Dear Wendy: “My Fiancé Doesn’t Want Kids, But I’m Undecided”

I’m 24 and engaged to a fantastic guy I love a lot. He doesn’t want to have kids, though, which I’ve known all along, and I’m undecided about them. If my fiancé wanted kids I’d have them, but how can I know if I’ll eventually want to have children myself? P.S. I am really good with kids. — Not Sure About Children

I can’t answer how you’ll know whether you’ll want to have kids one day because there isn’t a universal answer to that question. It’s different for everyone. Some women never figure out if they want them or not and eventually mother nature and/or life circumstances decide for them. Some women don’t know whether they want children until they meet someone they’d like to have them with. A lot of women are pretty indifferent until they reach their early 30s when suddenly their biological clocks go into overdrive and all they can think about is babies, babies, babies. Some women always know they want to be moms, and other women decide pretty early that they will have rewarding lives without their own children in them. It’s totally OK if you don’t know what you want at age 24, but it’s probably best you not make lifelong decisions quite yet that limit your options in the future.

I answered a letter a couple months ago from a woman just a year younger than you who was in a similar position. Two main differences between you are that she was pretty sure she wanted to have children one day, and she was simply dating a man who didn’t want kids, not engaged to be married to him. Thus, the advice I gave her — to continue dating her new boyfriend for the experience since she wasn’t looking to settle down anytime soon anyway — doesn’t really apply to you. You, unfortunately, don’t have the luxury to “wait and see,” unless, of course, you break off your engagement, which is what I’d recommend you do.

The thing is, NSAC, if there’s any chance at all you might want to have children one day, why on earth would you marry someone with whom that option would not be readily open to you? There are several big issues you should be in agreement on with someone before you legally commit to him or her and whether or not to have children together is pretty much at the top of the list. If you aren’t ready or able to reach an agreement on that issue yet — because you yourself don’t even know what you want — you’re not ready to get married. What’s the rush, anyway? You’re only 24. Take time to figure out who you are and what you want out of life before you agree to spend forever with someone. Forever is a long time! And divorce really sucks. Wait on marriage until you know yourself and what you want out of life a little better. Marriage isn’t going anywhere. And if your boyfriend does? Well, he wasn’t meant for you anyway.

I have been with my man for three years now. We are 40-somethings. He is divorced from his third wife and I from my first husband. We have adult daughters from our prior marriages and I still have two children at home with us from my previous marriage. In addition, we have a 1-year-old together. We get along great, have a fantastic sex life, compromise fairly, laugh and love every day. He is a good man and I love him deeply and cannot imagine life without him. The only thing we can’t agree on is the idea of marriage. I went through a lot of BS with my ex and when I met my boyfriend I was very upfront about what my expectations were and what I wanted from the here-on-out, including not wanting to marry again. I thought I had found the partner I was meant to have since we agreed on everything! Now I feel he is changing the terms of the deal after I have made a major commitment (the baby) to him. In fact, he is starting to make me feel guilty by saying things like “I’m good enough to take care of you and your kids but not good enough to marry.” I feel these comments are indicative of immaturity and a lack of empathy on his part and he makes enough of them to make me consider why I want to be with this person.

I know that my rejection of the idea is hurtful to him and I wish he could understand that I’m not rejecting him, just the institution of marriage. I see no need for it — you’re either committed to that person and your life together or you’re not. I have told him I am completely committed to him in every way, and he will not have to worry about me leaving, unless he does something extremely stupid (cheating/drugging, etc). A legal document does nothing to cement a committed relationship. Most states (including the one we reside in) have domestic partner/common-law married laws and we fit into that category. Am I being too selfish not wanting to get married? Is this “marriage” thing going to be the end of us? — Unhitched and in Knots…

Well, let me turn the question back to you: If the “marriage” thing were to be the end of you as a couple, how would you feel? Would it be worth losing your partner and father of your youngest child to stick to your convictions on the issue of legal commitment? The same question could be asked of him, of course, but he’s not the one who wrote to me — you are. If the answer is “yes” — that losing your partner is a trade-off you’d be willing to make to avoid signing a legal document committing yourself to him, then, well, that’s that. If the answer is “no,” then consider how getting married would affect your life, your relationship, and your identity. And ask yourself whether you’d resent your partner for “winning” the argument and how that might affect your relationship. If you’re having trouble answering those questions, you should probably seek professional counseling. In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all for both you and your partner to go to couples counseling together. This is too big an issue for some advice columnist to answer for you. There’s way too much at stake. That 1-year-old child of yours, for example, would want you to make every attempt to work things out and stay happily together.

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