Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“He Wants Kids But I Don’t Know if I Do”

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I’ve been in a relationship with my boyfriend for just under 5 years, and, while we’ve had some issues here and there, we’ve always been able to work through them together. He’s a truly wonderful person; he’s my best friend and I love him. He has always known he wants kids. When he talks about his life, and about the future, it’s always “My kids will this” or “My kids will totally that.” I’m less sure about having kids; I have some genetic issues I don’t necessarily want to pass on to any offspring. Beyond that, I’ve also struggled with mental health issues. I grew up watching my mother struggle with body image and disordered eating habits, and I internalized them. I was at one point severely anorexic, and, while I am doing much better now and have been for years, certain habits and mindsets do resurface from time to time, and I would hate to have any daughter grow up learning from me what I learned from my mother. I’m a pretty rational person, and those are the intellectual reasons telling me I shouldn’t have children. Right now, I also don’t have any biological urge to have them anyway, but I’m pretty young and fully recognize that might change.

Up until now my boyfriend has always been very understanding of my uncertainty about children. That all changed this weekend. He told me that watching his coworkers have kids made him realize that it wasn’t an experience he was willing to give up. He seemed to have a hard time accepting that I truly don’t know whether or not I want kids. At one point he said that, since my answer was I don’t know, he could continue to be with me until I decided, but, if I do decide I don’t want kids, then he’d be done.

Obviously, he and I have continued and will continue talking about this, but I don’t know what to do. Do I stay, given that I could still end up wanting kids, and deal with what happens if I decide I don’t? Do I leave preemptively, to allow him to go find someone who is sure? How do I stay in a relationship with the knowledge that it could all end the minute I decide whether or not to have kids? We’re also likely to be long-distance starting in July. The rational part of me says maybe it’d be better to just end it then, to let him go. But even typing that sentence made me start crying again; I don’t want to break up. I’ve known for years that I want to spend the rest of my life with him. Other than the kids issue, we enjoy the same things and want many of the same things out of life. I want this to work, but I’m having a hard time seeing how it can. — Unsure about Kids

I’ve answered a question like this many times before, and those columns may help give you some perspective.

For you specifically, I would say just hang in there. Why break up? You could decide you want kids. Or… frankly, there may be another reason for you two to break up down the line. No relationship has a guarantee. Even if you were on the same page with the kids situation, it doesn’t mean you’d end up married (or married forever). Maybe your relationship won’t survive the long distance. Maybe one or both of you will meet someone else. Maybe you’ll just drift apart. Maybe that’s depressing, but it should also be a reality check for you. Relationships have risks. Loving someone means risking a broken heart. And disagreeing about having kids is just one way your relationship could potentially not work in the long run. My point is, if you’re thinking about breaking up in order to save yourself from getting hurt later, you might as well just stay single forever because any relationship with any person carries that risk.

I say stick it out and see what happens. If YOU were the one who wanted kids and your boyfriend wasn’t sure, my advice would probably be different (depending on your age). But you don’t really have anything to lose here. Sure, you might invest more time in this relationship to only end up with a broken heart, but, if you aren’t anxious about a ticking biological clock, what difference does that make? A broken heart will hurt whether it comes now or later, and, if your relationship has the potential to last for the long run, it would be a shame not to give it a chance just because you were scared of getting dumped down the line.

Beyond that, I would suggest going to therapy (if you aren’t already) to deal with the mental health issues you allude to. It’s great that you feel mostly fine these days, but if the issues still resurface from time to time — enough that you worry about modeling unhealthy patterns and behavior to a potential daughter (or son, for that matter) — a therapist could help you change those patterns and find the confidence in your ability to be a good mother. A therapist could also help you unpack and process the different feelings you have around the idea of having children and maybe help you arrive at a decision.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].

44 comments… add one
  • avatar

    bethany April 24, 2014, 9:09 am

    WWS.

    Since you’re not exactly sure what it is that you do want, and you’ve been honest with your boyfriend, I don’t see any reason to break up just yet. Also, if your genetic issues are one of the main reason you think you don’t want to have children, there are other ways you can go about it. Obviously adoption is an option, but you might also be able to use a donor egg and be able to carry the child. Clearly I’m not a Dr, so I might be talking out of my ass, but I can understand how you’d be very hesitant to bring a child into the world, knowing you might pass on some ‘bad’ genes. If you take that out of the equation would you still be so hesitant?
    Lastly, I was a “maybe I’ll have kids one day” person until I was 32. Then something happened, and I just wanted them. Badly. So, who knows. You might wake up one day and want to have them. You also might wake up one day and know for sure that you don’t . If that happens, that’s when you need to break up with your boyfriend.

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    • GatorGirl

      GatorGirl April 24, 2014, 6:47 pm

      I think the fear is two fold- passing on “bad genes” and then also demonstrating bad habits that the kids pick up. So while adoption etc could help with the first fears, it wouldn’t solve the second.

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  • katie

    katie April 24, 2014, 9:26 am

    My mom also had bad body image issues probably her whole life, but I just wanted to tell you, LW, that doesn’t just automatically translate to showing your kids those issues. My mom never showed me those “bad” habits, and she told me once that it was very much on purpose- she knew it could screw with a young girl, so she made a conscious decision to not do that. So, just saying, that specific issue can be worked around.
    .
    Also, genetic counseling might help with your decision too. You are worried about your genes, but your boyfriend might have good genes that could override your bad ones (or a chance of that, or whatever). I think that knowing the whole picture about mixing your genetics might be good. I think that would be good for anyone, actually.

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    • rainbow

      rainbow April 24, 2014, 10:06 am

      Yes, this! The world in general is pretty fucked up when it comes to weight / body image, so it’s probably safer to be raised by someone who has been greatly affected by it and now sees the problem and is trying not to magnify it than by someone who just doesn’t question it. So in this case, LW, your experience might make you better at not fucking up your kids, not worse.

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      • katie

        Katie April 24, 2014, 11:50 am

        That’s an amazing point. That makes so much sense!

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest April 24, 2014, 11:51 am

        Agree with rainbow. I was glad you brought that up.

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    • avatar

      LW April 24, 2014, 11:26 am

      Alas, he does not. But genetics aren’t my only reason for not wanting kids. I mean, they’re a big reason, but I think they wouldn’t matter as much if I felt any desire to have kids, to be a mother. And maybe once I’m older that desire will kick in, as I know it does for so many people. But right now it just isn’t there. But on the other hand, I do look at the type of relationship my sister and I both have with my parents now that we’re adults, and having that type of relationship has been so great and I would want that later in life. Course, I also see the relationship my boyfriend has with his parents, and I mutter to myself not my monkeys, not my circus. So, ya know.

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  • avatar

    SasLinna April 24, 2014, 9:27 am

    Did your boyfriend say when he wants to have kids? If it’s in the next few years, I unfortunately think you’re sort of doomed – you’re unlikely to change your mind that quickly and he’ll probably get more impatient about it all the time. If it’s in the far future, I agree with Wendy that it’s premature to decide now because you could both still change your minds. Another factor is age: If you’re both in your early-mid twenties I wouldn’t worry about it too much, if one of you is over 30 I’d take it quite seriously as a potential deal-breaker.

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    • avatar

      SasLinna April 24, 2014, 9:31 am

      As an aside, I think while age is a more important factor for women, it can also matter for men. Some men want to become a dad in their 30ies. So just because the bf might still be able to have children later it doesn’t mean that’s an option for him personally.

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  • Fabelle

    Fabelle April 24, 2014, 9:44 am

    Agree with Wendy–but to add a personal opinion on this issue in general, I don’t understand (probably because I myself am on the fence about having kids) the mindset of dropping an existing, good relationship for ~potential~ children? To follow Wendy’s “shit happens” train of thought, I mean… even if the LW’s boyfriend left & DID find someone who wanted kids as much as he did, any number of things could go wrong. They could break up before getting to the point of trying to conceive, they could have infertility issues, etc. So basically yeah, ride this out. I think the upcoming long-distance is likely to put enough of a strain on the relationship to either make or break it, anyway?

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    • avatar

      RedroverRedrover April 25, 2014, 11:06 am

      This is a good point. For all your bf knows, he’s infertile and will never have kids anyway. Unless he’s open to adoption, which has its own issues.

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  • avatar

    peachy April 24, 2014, 10:25 am

    LW, I totally agree with Wend that a therapist can help sort out your concerns around being a mother. You are already conscious of what the issues are, surely that is a huge step in the direction of not repeating your own mom’s self-destructive patterns? Give yourself some credit!
    I do, however, feel uncomfortable about your boyfriend’s delivery of an ultimatum. I would have hoped for more from someone who knows your history. He didn’t try to enroll you in his enthusiasm or encourage you to look at it in a new light, or tell you how he was going to work with you to make it possible, he essentially threw down a gauntlet and you either step up or he walks? An ultimatum about theoretical future children when you two are not engaged and are about to go long-distance? This is a problem., imo. Wish you luck!

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    • avatar

      Sara April 24, 2014, 10:49 am

      IDK. The boyfriend has been honest with himself about the fact that not having kids is a deal-breaker for him, and he articulated his feelings to his partner. It’s OK that kids are deal-breakers. And I think it’s best to be honest with yourself and your partner about what your deal breakers are. IMO, better to be honest about this situation now than to just start this discussion after getting engaged.

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      • lemongrass

        lemongrass April 24, 2014, 11:07 am

        WSS. Working out your deal breakers is something that you should figure out before you decide to spend the rest of your life with them, not the other way around.

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    • avatar

      LW April 24, 2014, 11:12 am

      He’s actually apologized for it coming off like an ultimatum; we’ve talked a couple of times since that initial talk, and he says he never meant for it to seem like an ultimatum (even though it totally was.) Honestly, I’m not sure where we stand right now. He’s gone back and forth a lot, saying he’s not sure he’d leave if I did decide I don’t want them, then saying he could never leave me, then saying again he’s not willing to give up having kids. I asked him what he would do if in a year or two we were otherwise ready to get married, but I still hadn’t made up my mind about kids. At first he said he didn’t know, but then he said he would still want to get married, that he loves me and he wants that. I think that’s easy for him to say now though; he’s not really going to want to have kids at least until residency anyway, so as it gets closer it may get more urgent for him.

      P.S. Thank God Wendy posted this on a Thursday (i.e. paperwork day) so I can actually be at my computer! Thanks for all the advice so far everyone.

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      • avatar

        ktfran April 24, 2014, 12:23 pm

        He’s wavering because he doesn’t want to lose you right now. But, if he has a strong desire to be a dad and raise children, I highly doubt that will change if you absolutely decided that’s not what you want. One, or both of you will resent the other, eventually.

        I also need to tell you, don’t decide to have kids to appease your partner/keep him. I think that’s shitty for the hypothetical children.

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      • avatar

        LW April 24, 2014, 12:27 pm

        I would never have kids if I didn’t 100% want them, and I absolutely told them as much. I work with kids, and I see parents who make it seem like dealing with their kid is the biggest imposition on their life. The kids absolutely pick up on it, and it is incredibly unfair to them.

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      • avatar

        LW April 24, 2014, 12:28 pm

        Told *him

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      • othy

        othy April 24, 2014, 12:59 pm

        LW – I wish all people were like you. I think it’s important to make sure you want kids before you have them.
        .
        But that said, I think even parents who say they were 100% on board to have children probably had their doubts when they finally decided to have them. I think even if you have a shadow of a doubt, as long as you’re 100% committed to be a good parent, that should be enough.

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      • avatar

        RedroverRedrover April 25, 2014, 11:10 am

        Great comment. Neither my husband or I were 100% sure on kids, but we decided to stop using birth control and see what happens. It’s such a big thing, I would guess that many many people are not 100% sure. But we were definitely 100% sure that whatever happened, we would be the best parents we could be.

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    • katie

      Katie April 24, 2014, 11:49 am

      No, I disagree too. We always tell women to do exactly what this guy is doing. It’s perfectly acceptable, and I would even argue the right way to go about things.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest April 24, 2014, 12:56 pm

        I’m confused what you agree with. Reading comp issues today? With big ticket things like this, I am all for an “ultimatum” like this. He knows he wants kids. If LW decides she doesn’t, wtf is he supposed to do? I think its nice he told her he knows for sure and knows what’ll happen if she decides she doesn’t want them.

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. April 24, 2014, 10:32 am

    I guess I am in the minority here, because I say end it now. It’s okay not to be sure, but how long will it take you to decide? 2 years? 5 years? Never? There’s no way you can put a date on that. It would be one thing if he said, “I want to be with you no matter what. If that means no kids then so be it.” But he sounds like he’s made up his mind and is rarin’ to go. As long as you are unsure, he is in limbo. I think the kindest thing to do for him is to let him go.

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    • avatar

      RedroverRedrover April 25, 2014, 11:14 am

      The reason I don’t think she should end it is because he’s the one with the dealbreaker. He knows where her head is at, and if he’s not ok with it he’s free to leave. It’s the same kind of scenario as where a woman wants to get married and her bf isn’t sure if he ever wants to get married. It’s pretty much up to the woman how long she wants to stay and see if the bf makes a decision.

      Basically, since they’ve both communicated, and he’s the one who has a deadline (assuming he wants kids before his forties or whatever), he’s the one who needs to decide if he sticks it out or if he breaks up with her so he can find someone who will have kids with him.

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  • honeybeenicki

    honeybeenicki April 24, 2014, 10:35 am

    I’m pretty sure I agree with Wendy since you’re on the fence and you’re still young. You never know what will happen (good or bad) so I’d say just enjoy it for now. Keep having open, honest conversations. One thing your boyfriend could do until either you are ready or he decides he needs to seek someone else who is on the same page or whatever may happen is volunteer. There are many great organizations including the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, etc where he can use his skills and love to help children who aren’t as lucky.
    .
    Speaking from personal experience, the desire to have (or not to have) children can change. When my husband and I started dating, I was pretty set on not wanting children and he had a vasectomy when he was married to his ex to avoid any more difficult pregnancies for her, so he was on the same page but open to having more through other means later (adoption, donor, etc). Later on in relationship we started discussing it more and more and eventually decided that we did want to have at least one more in addition to my bonus kids.
    .
    Our original plan was to adopt, but his legal problems put a stop to that. So we had to re-evaluate and now we are over a year into fertility treatment and donor sperm without success. Our next step is to go to a fertility specialist.
    .
    So, basically in a few years it went from both of us not really wanting any more kids to both of us wanting one more so bad that we’re willing to drain our savings, max out credit cards and do whatever it takes. So it can change. Don’t give up on the relationship you speak so lovingly of too early. You don’t need to make decisions right now. And if you’re trying to run away because you’re afraid to get hurt… well, then don’t ever be in a relationship. They come with hurt sometimes.

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    • mylaray

      mylaray April 24, 2014, 10:39 am

      That’s a good point about volunteering with children. I think it could be beneficial to the LW if she volunteered with kids too to get a feel of how it is for her. I started doing that in the past few months and it’s been really helpful in helping me decide (and really enriching and rewarding).

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      • honeybeenicki

        honeybeenicki April 24, 2014, 10:44 am

        I’m a huge supporter of BBBS, so I try to work that in 🙂 And you’re right, it would be good for her as well. They often do “couple BBBS” where both people are assigned to just one child (usually a male since there are more boys in the program, but not as many male volunteers) and they do things as a group of 3 and/or 1-on-1.

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      • mylaray

        mylaray April 24, 2014, 11:10 am

        Oh that sounds great too. I really want to apply to be a Big Sister. Their office is a few blocks away from me so I really should go in sometime and see what it’s like.

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      • avatar

        LW April 24, 2014, 11:18 am

        I actually work with kids, so I do know how being with kids would be. I volunteered for a mentoring organization all through college as well, so I love being around kids. I’m just not sure if I want any of my own.

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  • mylaray

    mylaray April 24, 2014, 10:36 am

    I think given all the details, you should wait and see how you feel. I have the same hesitations about having a child. I change my mind often. I’m fairly young too and knowing how I used to be completely against wanting kids, and have since softened on the idea, I think more time will help me make a decision. I think genetic counseling would be good in addition to seeing a therapist. My husband and I went to a genetic counselor before we were engaged (he has a rare genetic disorder and we wanted to better understand the risks of passing it down) and it helped ease our fears a lot. We weren’t comfortable with any testing and they didn’t pressure us to do anything. There are so many options and they go over everything with you without any judgment. It was also a good next step in our relationship. Lately, he has bad baby fever and I’m kind of eh about it. Some days I think I could totally see myself being a mom someday. Other days I think who am I kidding, I can’t do that, especially if we do have a child with his disorder. I think for me it’s a slow process of acceptance of a new life. It’s good you’re both being upfront and honest. Anyways, I would wait and just keep communicating with your boyfriend and see what happens.

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  • avatar

    applescruffs April 24, 2014, 10:49 am

    From a psychologist perspective, I think it’s important you know that 1 in 4 people has some sort of mental health diagnosis. 1 in 4! And obviously not all of these people have not had children as a result. The thing about depression and anxiety is that in a lot of cases, we’re able to cure them! If you’re in a healthy place yourself, and working on your own issues in a healthy way, there’s no reason to think you would pass the same issues you struggled with onto potential kids. Or maybe you’re someone who needs an SSRI to function at your best, and that’s ok too. So yes, see a therapist if you like, and make sure you’re at the point where your past is no longer affecting your day to day life.

    As far as kids, follow your heart. See what happens. But don’t let your past or anything related to mental health stand in your way with whatever you decide, because there are ways to help.

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  • avatar

    Laura Hope April 24, 2014, 10:52 am

    I know everyone’s experience is different but I can tell you that I too, have suffered from acute anorexia but it has not in any way impacted my kids. If anything, I’m thrilled to see them eat properly. But like you, it still rears its ugly head from time to time. So when I’d finally had enough I decided to count calories (mentally) for the rest of my life. When I hit 2000, I’m covered for the day. This way I don’t have to worry.

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  • lemongrass

    lemongrass April 24, 2014, 11:02 am

    As a person who always knew they wanted kids I can understand your boyfriend deciding to let you know he needs an answer. I think you should set yourself a time to work through your thoughts and if you haven’t decided then to let him go. A year sounds like a reasonable time to me. Go see a therapist and a genetic counsellor to see if that helps. It just doesn’t seem fair to me to keep stringing him along for who knows how long (2 years? 5? 10?) until you decide. Sure, he can biologically have kids for a long time but that doesn’t mean that it is the best for him emotionally, physically and in other ways.

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  • findingtheearth

    findingtheearth April 24, 2014, 11:06 am

    I had a lot of body issues and mental health issues. Having a child changed and helped with them a lot. I actually felt more in control of my body after finding out I was pregnant, then going through breastfeeding, having to eat healthy and make good decisions. I am much more conscious and accepting of myself now. I do agree therapy would help, regardless if you stay with him or not

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. April 24, 2014, 11:13 am

    I agree with Sara. This doesn’t sound like an ultimatum. He sounds like he is articulating his honest feelings on the matter. What does it mean to “work with her to make it possible”? That sounds like putting pressure (however gentle) on her to see it his way. This is a decision she must make for herself. I do like the idea of volunteering with kids. It would give both of them the perspective to make a better decision.

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  • sobriquet

    sobriquet April 24, 2014, 11:38 am

    So, this may not be a popular opinion, but I think they should take a “break” while they’re long-distance and re-assess after several months. I don’t know how old they are, but I’m guessing mid-twenties? Possibly early twenties? 5 years with someone is a lonnng time during those formative years and it might help to get some space from each other to figure out what they really want. I know the break thing doesn’t work 90% of the time, but it could really help their relationship.
    .
    Right now, after 5 years together, their relationship is in a limbo stage. I don’t know about the LW, but I couldn’t handle that. One of my favorite quotes about love/relationships is: “Falling in love is the launching of oneself toward the future and change.” I always need to be launching!

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  • avatar

    AKchic April 24, 2014, 11:52 am

    Oh, LW. *hug*
    There is nothing wrong with not knowing if you want kids. I applaud your boyfriend for being honest. It’s way past time for you to see a therapist about your own issues, though. Such as your body image issues and mental health issues. You can’t, in good concience, make a decision about kids when you’re still having problems yourself. A therapist can help you unwrap the layers and help you work out more solutions to your body image problem and your mental health problem(s).

    Breaking up with your boyfriend is also something that a therapist could help you work through. Your boyfriend is being very accommodating in staying with the relationship until you decide, however, I don’t think that’s necessarily fair to him. Admirable, but self-sacrificing.
    I don’t know if it would be better to separate when you two start long-distancing, or if you should wait until you’re sure you don’t want kids. That is 100% up to you.

    Good luck, no matter what you decide. There is no wrong or right here, only what FEELS right. Do what feels right for you.

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  • Lyra

    Lyra April 24, 2014, 12:50 pm

    I honestly think you should set a deadline for yourself. Say, six months to a year. By that time, you make a decision. If you still haven’t made up your mind, well, it’s not fair to your boyfriend to maintain this relationship.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark April 24, 2014, 5:43 pm

    Five years? Enough is enough. Sorry, but to me it seems like you are leading him on with the vague possibility that one day, one far off year you may want kids and blah blah blah. Bullshit. Your own updates make it painfully clear that the odds of you ever actually wanting kids are about the same of me going straight.

    It is just NOT going to happen.

    You are being unfair to him. To yourself. It’s time to set him free as you two are simply NOT a match here. And this is no small thing.

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    • avatar

      LW April 24, 2014, 6:21 pm

      Actually, up until about 4 days ago, he had always maintained that while he would like to have kids, he would be fine not having them if that’s what I decide. There has been no leading on here; this is something we have talked about a lot, but his feelings on the issue changed now that his coworkers are actively having babies and he’s watching them experience becoming parents.

      And I’d say there’s a slightly better chance than you going straight, given your disdain for women 😉 I at least like kids.

      In all seriousness though, I do envision much more easily being a parent to teenagers and young adults than to an infant or, say, my delightful young humans. (Middle schoolers are the best birth control.)

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      • Cassie

        Cassie April 24, 2014, 11:01 pm

        Gah, middle schoolers make me not want to have children too. And I say that as someone who really likes kids and wants some of my own.

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  • GatorGirl

    GatorGirl April 24, 2014, 6:44 pm

    LW, hugs. I don’t have any real advice about the relationship issue. But I can relate about the ED and fear of passing disordered habits onto children. I’ve had anxiety/need for control driven eating issues since early in high school (15 years-ish). I have some pretty solid fears about my “odd” patterns being passed on to children, but rather than rule kids out solely because of the ED, I’ve worked really hard to teach myself normal/healthy eating patterns and to manage my anxiety. So, when the time comes to have kids, I know I have the knowledge to pass on healthy habits to them.
    .
    I know the ED isn’t the only apprehension about having kids for you, but if you work and get that under control more, you might be able to make a more clear decision. Good luck! Don’t forget to update us!

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    • Cassie

      Cassie April 24, 2014, 11:03 pm

      At first, I read ‘ED’ as Erectile Dysfunction.

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      • GatorGirl

        GatorGirl April 25, 2014, 8:20 am

        Haha, no. no no no. 🙂

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