Wednesday, January 23, 2019

He Wants Children; She Doesn't. Now what?

No relationship is going to continue for very long if the participants do not know how to compromise. Negotiation is the key to getting along with other people. It’s give and take, get some of what you want, but not all of what you want. If you get all that you want and your inamorata gets nothing of what she wants, you are not compromising, you are not negotiating. You are not in a relationship.

And yet, there comes a time when compromise is impossible. When one member of a couple must give in, concede to the other… they are not compromising. At that point, the question becomes: impose your will, give in or end the relationship.

Carolyn Hax addresses the issue in her Washington Post column today. A man wants to father children… or, at least, one child. His girlfriend of three years adamantly refuses to be a mother. He writes to Hax to ask how they can compromise. She responds that they are at a point where they cannot compromise. Of course, one or the other can change his or her mind, but perhaps that will feel like conceding.

One regrets the fact that they are at loggerheads on a fundamental relationship question. One regrets even more that they did not figure this out earlier. If both refuse to compromise on this issue, they should not have stayed together for three years. If neither party has a change of heart, the relationship is effectively over. And it should have been over earlier. Given that they have build something of a life together, the break-up will make them both look bad, to friends and family. Not a good place to be.

Here is the letter:

My girlfriend of three years does not want biological kids, whereas to me it's very important. She thinks I'm naive and don't understand how completely life-altering and difficult childbearing and child-rearing are. I feel I understand all that, and understand the greater biological burden on her, but it's still important to me.

We have talked about adopting, and I am open to adopting a child, but would want a biological child as well. I know it's somewhat selfish and maybe old-fashioned to "pass on my genes," but I feel it strongly nevertheless.

How do we compromise on these issues that have massive repercussions for both involved? I'm worried that whichever way we compromise, the compromising partner will resent and regret the outcome and this will ruin our relationship in the long run. Do couples just need to be on the same page regarding big issues to make the relationship work, or are healthy compromises possible?

Hax responds sagely that they cannot compromise:

Healthy compromises are possible, of course. But what you’re talking about isn’t compromise. You don’t have a halfway kid, or a partial pregnancy, or a halfway-biological kid ... well, thats doable. You see my point, though. What youre talking about isnt compromise, it’s concession. It’s about who gives up on having something because the other doesn’t want it, and how to do that without holding grudges.

And we might as well just say it since the biology is on her side, unless you’re game and able to hire a surrogate to bear your child: This is about your giving up the idea of biological children because your girlfriend does not want to bear them, and your finding a way to be happy about that instead of wishing for the rest of your life that you had made a different choice.

Note the phrasing: “that you had made a different choice.” If you even begin to think it’s about wishing she had chosen differently, then you’re out of the realm of healthy concession. Responsibility, healthy; blame, unhealthy. She’s making a choice, yes, but for her body, which is her purview. You still have agency with your mind and body so whatever you do is on you.

True enough, girlfriend has the constitutional right not to bear children. It's her body. And not to bring up children. But, using a gestational surrogate means avoiding pregnancy. Which can be done. Yet, the man has written that his girlfriend does not want to bring up a child either.

About which we ought to ask why she is involved in a relationship with a man who wants children. Let’s not be so na├»ve as to think that the couple is so deeply in love that they cannot live without each other. In truth, they have both chosen poorly and have compounded the error by imagining that the other party will change. Even if biology is on her side, the rules of mating are not. If she does not want to have children she would have done better to find a man who already has them or who does not want them. They share responsibility for the impasse.

Hax continues:

Again — not a matter of compromise. It’s a matter of your either taking no for an answer on this particular vision of your future, or breaking up with your girlfriend in hopes of meeting someone else who falls in love with you and who happens to want to bear children.

Strangely, or not, Hax seems to believe that the options are all on his side. The girlfriend might also change her mind. It has happened. The ticking of her biological clock might tell her that she really does want to have children. And she might discover, upon being dumped for a more motherly woman, that she really would like to have children. It has happened. Or not. So, rather than have any more discussions, the man should walk away from the relationship… put an unceremonious end to it. After that, it will be her move.


Anonymous said...

I am sorry, but this is a situation that is only going to grow worse as she figures out how badly she can treat him. There will come a time when she will have so little respect for him that she will dump him. With all the wonderful women that are available, he is going to waste his time and his life on this person. Walk away!
There will come a time when he will understand how much of his life he has forfeited. When he realizes that he has no progeny to enjoy seeing them turn into successful adults. One of the joys of life is it's very progression. To watch a son, or daughter, who you wondered was going to grow up become all you believed they had the potential to be.

JPL17 said...

"With all the wonderful women that are available, he is going to waste his time and his life on this person. Walk away! [Otherwise] [t]here will come a time when he will understand how much of his life he has forfeited."

I agree 100%. A friend who desperately wanted his own kids married a woman who had long professed never to want children. All of the couple's friends (my wife and me included) knew from the start that she'd never change her mind and that he'd regret marrying her. Yet he did anyway. Ten years later he finally realized she'd never change, divorced her, and ended up marrying a very nice woman who wanted kids, and with whom he now has 2 happy healthy kids. A happy ending for him, but he lost 10 years and will be in his late 70s by the time his younger child graduates from college.

Ares Olympus said...

The solution is obvious to all, and no compromise is needed. They are not even married!

It's practically the easiest possible break up reason, and so easy it can actually be an excuse - if you don't like to be the one who breaks up, find the other's "deal breaker" issue and break it firmly until they break up with you.

My sense is almost no one would have kids without the help of hidden hormones tipping the scales against prudence. So if no inner drive is clearly saying yes, we should listen to that lack of drive. We're no longer in the world where duty says we must all be fruitful and multiply.

MalaiseLongue said...

The letter writer says that he and his girlfriend have talked about adopting a child, but that he wants a biological child in addition to any they might adopt. He reports that his girlfriend thinks he's naive about the amount of work that childrearing entails. In other words, she is aware of how hard it is to bring up a child but would take that burden on as an adoptive (but not biological) mother. Exactly where, then, does the letter writer say that his girlfriend refuses to be a mother, as you claim?

Sam L. said...

Is the woman actually open to adoption? I have the feeling that she isn't. Certainly she does not want to bear a child. It's time to call it quits.

David Foster said...

It seems possible that her rejection of having children is really a rejection of having children *with this particular man*....likely at the subconscious level.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Good point... it may well be true.