When is it time to call it a day on looking for a husband?
April 19, 2007 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm experiencing a bit of an existential dilemma. I'm 30, going on 31 in July, and recently ended a relationship with my fiance. Or, more accurately, he told me that he wanted to postpone our wedding, to which I responded that our relationship was therefore probably over. We talked, and mutually agreed that it was probably for the best that we end it and move on. It was for all intents and purposes an amicable split. However, I'm really struggling with the moving on part.

Specifically, what I'm hoping you'll all weigh in on is the question of when it's time to call it a day on the whole search for husband/house/kids package and resign yourself to lifetime bachelorette status. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing - being single does have its perks - but is mildly disappointing.)

I feel as if I'm really pushing the envelope of acceptable age to pursue a husband for the purposes of having children. And when I say acceptable, I suppose I mean efficient. I know it's possible to have children after the age of 35 but I certainly don't think it's easy or a wise idea. And I know you can get married at any age, and even have kids outside of marriage through a variety of methods. But what I'm looking for is the more traditional domestic plan of courtship/dating, marriage, home purchase and baby making sort of thing. It seems that even if I was to meet the marriage material of my dreams today, it would still be about a two year turn around at best to make it from introduction through wedding and house to kids. Not exactly a lot of breathing room.

So what to do? When do you call it a day?

PS I've specifically left out the details of the circumstances of my most recent breakup, as well as more details about myself and my career, because I'd prefer not to have the responses based on that information. Also, I know that life partners are more than just "marriage material" and domestic life is a lot deeper and more complex than a "package". In any event, for your average woman of my age, when should you take a good, hard look in the mirror and start to accept that you're probably never going to get married AND have kids?
posted by smallstatic to Human Relations (40 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Ha! It's fairly accepted conventional wisdom among my peers (I'm male and 34) that women tend to vanish from the dating market between 25-30 and then re-appear only to marry someone within the next couple years. Usually it's because they were in long term relationships that did not turn into marriages, and at that point they are not willing to invest in those types of relationships. Then they find a man who feels like he missed all the good ones, and that guy proposes within the year.

So from my perspective, you're exactly on track. Why don't you give it a couple years before you decide you're an old spinster?
posted by mzurer at 10:14 AM on April 19, 2007 [4 favorites]

When do you call it a day?

Not at 31. You're still young.

As far as kids go, women are having kids later and later on in life, and science is helping. You've got at least 10 years before you should be worried about "calling it a day", unless that's actually what you want.
posted by poppo at 10:21 AM on April 19, 2007

Don't accept it. Don't call it a day. Change your plan.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:26 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with the above comments. You're still young. Don't call it quits just yet.
posted by dead_ at 10:27 AM on April 19, 2007

I was 31 when the relationship with the man I thought would be my husband and the father of my children ended. I distinctly remember crying on my best friend's shoulder and saying almost exactly what you say above - doing the math and failing to see how I could have children before 35 while still having enough time to meet someone, fall in love, get married and have time to ourselves before we had kids.

A month later, out of the blue, I fell in love. We are now married with 2 kids.

First of all - 35 is not the end of your childbearing age. I know you know that, but I don't think you believe it. Once you get a bit closer to 35 you'll come to see that it can be both easy and wise, and that 35 is an arbitrarily imposed number. I had my twin girls at 35 and plan to have one more next year at 37. No problem.

Second, nobody but you and your partner can dictate how long courtship and engagement and house-buying and pre-baby time together should be. Again, I know you know that, but you need to truly believe it. There is a good chance that you, like me, will realize that when you know it's the right person, you know - and there's no reason to wait. I knew within 2 weeks of the relationship that it was the right one. We got engaged after 4 months. I wouldn't recommend this to someone in their 20s, but when you're in your 30s, you know a lot more about what works and what doesn't - for you.

Third, love can happen at any time. There is no cutoff time, there is no time at which you've missed the boat. I understand that your biological clock is ticking, but it comes down to this: Have faith that the perfect person is out there waiting for you, even if you can't see how or when or who right now.

Realize that these restrictions on your happiness were placed there by you - just change them and you'll be fine. Good luck.
posted by widdershins at 10:31 AM on April 19, 2007 [5 favorites]

Oh. And then they have babies, in case that wasn't clear.
posted by mzurer at 10:32 AM on April 19, 2007

I was so excited to comment I just wrote a multi paragraph epic answer but my network ate it. But to sum up.

-You are not to young for anything.
-What you want is perfectly fine and you have a right to try and get it.
-My parents met each other after a divorce at about your age and have lived happily with lots of kids and a big house and all that stuff.
-See the recent AskMe thread about having kids in the mid 30’s
-Don’t worry about being too old to live, Live until you’re too old to worry.
posted by French Fry at 10:36 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Fifty years ago things might have been judged differently, but in this day and age 31 is not at all too young to continue enjoying/exploring life before settling down with a permanent match.

Note: I can only say this from a Western, first-world societal perspective. Different cultures emphasize different lifestyles, if that sort of thing is a factor.
posted by deern the headlice at 10:37 AM on April 19, 2007

Specifically, what I'm hoping you'll all weigh in on is the question of when it's time to call it a day on the whole search for husband/house/kids package and resign yourself to lifetime bachelorette status.

posted by solid-one-love at 10:38 AM on April 19, 2007

Dude. I've been married since I was 24, and 31 is still fucking young as shit.

And as a piece of advice, nothing drives off potential mates more than the intangible scent of "I am desperate and want to have babies RIGHT NOW."

So, stop thinking about it and have a good time.
posted by mckenney at 10:39 AM on April 19, 2007

Sure, you may never meet the man with whom you want to spend your life. But there's no reason that I can fathom to close yourself off entirely to the possibility that he might come along. If you don't want to actively search for a mate, then don't - they say it's when you're not looking that you meet someone. Just take things as they come if that's what you feel like doing. There's really no decision to be made here, because even if you decide that you are destined for a life of bachelorettehood, when/if the right guy comes along that choice will mean nothing.
posted by amro at 10:40 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm joking, but there's some truth to this: it should be illegal to marry BEFORE age 30.

At your age you're just starting to actually be the person you are. It's hard to get that except with hindsight, but as someone approaching 40 (and still very possibly with parenthood in front of me), I can attest that, at least for me, it's absolutely true.

There's nothing about having kids at 35 that isn't a "wise idea" by the way, and there are hundreds of thousands of kids born every year in North America who would likely agree.

The big trick for how to move forward, though, is to throw out the playbook. F*** the plan. Take things as they come, keep your biological clock as far in the background as possible, and muffle its ticking even then, and just live. There could be no worse outcome than for some sense of "need" to get you into a situation in which you're married and have a kid or two with some jerk who simply seemed good enough at the (nonexistent) deadline.

Even more broadly than that, I think that 'happiness' is attainable in inverse proportion to the detail level of the plans you impose upon yourself to get there.

Last thing: your post has classic "rebound" written all over it. The "woe is me" phase is necessary but short, followed (hopefully) by the "have an ill-advised fling" phase and some good old fashioned tire kicking with several others.
posted by mikel at 10:49 AM on April 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine, over 40, decided to become a single mother, then met and married the man of her dreams. She met him at the hospital just after giving birth. They've been together 5 years now and are very happy.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:54 AM on April 19, 2007

Heh. I have had a miserable dating life my entire adulthood - like, 2 BFs in about 10 years, a handful of dates, etc. Nothing came to fruition the way I wanted it to, and it was awful. The only thing I ever wanted in my whole life was a partner and kids. Period.

When I turned 35 I set myself a one year deadline: if, by my 36th birthday I hadn't met a man who I could consider a potential life partner, I was giving up on dating all together and getting pregnant somehow and becoming a single mother by choice.

Of course, this meant that a month before my 36th birthday I met someone who, now a year later, I am head over heels in love with and could possibly, maybe, be a husband and dad.

What that meant, also, was that my “timeline” has been put on hold – I’m about to turn 37, a whole year past my deadline, and if I’m going to have kids with this guy, it ain’t gonna be for at least another year, I’d imagine. And I am very content with that right now.

I just realized that I kind of don’t have a point here other than to say that NO you’re not too old, DON’T throw in the towel, miracles do happen, and deadlines might just be bullshit! I met the first guy I’ve really loved at 36 years old, and now I am so glad I waited for him, regardless of what the future holds for us.
posted by tristeza at 10:56 AM on April 19, 2007 [4 favorites]

Jeez, it sounds like this is the main focus of your life. Live your life, and pretty soon you'll be married with children. Look for a husband night and day, and ...
posted by thilmony at 11:02 AM on April 19, 2007

Oh! I'm supposed to call it a day! I'm 37. Nobody told me. Now that I know it's all over, I'll just sit here in the corner while my ovaries shrivel up.

No, come on! You're just down about this because of the breakup, probably. I've decided that I'm okay with what life holds in store. I really hope to settle down with a long-term partner, which is why I date, but I am ready to deal with it if babies and a minivan are just not in the cards for me. If they are, though, I'm sure as hell not too old. I've got friends who had their first babies while in their early 40s.

One day at a time.
posted by Miko at 11:03 AM on April 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

Right now. It's too late already. Stop looking.

Ok, not really. But please, stop looking at it this way - you're focusing on it too much. It's almost impossible to develop a meaningful relationship in the mindset you're in right now - either you will be overly critical of a prospect before you even know him well enough (THIS guy isn't husband material), or you'll end up settling for someone that doesn't REALLY make you happy (although you won't think you're settling at the time).

I've seen this so many times with my mid-30s friends. Consistently, the women who are just enjoying life, being themselves and having fun meeting people are the ones who eventually find that person they are looking for, while the ones that are intent on finding a husband end up miserable - either from a "lack of options" (usually meaning they cut them loose for stupid reasons before they even got to know them), or deciding that the wrong guy is "good enough".
posted by chundo at 11:06 AM on April 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

Today. Right now.

Today is the day you accept that everything that is out of your power to accomplish by yourself will never happen. No one will ever love you enough to marry you, and you will never have children.

Now what? How are you going to spend the next fifty years?

If, conversely, you knew for a fact that you would one day be married with children, what would you do differently? Care less about your friends? Keep your career in a holding pattern? Not travel, or play your guitar, or work on your novel, or whatever it is you do for enjoyment, because marriage and children are the only worthwhile things, and will obviate any and all dissatisfaction you might have with your life?

No. You know better. You would grow and change and love your friends and have experiences as an individual regardless, right? Well, there you are. Do that.

Right now you are grieving the death of the dream you had of a future life with your ex -- that hurts, maybe more than the death of the actual relationship you had with him in the present (which, unlike the dream, had flaws). You had a plan, and through no fault of your own it didn't work out. It was just the plan that didn't work out, though -- not you. You're not damaged, and your life isn't ready to scrap. Almost everything good in your life has nothing really to do with your partner, when you think about it -- your friends, your family, your job, music, art, flamenco dance, a good cup of coffee, new shoes, skiing, getting favorited on MetaFilter, whatever -- and you still have all of that, and more things besides that you didn't do because he didn't like them or you didn't think you had time or they didn't seem as important as that dream.

Whether marriage and kids are in your future, who knows? But there is a fuckload of joy in your life and this world, and if you are to meet the future man of your dreams, it will happen only when you are wallowing knee-deep in that joy.
posted by Methylviolet at 11:08 AM on April 19, 2007 [12 favorites]

Jinx, chundo!
posted by Methylviolet at 11:09 AM on April 19, 2007

Ok, you were more eloquent, but I got there first.
posted by chundo at 11:09 AM on April 19, 2007

You are very much caught up in this artificial time line you've set out for yourself. Step back. Take a deep breath. Think about the things besides house, husband, babies, that you want and enjoy. Live your life and stop obsessing and setting out these arbitrary deadlines. Deciding that something isn't going to happen for you is just a defeating attitude and could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don't do that. Be open to what life has to offer.

Remember what Satchel Paige said:

"How old would you be, if you didn't know how old you was?"
posted by Kangaroo at 11:26 AM on April 19, 2007

I ended my marriage when I was 31. Very soon thereafter I got jumped into a very intense relationship with someone I assumed I'd be with forever. When that relationship ended when I was 34, I honestly feared I'd be alone for good. I'm now 38, and in the best relationship of my life, with a world of possibilities in front of us.

Anything can happen.
posted by scody at 11:27 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's not always easy or wise for people UNDER 35 to have kids either. My mom was 45 when she had me, thankfully she didn't share your opinions.

There are some wonderful support forums for people who've called off weddings. IndieBride.com and ThereGoesTheBride.com are two of them. You may be heartened at how many folks are able to rebound.
posted by GaelFC at 11:32 AM on April 19, 2007

I think it is tempting after a big and difficult transition to seek for definitive answers on this sort of thing, but the fact is they just don't exist. I honestly believe that moving on will be better facilitated by not dwelling on this sort of consideration. I think you're probably trying in this contemplation to grieve for what you've lost, which is good and necessary, but maybe try to untie it from some arbitrary, absolute pronouncement on your future.
posted by nanojath at 11:46 AM on April 19, 2007

What everyone else said, but I'd like to emphasize that your question sounds like the only reason you can imagine for getting together with a guy is to have kids. I mean, "to pursue a husband for the purposes of having children"? If I got a whiff of that while I was dating you, I'd probably turn and run. Not that I wouldn't want to have kids, but nobody wants to be seen as a breeding machine. If I were you, I'd try to train myself out of that mentality and focus on meeting guys for the sake of having a relationship with them. It's very likely that if you approach it in the right spirit you'll wind up in a committed relationship, probably married, and hell, you may well end up having kids—but that should come about because you and the lucky guy decide you want them, not as a fulfillment of your Five-Year Plan.
posted by languagehat at 11:53 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

i don't think you're too old, but i do disagree about some of the advice in this thread. if marriage and children is a big priority to you, don't pretend that it's not, because there are things you can do. one of them is deliberately expand your dating pool and pursue people you might be interested in. sure finding love is not ONLY dependant on what you do, but you can make a huge difference in the probability depending on your behavior. also, don't act desperate, but do be clear about what you're looking for. you are not the only person in the world who isn't interested in a super extended courtship. you might consider internet dating services or some other venue where you can specify that you are actually looking for a "serious relationship" and find like-minded others.

on the other hand, wanting children can put a lot of pressure on the wanting a mate issue. when my last serious relationship ended i was having similar concerns despite being in my twenties, and i promised myself that if by a certain age (i think mine was somewhere in the thirty to thirty five range) i was not in another serious relationship with family potential, i would seriously consider having or adopting a child by myself. this made me feel a lot better, because having children IS something you have almost a hundred percent control over, and it seems like the older you get the less having existing children is a dealbreaker for new relationships, so you could still get the marriage and kids things, only sort of backwards and with no time limit on the marriage part. in my case, though, making this decision just allowed me to feel relaxed about my prospects and willing to have fun and take risks with relationships, and several (five or six, to be realistic, but if age was a big factor it probably would have been less) years later i'm remarried to someone who seemed like a long shot at first, but is actually totally awesome for me and we are expecting our first child.

good luck!
posted by lgyre at 12:05 PM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Chiming back in to nth this sentiment: "Consistently, the women who are just enjoying life, being themselves and having fun meeting people are the ones who eventually find that person they are looking for."

It is entirely possible to create a full, active, and enjoyable life for yourself without a partner, while still making room in your life for a partner. It seems like a paradox, but it's true.

As for the notion that it's not "wise" to have children after 35, I ask you this not to be snarky, but for you to think about humbly: what makes you think you know better than the countless women (and men) who have children after 35? My sister had all three of her kids between 35 and 40; they are beautiful, healthy boys who bring their family more joy than we can possibly say. What's unwise about that?

My point is, happy, satisfying relationships and families come in all shapes and sizes, and follow all sorts of paths. The "must marry/buy house/have baby before 35" plan is not automatically superior to all other options. Do yourself the profound favor of dropping any unspoken suspicions you may have that anything short of husband/house/baby by your 35th birthday is failure.
posted by scody at 12:09 PM on April 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

I see you don't want to have kids without the husband in place, you may change your mind on this when you get older. There is no rule that says you must wait until you have a husband before you can buy a house. Husbands don't include viable sperm or financial solvency as standard equipment in any case, and most people prefer life partners who value them for more than that.

If there is something you want out of life, don't feel you need to meet the right man before you can move towards it. Work on it now. None of us know how long we have.
posted by yohko at 12:19 PM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm 32 and in a relationship that's probably ending soon, and although sometimes I try to do the same math in my head, reading your post made me laugh. I don't want to make fun of you, but I'll bet if you read this same post written by someone else, you'd have the same reaction. So, let's say at 31 you're OMG TOO OLD!! and you stop looking. Then what? What are your plans for the 50 years (hopefully) you've got left? Whatever it is that you were going to do if you can't ever have babies... just f'in do it! Then if you meet the guy of your dreams, yahoo! If not, you're n years ahead of wherever you would be if you "gave up" at 40 or 50. Everybody's life is a trade-off, and you can't ever say that a particular way would have been better than any other. All you can do is live your life now to make it the most interesting life possible.

Also, I'm in love with the quote that Kangaroo posted.
posted by MsMolly at 12:37 PM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just remember that you are only as young as who you feel. :)
posted by slavlin at 12:53 PM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

It is entirely possible to create a full, active, and enjoyable life for yourself without a partner, while still making room in your life for a partner. It seems like a paradox, but it's true.

It's not even a paradox. The more full and enjoyable your life is, the more attractive you will be to potential partners.

And if a relationship goes sour, you simply go back to living a life you enjoy. Life with a partner is different from single life, but it may or may not always be better. Depends entirely on the partner. Work on getting your "single happiness" up to the level of "mediocre partner happiness" and you never have to settle for a substandard relationship.
posted by kindall at 1:15 PM on April 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

it's never too soon to abandon the search for a husband and kids. in fact, it's always too late to start the search, and here's why:

it shouldn't be about being married and having kids. go out, have fun, meet people. get involved with them, or don't. but let it be about the person you're meeting and your feelings for them, not about the possibility of a husband or kids. you can decide, if you think someone isn't long term material or father material, that you don't want to spend any more time on them, obviously. But the main thing is that happy marriages and happy parenthoods don't start with a search for a wedding ring or a sperm donor. You'll fall in love first, and the rest comes after that for a reason.
posted by shmegegge at 1:43 PM on April 19, 2007

Surely what you're looking for is happiness? In which case, maybe you need to consider the possibility that the "traditional domestic plan" is not the only route to happiness. That one or more items in the plan can give, yet the result is still happiness. Age, marital status, time between meeting and procreating, house ownership - most of my friends with kids don't meet your criteria in all areas yet are happy. In particular, age - one good friend of mine didn't meet her partner (now husband and father of her two sons) until she was 39; another was married at 32 but didn't have a child until she was 41.

If you can't compromise on the plan, then you have two options, as I see it. The first is to give up. The second is to compromise on your choice of mate. Neither of those sound particularly appealing!

Maybe I'm biased (I'm 33, single, no kids, but still believe that one day I'll meet the right guy and maybe have kids), but I choose to believe that if it's meant to be, it will happen. In the meantime, I live my life in a way that makes me happy.

I understand where you're coming from, and I know that it will sound patronising to say that you're still young and that you really shouldn't worry, but I'll say it anyway, because in the grand scheme of things, you are still young - way too young to give up on what you want. If all your friends are around the same age and are all busy making homes and babies, it can be even harder to see that this isn't the only way to live, especially if you've just come out of a relationship that was headed in the same direction.

Don't give up on your dreams, but don't let your happiness depend on achieving specific goals by specific times.
posted by finding.perdita at 2:44 PM on April 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for your thoughtful responses! It is ironic, but asking strangers on the internet for life advice is sometimes exactly what you need. :) Looks like the 'just be happy' folks have it. In direct response to the last comment (finding.perdita) no, I wouldn't say that chasing happiness is now, or has ever been, big on my list of what I'm looking for. Perhaps this interaction will make me shift the balance a bit. Thanks again. ~ss
posted by smallstatic at 4:26 PM on April 19, 2007

Late to the thread, but intentionally so, as what I want to offer is something different than the advice offered so far. At 30, I agree that you've no need to feel desperation settling upon your shoulders, yet. But you do need to focus on better search strategies for a mate, if you don't want to adopt the refocused goals for your life others in this thread are suggesting. A pure "drunkard's walk" through life, hoping to meet "the right man" may not be the wisest strategy.

First, begin with some consideration of the kinds of men in their early thirties who are also marriage and family minded. Broadly they'll fall in to one of several groups.

1. Divorced men from early first and possibly even second marriages.
2. Careerists, who have postponed marriage in order to complete advanced degrees, play professional sports, or start professional lives.
3. Shy, perhaps socially inept men who missed romantic connections in their 20's.
4. Foriegn men, whose struggle to get to America or Europe has forced them to prioritize that effort over family.
5. Militarists or adventurers who have pursued early careers in locales or with organizations where family obligations are discouraged.
6. Widowers.
7. Men with unusual ties to their extended family, due to inheritance, or other family business.
8. Men in rural situations.

This list may not be exhaustive, but it does serve to indicate that, to meet eligible men in some of these groups, you can't count on just bumping into them randomly at the corner market. And unless you discount entirely the possibility of having a fulfilling life as, say, a farmer's wife, you yourself may need to broaden your filters and strategies considerably, to be considered by men in some of these classes, if you would want such a thing.

I think you really have to ask yourself, what you need to do to put yourself up for consideration by men in some of these groups, and at the same time, learn about them. If you're willing to move to Alaska for Mr. Right, how are you first going to find out if Mr. Right is living in Alaska at the moment? I think Internet resources can be an important start, but I think you also have to work human networks more aggressively than most people generally do, too. In the same way, if you see having a professional man as your husband and father to your children as advantageous, are you willing to accomodate the demands his profession will make upon your lives, and if so, how do you communicate this to men in such groups, who often have 6 figure investments in education and professional licensing?

There is nothing wrong, despite 20th century Hollywood's view, and bourgeoisie notions of romantic attraction, with being a bit more pragmatic and focused in your search for a mate, at this stage of life. Using your mind to guide your heart isn't cold or calculating, and it is the kind of quality that men of a serious nature often look for, desperately, themselves.
posted by paulsc at 6:19 PM on April 19, 2007 [5 favorites]

I'll go ahead and agree with paulsc here - his list is not exhaustive.

Other than that, his advice doesn't really jibe with my experience.
posted by mzurer at 8:03 PM on April 19, 2007

I'm joking, but there's some truth to this: it should be illegal to marry BEFORE age 30.

I said this same phrase to a friend of mine not 48 hours ago. Except I'm not exactly kidding.

The more full and enjoyable your life is, the more attractive you will be to potential partners.

This is, indeed, the crux of the matter.

First and foremost, fuck "the plan". Write it on a piece of paper, and set fire to it, and never think of it again.

Second, as said above, drop the "poor little me" stuff today. Bury it. Cast it aside. Your new life begins now.

You are nowhere near throwing in the towel.

Get over your pity party, get out there, live fabulously, find a partner, and have kids, or don't. Whatever.

Be HAPPY. The rest all falls into place.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:33 PM on April 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

My mum was 35 when she had me. I'm kind of glad she did.
posted by kisch mokusch at 8:45 PM on April 19, 2007

Just to chime in with the rest - I met my wife when she was 35. She had our first child at 37 and another at 40. Relax, be happy, you have plenty of time.
posted by crocomancer at 1:55 AM on April 20, 2007

when it's time to call it a day on the whole search for husband/house/kids package and resign yourself to lifetime bachelorette status.

If that's what you want, I'd hold out until my final breath of life.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:32 PM on April 20, 2007

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