were ready for that next step, that we wouldn't be moving in together if we didn't see this as something serious and long-term, etc. I guess I figured she just needed time because she's never given me a no, and I'm seriously struggling to figure out how she thought this would turn out, considering I've been super clear on my position on kids. I'm now panicking and she's feeling defensive and pressured, because this is suddenly a big deal.

I don't think you said your girlfriend's age, but it sounds like she's younger or at least launching her professional life only now, so she hasn't quite had the time to think through these things as you have. People do change their minds over the years about these sorts of things. I certainly felt quite different in my early 30s than I did in my mid-20s.

But, there's a bigger point I want to make: if you really want kids, as long as your partner is being honest with you, it's not her job to not move forward in the relationship if she doesn't. Which is to say, if you want something this relationship can't give you, it's up to you, not her, to know that and to make decisions about what's more important. That doesn't mean she was deceiving you.

I want to give her time, but I can't afford to wait 4 years, fall even more in love with her, and have her say she doesn't want kids. However, the idea of breaking up with her over this makes me want to die (not suicidal, but anxiety is a beast) and am struggling to figure out if it's worth it. ... I've run the thought experiment through and the idea of dating again practically disgusts me.
I think this situation is a big deal, and I don't think you are overreacting, but I think you are catastrophizing, and I think your anxiety is overwhelming you right now. You have a painted a picture where the options are break up and be lonely forever or stay with her and never have children. That does sound stressful. I do think there are other options here.

Are you in therapy? These are big feelings, and it might be helpful to talk them through with a therapist. You could also pursue couples counseling, which is a great place to work through these kinds of questions.

I know it's stressful. Lots of people have been in this situation, and it's hard. But there are more paths forward. I think you can find them.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:08 PM on January 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

If having kids is a dealbreaker for you and you have a strict timeline, then it's totally OK to break up with your girlfriend over this. I don't think either of you did anything wrong but rather started with the best intentions but then grew apart as totally possible and natural in any long-term relationship. Perhaps she'll find she wants kids with time but waiting more than maybe six months or so seems unfair to you both: she'd be under pressure and you'd feel stressed over an ultimatum.

I'm also a queer woman although I date people of all genders. I'm 37 and still want to have biological kids. I know my time is running out but feel I have until age 45 due to various factors like family history.* I'm a little sad: I'm hopeful but also more cautious than ever. I'm glad I didn't have children with any of my exes but I also regret having wasted so much time with people who didn't share my same goals. I wasn't ready for kids until recently due to various factors but I also had it in the back of my mind. What I'm trying to say is that you have a timeline and I support your honoring it! But also that you probably still have kids even after and that, if you really don't want to be a solo parent, also don't settle just for the sake of having kids while partnered, be it waiting for her (and she might come around sooner rather than later or possibly never) or rushing into something new just over this main shared goal. I feel for you! I agree with those above: focus on your immediate anxiety now, look into professional support from a neutral third party, and then give yourself time to decide. How does revisiting this in a year sound?

Also, FWIW, I understand wanting to date women close to your own age but I can also say from personal experience and seeing profiles online that there are plenty of women 5, 10, even 20 years older who would also love to be parents and might be ready at the same time you are.

*I know plenty of people will argue this is too late and that's fine. However, I'm not looking to debate biology here (a.k.a. be shamed or have anyone shamed for being "too old") but rather share a perspective that's helped give me some peace.
posted by smorgasbord at 5:44 PM on January 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

When you say, “it's not unreasonable that finally being financially stable and professionally successful will help shape her vision of being a mature adult, instead of a big kid still trying to figure things out (her words).” I do want to take a moment to point out that at almost 40, I have a career and am doing well financially, I have a toddler, and I still absolutely feel like a big kid still trying to figure things out. I still can’t believe someone let me go home from the hospital with a living breathing human baby. Not a single day goes by where I do not at least once think to myself, “Well, I kept her alive another day, no one has figured out yet that I’m not qualified for this.”

It is not fair to compare tomorrow’s choices against today’s girlfriend. She says she doesn’t want a kid. You have to accept her as a complete person TODAY who does not want a kid, instead of thinking of her as a partially-formed person who will come around to wanting one in the future. It’s controlling, it’s disrespectful to her, and it will ultimately result in your unhappiness no matter who she grows to be.

I feel VERY confident that you will be ok if you break up with her over this. It’s a big deal! There can be mutual appreciation and respect on both sides here.
posted by juniperesque at 9:17 PM on January 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Not thread-sitting, just want to provide an update :) I really appreciate everyone's responses. The combination of empathy and realism was excellent. The intense panic has largely dissipated, I'm scheduled to talk to a therapist in a few days, and I have a super low dose of Xanax to take if things get really bad again.

I forgot to mention that my girlfriend is 26. After talking things out a bit more with her and also calling my mom, I realize I approached the initial conversation with all the gentleness and understanding of a bulldozer. While I know the anxiety isn't my fault, my sobbing/panicked reaction completely blindsided my girlfriend and made her feel really resentful that this is suddenly such a big issue. It turns out she really truly doesn't know if she'll want kids in a few years, and unlike me, hasn't been giving it much thought because she just started a job and finally started saving some money. We both agree we have no interest in having kids in the next 2-3 years. She clarified that she doesn't feel a particular "calling" to have children, but has no deep-seeded aversion to the idea of it either. I completely respect that she doesn't know and might not ever know, and I don't have any desire at all that she change for me only to end up resentful of the kid.

Putting a timeline on our relationship stresses us both out and I'm going to let the dust settle before I bring up how we want to go about coming to a decision. She struggles to visualize hypothetical future scenarios with "future feelings" instead of her current feelings, so while I might ask her one more time to try, I'm not sure what else to suggest. For example, I asked her to visualize how she might feel being told in a few years that it would be impossible for us to have children (ie, relief or sadness), and she said that if we were in the middle of attempting to have kids then of course future her was on board with the idea of kids. If that makes sense. I think this is a somewhat limited view but if visualization doesn't work for her, then maybe something else will help her attempt to try out different headspaces.

I'm going to spend some thinking (not obsessing) how long I'm comfortable with waiting to have an answer, and what happens if that answer is no. I'd love to have us attend couples counseling to help us talk this through in a productive way, but I'm going to do a bit of my own therapy first before I bring that up.

I guess one of the things that gets to me about breaking up is what if I find someone who wants kids but we have major issues about something else? No one out there has a perfect relationship. I do recognize though that other major issues may not include the potential giant incompatibility of my gf and I regarding the baby thing. This is just so hard.
posted by Anon4689 at 1:02 PM on January 12, 2021 [6 favorites]

I'm glad you are feeling more calm if not yet more clarity. <3

I want to mention this, which I thought about in your previous post and now here, too. I don't hear you saying anything positive about your girlfriend. I'm sure she has many positive traits but what I do hear is how she got "resentful" that you were "sobbing/panicked." Yes, we have our rough moments and maybe you were very impassioned in how you presented things (which makes sense because you are so passionate!!) but she could have and should have had more compassion in the moment. A caring, mature, emotionally healthy partner can say "Whoa, this is so heavy and too much for me right now but I hear how important this is to you and I want to respect that because I love you!" Instead she was kind of a jerk, maybe even gaslighting you a bit. (I think to the Gottmans' research on what makes for healthy and happy relationships.) I believe that, when we love someone and want to have kids together, both partners can be a bit flexible on the timing. But a "I don't know" is really more of a no than a yes. I think back to the famous Mark Manson essay "Fuck Yes or No."

Tbh, on deeper introspection, is she someone you even WANT to raise kids with?! The more you write, the more is sounds like you two are just maybe not the best match. You realize this but also are scared you can't find something better. You may not but you probably can and will. 28 is still so young. Really! But maybe this really is the one difference you have so you can see. Whatever you choose, I think it's good you're giving yourself time and grace. Moving in with someone is a huge step and sometimes we can realize quite quickly that we aren't as compatible and that's OK. There are plenty of options, and one of them is just waiting and seeing. You'll know what the right decision is -- whatever it is -- when the time comes.
posted by smorgasbord at 5:17 PM on January 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

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