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.

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Stay in a relationship without kids or go?

Last week we talked about the big gamble. Should you leave a partner who is unable or unwilling to make babies with you in the hope that you can find someone else with whom you can have children? Most of the people who responded had decided to keep what they had. They treasured their relationship enough to work it out. That’s what I did, too.

But that leaves a lot of people still in the gray area.

Ideally, we work these things out before we’ve made the commitment to another person. We discuss it, and if we disagree, we either decide to accept it forever or we walk away. Right? Not always. There’s a third response, the one I made and the one lots of us make. We tell ourselves that he will change his mind, that she will get the urge to have babies, that the physical impediments to conception will miraculously disappear. For those of us raised on fairy tales and Disney movies, it makes sense. If you wish hard enough for something, your dreams always come true in the end. If only real life worked that way.

Back in my mother’s day, kids were part of the package. If you didn’t want to have children, you didn’t get married because marriage meant babies. But nothing is guaranteed anymore. We have to discuss it and be clear on what we want. If a person is unable or unwilling to have children, that’s probably not going to change. Can you live with that?

Of course many of you are already in the relationship. It’s too late to work it out beforehand. So now what? Ask yourself some questions and try to be honest.

1) Am I happy with my life as it is right now? If nothing changes, can I remain happy with this person?

2) Do I love this person enough to choose him or her over the children I might have had?

3) Will I be devastated if I never have children?

4) Am I will to willing to risk ending up childless and alone–or becoming a single parent?

Tough questions. The hard part is that your answers may change over time. So might your partner’s. But I think we have to assume that things are not going to change, that there will be no miracles, and act accordingly.

I wish none of us had to deal with this, but we do. What do you think about all this? Please share in the comments.