Can we stay happy without kids or spouse?

“I’m in My 40s, Child-Free and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me?” by Glynnis MacNicol, July 5, 2018 NY Times

Dear readers,

The article listed above that appeared in the New York Times last month shows how differently people can feel about living a life without children, and in MacNicol’s case, also without a husband. At 40, she claims she loves the freedom of being single and has plenty of connections with other people, including many children who think of her as “Auntie Glynnis.” Yet when she dined with a famous author, hoping to discuss literature, he couldn’t get past the fact that she was alone.

Other women a little older warn her that she’s going to change her mind and dive into fertility treatments in a few years. She will regret her choices.

Go ahead and read it now if you want. Then come back here.

Ah, regrets. People ask here all the time whether they’ll regret it if they never have children. I can’t answer that question. Maybe, like MacNicol, they will relish the freedom to travel, work, socialize, and never have to order a “Happy meal” at McDonald’s or pay for someone else’s college education. Maybe in the case of people who are childless by marriage, they will be forever glad that they chose their partner and look forward to growing old together. Or maybe one day they’ll wake up sobbing because they missed their chance to be parents. I don’t know. We’re all different. And I think we experience different feelings at different times. I know sometimes I’m relieved I don’t have children, while at other times, it breaks my heart.

How do you know when you’re young how you’re going to feel after decades more of life? This may seem off-topic, but I watch “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor in Paradise” and all those trashy shows. God knows why. It seems like someone is crying in every episode. After two dates, they’re in love, and if they don’t get a rose, they’re heartbroken. They’re ready to devote their lives to people they barely know. Most are in their 20s and early 30s. I think about the people in my life who are that age, and I think, “They’re so young. They have no idea what they really want.” Actually, I believe what most of the people on these shows want is simply to be on TV and all the finding-someone-to-love business is a sham, but you know what I mean.

Now, if you’re that age, don’t be insulted. You do know a lot, and I wish I still had your energy. I’m just saying you’ll know more later. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I felt wise and grown up, even though I looked very young with my long hair and miniskirts. People I encountered in my work as a newspaper reporter often questioned whether I was old enough to do the job. I’d plant my hands on my skinny hips and assure them I was a college graduate, I was married, and I was a professional journalist.

I was all that, but looking back, I had a lot to learn about writing, and my first marriage was a mistake from the get-go. A wiser woman would have seen the warning signs. I would have been better off following MacNicol’s example, at least for a while. But we were at an age when society said we needed to get married, so we did. Did I worry about regretting it later? No. I was ecstatic. I expected our love to last forever.

I made my choice based on the information I had at the time. That’s all any of us can do. We’re not robots. We can’t program our feelings or predict how they might change. Maybe MacNicol will change her mind. But right now, she loves her life. For all anyone knows, she always will. Who are we—or that famous author–to say otherwise?

What do you think?

  • Do you worry about regretting your choices, especially about having children, when you get older?
  • Do people in your life warn you that you’ll change your mind?
  • Is there any way to guard against making a mistake?

I welcome your comments.

10 thoughts on “Can we stay happy without kids or spouse?

  1. I am 46, married for four years and have a 13-year-old stepdaughter that we have 50% of the time. I waited too late to have my own kids. I wasn’t sure I wanted them but just assumed it would all come together for me. Wrong! I was in a previous relationship before I met my husband. My mom was sick, and I knew this relationship wasn’t going to last and I stayed longer than I should’ve. I got pregnant twice when I was 40 and miscarried both. I got out of that relationship and met my husband in the throes of leaving. My mom always said I will regret not having kids of my own. She said this so often it messes with my head even now. Most days I’m okay with it but others it’s rough, very rough. I’m a part of my family (husband and stepdaughter) but if hubby and I split, I no longer have “my” family. I get along well with my stepdaughter, but I don’t really like her personality and haven’t since I met her at 8. She does have her good points, and I care for her, but I will never have a full-on bond with her. I love her dad and enjoy our alone time. So I’m a very conflicted woman but I take it a day at a time. If one wants kids, I believe one better move on it and quickly. Postponing it until the time is right will blow up in the face. The timing is never just right for anything in my experience. So if you ladies want your own children, you should do something about it before you no longer have a choice. I waited too long and that’s that.


  2. First of all thank you for posting this as I would like to hear what the ladies who remained childless past their childbearing age advise. I am going to be 36 years old very soon, married to a man who has a 10-year-old son. We agreed on having our own child when we first started our serious relationship five years ago. Fast forward five years – Now married for 3 years, bio mom drama subsided, financials are more stable. My husband says his life is finally “good.” —– um…can we now start planning for our child?? My husband has been avoiding the conversation as much as he can, excuses, excuses, and excuses. I am very close to asking him “YES or NO” and if the NO is the final answer, leaving him, but I can’t get to that final answer and I don’t want to hear that final answer. He says he is on the fence because of the financial burden of having two children because he has to take care of his son first before having his second. He knows it’s “unfair” if he said no and he knows that I will probably leave him so he is avoiding the conversation altogether.

    So yes, I worry about regretting when I get older. Is this the time I should leave my husband and not waste any more time wondering, trying to bring up a conversation, waiting for a right time to talk to him?

    and Yes. My mother, my friends, my co-workers (all mothers) warn me that I will regret it if I didn’t have my own child

    and I am wondering exactly “Is there any way to guard against making a mistake?”



    • Oh, heavy heart. You know there’s no way to guard against making a mistake. You compare the pros and cons and follow your gut and hope it turns out okay. Maybe you already have your answer if you’re really thinking about leaving your husband. Otherwise, you’d rather give up children than lose him. I’d say go ahead and have the talk, reminding him that you had a deal and he needs to stick to it.
      What do other people say?


    • If you really want your own child, the sooner you have that conversation the better–for you. I thought when I got pregnant at 40, oh this is it the way it was supposed to be. I had several friends who had kids at 40. My fiancé was 34. But I miscarried and became pregnant again four months later and miscarried again. Never got pregnant again after that. So, if, God forbid, something of this nature happens to you, you have more wiggle room to try again. He has his child, and if you want one of YOUR own, it’s time to make a move–with or without him. That’s my advice, and my 2 cents is free 🙂


  3. heavy heart– I have been in a similar position.

    I married (at age 35) a man who had a 14-year-old daughter. He’d had a vasectomy a few years before we met–he had been in a relationship that he felt would be permanent–and she had three children–so with their combined total of four kids, they didn’t want more. That relationship ended, and we eventually met and decided to spend our lives together. I was clear that I wanted children. He promised (and pursued, on a preliminary basis) a vasectomy reversal. Finances were an obstacle at that time, and it took nearly five years for us to be in a position to afford it. When we had the money, I started putting the topic on the table. He didn’t really engage directly in the conversation. (And I know what you’re thinking–the vasectomy should have been a flag. His unwillingness to engage in discussions about it when we had the money for the reversal was the flashing warning light next to the flag.) Over the course of a few months, we did talk about it–directly–and he told me that he HAD wanted to have more children–but now that some time had passed, he didn’t want to start over–and that based on our ages at that time (40-ish), he’d still have a child in college when he was in his early 60’s–and at that point, he wanted his life to be getting easier and pacing a little slower–not to have children in high school and college.

    I was crushed–and you can be sure that I seriously considered divorcing him. Our marriage was not shaky in any other way, but I was devastated that he was going back on his word. I was furious. I accused him of lying when he’d told me previously that he wanted more children and told him I felt he’d used a ‘bait and switch’ tactic on me–and that I’d stupidly fallen for it. (So, in addition to being furious with him, I was furious with myself then, too.) He was very clear that it had been true at the time–that he had wanted more children–but that as he got a few years older and looked at the spectrum of his life, and the arc of time for raising more children, it wasn’t something he wanted anymore. Side note: the teen years, with his daughter were difficult–and navigating them with his ex was very challenging–so in fairness to him, fatherhood had not been a great experience–and I recognize that may have also been part of why he didn’t want to do it all again.

    Because my marriage was solid in every other way, I really struggled, for at least a year, with whether to stay or leave. I sought help from a therapist in my decision-making, to no avail, really–because it was something I had to decide for myself. I stayed. I considered that if he’d been willing to start over and have more children, but if we hadn’t been able to make it happen, I would not have loved him any less, and I would not have wanted to divorce him and start over. So what I had to REALLY deal with was the fact that he was now changing his mind about something we’d agreed to–and that his change of heart would change (and deny) the life I wanted. And while the effect of it was brutal–I knew the intent was not–and ultimately, I didn’t think it was any more fair of me to villainized him for wanting to have the life he wanted than it would have been for me to be cast as a villain for wanting the life I’d planned. It was (and is) an unfair fact of my life that his want for more children, by the time we could make it happen, did not align with mine anymore. The fact that he wasn’t willing to compromise the happiness of the rest of his life to ensure mine didn’t make him a jerk, or deceptive, or a less loving man–he’s just a man who didn’t mortgage his own happiness in service of mine. He’s not selfless, but he’s not a villain either.

    The decision, at age 41 (maybe 42), to stay was the right one for me. He’s a genuinely great guy, who is very good to me, spends part of every single day doing things large and small to make my life happy–and he tries in many ways to give me the world. He’s a fabulous partner, and he loves me, as I am, to the moon and back. The feeling is mutual :). As I write this today, at age 53, I do not regret staying. I never have had even a day of regret.

    However….if I were advising my 35-36 year old self, I would likely advise her to leave, despite everything I said above about my wonderful husband. Here’s why.
    For me, the sadness and heartbreak of not having children has never gone away entirely. It’s much less acute than it used to be, but it’s a hole that will never be filled. Early on, I thought I’d just be sad while my friends were having babies, and then it would go away. It didn’t. Then I thought it would pass when the ‘having babies’ stage was over and everyone had toddlers. It didn’t pass. I just got to watch them all have their ‘firsts’ with their kids (first step, first tooth, first word, first day of school, etc.), never experiencing that with my own child. Then I thought it would pass when their kids were in elementary, middle and high school, but it didn’t. I just got to witness them going to their kids’ athletic and school events, helping them prepare for homecoming dances, proms and graduations. Eventually, I hoped (but didn’t really expect) that it would pass when those kids graduated from high school. Of course, it didn’t. That’s the stage I’m in now. I can assure you that every year when my friends pack their kids up and bittersweetly deliver them to college campuses, and lament how much they miss having them around, for me, it’s just bitter, never sweet. I’m smart enough to know it’s not going to pass when those friends’ kids finish college, begin their careers, get married, and have children of their own, because I’ll never have kids doing any of that, and eventually, my friends will have grandkids, and a whole new set of experiences that I’ll never have. It’s a lifetime of being on the outside looking in, at the life I’d wanted for myself. If I’d realized at age 36 what I was in for, I would have done whatever was necessary to keep that from happening, to give myself the chance not to miss out on all of those things.

    To be clear, I don’t feel sad every day, or even most days, and very honestly, I have plenty of days that I’m glad not to be the mother of an 11-12 year old right now— I appreciate that my life is less complex than that of parents, and I recognize that mid-30’s Fergy had more energy than nearly-mid-50’s Fergy does.
    But on the days that it gets me down, it still hurts like hell. I’m grateful those days are rare.

    If asked, I would advise someone in her mid 30’s to leave, to give herself the chance to have the life she’s wanted, and to have the choice to change her plan someday, if she wants to. Living a childless life, if it’s not your choice, is a vast emotional minefield– and you do get blown up from time to time. I’d advise avoiding it if you can.

    That’s been my experience….. as the saying goes, your mileage may vary 😉 All the best to you!


    • Thanks for sharing. I wanted to cry a few tears for you with those beautiful words. You have sorted it out so cleanly in your head and moved on with out real bitterness ruining your life. It’s wonderful.

      I wonder if your husband will ever know how much his decision has affected you. Will he ever grasp the profound effect? Does he have enough gratitude to equal what you have given up. Or is he blissfully unaware.

      Blessing to you Fergy. You sound like a wonderful and lovely person who will get her reward in heaven.


    • Hello Fergy and , Im so glad I found this. I could really use some counsel in this area and of course I have never been in this situation before so I have very little to work with. I really hope someone will still see this thread and respond. Here is my story:

      I am 38. I tried to get pregnant for 4 1/2 years with my ex-husband with no positives. There was no specific reason cited but I did discover later on I had a pretty severe hormone imbalance. I did accidentally get pregnant last year with a guy I was dating off and on, but miscarried. Fast forward to this year, after being single/divorced for the past 3, I met a man I’m totally in love with. He is so perfect for me except for one pretty big discrepancy: he has had a vasectomy after having 3 children and does not want more…and I have dreamed of being a mother my entire life.

      I thought I could be happy being a “bonus mom” but the triggers have been hitting hard. He notified me of the V on day one, but I was so smitten with him and had been opening myself up to the idea that maybe having my own wasn’t such a big deal particularly because of my age and history. But Im seriously questioning that now. We have been seeing each other for 3 months and I have met his children who I do like and get along with so far.

      Because of my age and history, its so hard for me to chose to leave him to put myself back in the dating scene to potentially find a partner I like as much as him and maybe have a baby within the window of time I have left. It’s totally possible I can’t get pregnant anyway. But the triggers as you said Fergy are everywhere, including his kids and his relationship with their mother (they are extremely close and co-parent).

      He also isn’t really open to adoption. Like you said, the vasectomy is a definite sign. He just doesn’t want more kids, and I get it, but what do I do? Leave him for the possibility that may never happen?? Help me please!!!!!!!!


      • Hi Cindy– I apologize that it’s taken weeks for me to reply. I have thought, and thought, and THOUGHT about this… and then thought about it some more. It’s so hard to know what to say b/c the unknown is such a wild card in this type of situation– you’re forced to choose between a situation (your current relationship) with an outcome that you know and one that is a series of ‘what if…?” and “maybe…”

        One of the questions I examined for myself, when I was trying to figure out what to do, was this: If I knew for sure I could have a child if I ended my current relationship….. even if that meant going it entirely alone– using adopting as a single woman, or using a donor to get pregnant and then raising the child on my own, etc.– would I want to do it?
        At that time, it was possible (if I’d chosen to end my marriage) that I might meet someone new with whom I’d want to share my life and have children…. and if that didn’t happen, I had the resources (and emotional support from some people very close to me) to make motherhood happen for myself. For me, at that time, the answer to the ‘Do I want this enough to do anything and everything to make it happen, in any form or fashion?” was no. I didn’t want to have a child at any cost– my vision for myself was a family– me, my partner, and our child(ren). And of course, it still might have worked out that way, even if I’d ended my marriage and had a child on my own– I might have met someone else later to round out the family vision– but I wanted to have a family with a partner who wanted to have a family with me.

        So I think my best advice would be to give some thought to that question for yourself– and depending on your feelings, the right answer for you might be to move on and try to be a mom the way you’ve hoped to be– or you may decide to remain in your happy relationship, knowing there will be some days that will be really hard.

        It’s also worth mentioning that while I rarely have bad days anymore about being childless…. I do harbor some resentment toward my husband– and that bubbles up from time to time…. sometimes when I least expect it. It comes up rarely, but it actually happened earlier today (which was part of what reminded me to be sure to sit down tonight and reply to you!!) We had a disagreement– it was something relatively inconsequential, NOT anything like a life decision– but it was something that had to either be his way or my way b/c there wasn’t a compromise-able middle ground. Rationally, it made sense for me to accommodate him on the issue today– so it was a logical resolution– but it was frustrating, and it triggered in me some real anger that we’d reached an impasse and the resolution was that he wins, I lose, and I need to find a way to be ok with it– just as I’d done re: being childless. Since my reaction in our disagreement today was coming off very disproportionate to the importance of the issue, I took the time to stop and explain to him the feelings it triggered, to give my response (and anger) some context. He understood (and he thanked me for explaining), but seemed to be a bit frustrated (or maybe just disappointed) that not having children is still a cause of discontent. I told him I suspect that after nearly 20 years of marriage, he’s likely tired of hearing about it every couple of years– that I understand if he feels that way, because it could be tiresome– and that I would give just about anything if I could make it a non-issue for myself– because I guarantee that any discomfort or unhappiness HE feels when it comes up is 1000x worse for me– so if I could flip a switch to get over it, once and for all, I’d do that in a heartbeat. Lingering pain from heartbreak just doesn’t work that way.

        My reason for calling out the occasional ‘bubble up and boil over’ of resentment here is just to mention that it could take a bit of a toll, from time to time, on the current (and good) relationship you’re in, if you decide to stay. In my case, I don’t think it will ever be severe enough to sour us entirely… it just makes for a bad day– for both of us– every so often.

        I still don’t regret staying in my marriage– I love my husband as much as ever– and the degree of togetherness during a pandemic is so extreme that I know it has pressure-tested relationships of some of my friends and family– but it’s been easy for us because we genuinely enjoy being together all the time. He’s a great partner and I think we are stronger now together than we’ve ever been.
        That said… if I were advising someone who really wants (and is willing to) become a mother at any cost and in any circumstance….whether that means single parenthood, adopting on her own, etc. I would advise that woman to make whatever changes she needs to, to go down that road– because if it’s something she wants that badly, giving up the chance to have it is a very high price to pay to preserve a relationship with a partner who is not like-minded,

        (That was a lengthy reply—- hats off to you if you stuck it out and read it all the way through 🙂
        All the best to you in what is a hard place to be….. and I hope that whatever choice you make brings you happiness and peace!


      • Hi Fergy,

        Thank you for your genuine and thorough response. I can totally appreciate your specific set of circumstances and why you made the decision you did. I also apologize for my delay. I hesitated in even responding as I moved on quite a while ago, shortly after discovering this site actually. I want to include my experience here for anyone else in a similar situation in case it may offer some guidance and reference. I’ll keep it short and sweet.

        I did not stay with the partner in question. Though I certainly could have and imagine I would have been pretty happy and well-loved. The realization that finalized my decision was simply I would not be living my truth if I stayed with him knowing I was choosing to sacrifice the opportunity to experience something I have wanted all of my life. In fact it’s the only thing I have always desired. And so I could have moved forward with him but I would have had to be ok with knowing I was lying to myself every day.

        I think if we had been together longer and had established more of a foundation with each other I may have chosen differently. Thankfully, that did not happen and I was able to make the decision quickly and before too many factors were at play.

        I do realize I am taking a risk in a sense, but it’s absolutely a risk I’m willing to take. It’s been three months since I ended the relationship and I don’t regret it one bit. That’s the thing about dreams, there is no settling. You might make sacrifices for the dream, but not the dream itself. I’m holding out for mine to come true.


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