How do you know when to settle down and make a life for yourself?
November 30, 2006 8:33 AM   Subscribe

When do you know that it's time to move on to a new stage in life vis-a-vis settling down with one person and starting a family?

I grew up in a very religious community, and left it at age 20, which was six years ago. Since that time, I've been trying to make up for a cloistered adolescence -- nothing too extreme, just casual dating, a fling here and there, a relationship that was planned to last six months and not longer due to her leaving the city.

I recently met a woman on an online dating site who's a bit older than I am -- 33 to my 26. Our online conversations have been fantastic so far, but of course the age difference keeps on coming up. It's not so much of an a priori "you're way younger than me" problem; I've always been attracted to woman older than me, and I find I get along best with early 30-somethings. She, though, is specifically looking for someone with whom to settle down and eventually procreate. It's a scary proposition when you think about it for the first time.

I guess the question is, how do you know if and when you're ready to make the transition from 'dating for fun' to 'dating for a future'? To make things more difficult, I'm starting medical school in September.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Generally, I think you know when you start thinking that's something you want to do in the near future, not the distant future (or never). When I was 26, that settling down sounded dismal, now that I'm 29, it's starting to sound like something I'd like to do in the next couple of years.
posted by Amizu at 8:48 AM on November 30, 2006

It's time when you want it to be time. Not when your partner wants it to be time, not when your parents think it should be time, not when your friends have decided it's their time. Do you want to date this woman seriously, yes or no? Go from there.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

This is definitely a you'll-be-ready-when-you're-ready sort of thing. The urge to settle down appears to arrive quite naturally for people (usually in their late 20's or early 30's) and I've never seen anything good come from people trying to settle before they're ready to do it.
posted by tkolar at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2006

Apologies that this may sound glib, but I truly believe it: If you need to ask, you're not ready.

As others have said - you'll be ready when you're ready. You'll know it. Just relax and let it happen.

Good luck for the future - there's a lot of fun to be had out there!
posted by mooders at 9:25 AM on November 30, 2006

You'll know you're ready when the idea of settling down seems really exciting and attractive to you, and you'll know you've met the right person when you get really excited at the idea of spending your whole life with him/her.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 10:47 AM on November 30, 2006

Doctor's wife can be a full-time job in itself. Your potential spouse should really find out what that entails before it goes any farther. My parents were married when my father was in medical school. Several of the couples with whom they were in school had working wives to support their med student husbands. In many cases, the marriage would fall apart as soon as the doctor graduated. In a few cases, the abandoned wives were entitled to a percentage of the profit from the medical practices of their ex-husbands in perpetuity (as the act of cooking, cleaning and raising the pre-doctor's children was viewed as an investment in the profitability of the doctor's future practice).

Med school is hard. Marriage is hard. I wouldn't suggest trying both at the same time unless one or the other seems easy. You're going to be hard pressed to find the time to work on one or the other.
posted by FYKshun at 11:22 AM on November 30, 2006

Have you guys actually met yet? Or is it all just online? If the latter, you're really rushing things by trying to decide about kids or not.

Sounds like she might be hearing her biological clock ticking and wants to do something about it. If she's anxious and just looking for someone who's ready NOW, she probably should move on, as there will be all kinds of pressure for you to get with the program.

But if you're genuinely not closed to the idea of having kids, let her know that you'd like to move the relationship forward, but that there are no guarantees at this point. At that point it's up to her as to whether to place her bets on you or not.

I'd say the medical school thing isn't relevant, other than full disclosure (i.e., letting her know that you're about to have lots of demands on your time with classes and all.) I was about to start graduate school when I met my future wife and told her I didn't have time for a relationship. Six years later I thanked her in the acknowledgements section of my dissertation for not listening to me when I said that.
posted by jasper411 at 11:24 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it is possible to tell when you are "ready"; maybe it always requires a leap of faith. But I think there are signs sometimes that tell you you are definitely NOT ready, at least with a particular person. I think being ready is not a general state of mind where you think "I am ready, and just waiting for someone good." It's much more contextual -- you need to think not "am I ready?", but "am I ready to commit to this person?".

Clearly here, the fact that you are only talking online suggests that you are NOT ready to settle down with her, and if she is only willing to meet people out in the real world if they are "ready" to settle down with her, that's a huge problem.
posted by modernnomad at 11:42 AM on November 30, 2006

I don't think it's a red flag that she's looking for people looking to settle down with soon -- if she wants kids, she has a limited time for that to happen, so pursuing a relationship that has no chance of leading to that in the near-ish future would be stupid of her at this point.
posted by occhiblu at 12:06 PM on November 30, 2006

You don't have to decide until you're ready to decide. If she's pressuring you to make a decision then ditch her.

As for knowing when it's time to settle down it usually comes down to a potent mixture of fear (of loneliness), regret (of past decisions), and a lack of self-confidence (a desire to forget oneself, depend on others). If you don't feel any of these things and you know you have a bright future in front of you then you certainly shouldn't (and probably aren't) in any rush to settle down and grow old.
posted by nixerman at 2:47 PM on November 30, 2006

I was a carefree bachelor for almost 30 years. Settling down with someone the furthest thing from my mind. Then I met my wife-to-be. Boom! I never wanted to leave. Luckily, she didn't either.

IMHO, you'll change your mind when you meet the right person.
posted by wordwhiz at 4:06 PM on November 30, 2006

Older woman on an online dating site causing you to think about "settling down" is an indication, in my opinion and in the absence of any more information, that she wants something now, whether with you or someone else.

You're asking, which means you're not ready, and if it turns out to be true that that's what she wants, well, do her a favor and let her go find someone who's ready now.

She'll probably tell you she'll wait, because it seems so cold-hearted to say to someone you like that it's now or never, but use your head on this one. What are the chances that she would change her mind about wanting to wait, once you've been involved for a couple months?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:09 AM on December 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

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