After a few dates with a new man, the inevitable would happen: "You will be such a great mom."
Baffled, I'd then be left with my gabbling mouth (I'm not talented with the pithy response). Once again, I'm expected to say my scripted part, smile, and everyone will know exactly where they stand. That is: All women want children—as one gynecologist told me, "That's what we're here for."
But I don't want to.
I stayed with my first serious boyfriend for seven years. When we broke up and I entered the NYC dating carousel, I was 30 and had no idea what I was doing. But, contrary to all the horror stories I'd heard, I had fun. I met wonderful, interesting men, who showed me parts of New York I hadn't known—all very rom-commy and joyful.
But just like a formulaic movie plot, they all wanted kids. And by all, I mean 13 out of 14. Age had something do with it: I was in my early 30s. These men were in their mid-to-late 30s and early 40s. However, I was explicit on my dating profiles that I didn't want children.
In addition to checking the "no kids" box on dating sites, I would clearly bring up my childfree decision sometime in the first few dates. I was not shy about making my choice known. But my dates were never put off by it. It really didn't seem to matter.
Until I realized they weren't listening.
However I put my disinterest in children, these men would eventually tell me how much they wanted babies (more than one told me how beautiful I would look pregnant). And I would very nicely tell them they were dating the wrong woman, extricate myself, and move on.
I blamed myself. "I'm not clear enough with them," I thought.
So I took it a step further and explained how terrified I was, physically and mentally, to be pregnant, to care for needy small humans. Two different, otherwise wonderful, handsome, and brilliant men said they "understood" after I opened up about my fears. And then they each promptly sabotaged the birth control that I was very strict about.
Condoms have kept me baby-free my entire sexually active life. (I'm not able to use hormonal birth control). When used perfectly, as I have always done, they are very effective against pregnancy and STIs. But they do require that the man not remove them in the middle of sex, which both of these guys did, not letting me know that they were doing it (and even worse, lying when I asked if the condom was still on). They put my health and theirs at risk—attempting to impregnate me against my will, purposefully.
At first it seemed like an accident, or some kind of miscommunication (like many women, I blamed myself for the confusion first) and then you realize, when you are on your way to the pharmacy for Plan B—again—it's not. My suspicions were confirmed when they asked me later with hopeful (as in, not worried) eyes if I could be pregnant.
In 1972, Gloria Steinem said, "We're just talking wombs," a quote that I had always thought was hyperbolic. At 33 I felt it, bodily.
I gave up online dating, the lure of which was that you could put out there what you really wanted—or didn't want—and you could find a match on at least your most basic values (like not wanting children).
I stopped blaming myself. I decided it wasn't me, it was them.
And then I met a guy at a friend's birthday party in Brooklyn. Handsome in just the way I find men attractive—tall, slim, brilliant, and incredibly sensitive—he was, even on our first date, too good to be true. Argumentative, just like me, incredibly compassionate and fiercely loyal, he looked great in everything he wore—and he listened when I spoke of my pregnancy-aversion. He wasn't interested in having kids for many of the same reasons I wasn't. He was meticulous about birth control, so I didn't feel constantly paranoid around sex. I fell hard.
I'll never forget the day he turned to me over the stove, mid-conversation (about six months into our now six-year relationship) and said: "You'd be a terrible mother." The feeling of relief—the opposite of what the others had said in their compliments-as-bombs—was intense.
Finally, a man who understood me, who could see through the very real qualities that superficially, would make me a "good mother"— and saw right into me. And he loved me for it.
And for the record, he would make a terrible father, too.
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