So here’s the “but”: we’ve been together about a year and had frank discussions about marriage and all that entails, including finances, life goals, kids, etc., and, while it’s obviously best to be matched on these BEFORE getting married, we are undecided about the possibility of having children. We are both ambivalent on this issue. We like other people’s kids, but don’t seem to have a strong desire for any of our own, though neither of us has said firmly “No” or “Yes.” So, what would happen if we get married and one of us decides we really do want children while the other is still on the fence or possibly has shifted more towards not wanting them? Won’t that be a bigger problem once married? Are there successful marriages when this want is not necessarily fulfilled for one partner? Is this something I shouldn’t worry about because you can’t predict the future that way? Part of me feels like I’m almost finding things to worry about because I can’t believe I could ever be in such a stable, fulfilling relationship. At the risk of annoying your readers, please, Wendy, help me with my “non-problem” problem! — Trying to Figure it All Out Ahead of Time
I have answered a variation of this question many times before:
As you can see, you aren’t the first person to be in an otherwise great relationship who worries that the kid issue is going to change things. It will. And you are right to worry. If one of you decides that, yes, you do want a baby while the other remains unsure, or decides for certain that he or she doesn’t want a kid, your relationship will be in trouble. And there’s not much you can do now to avoid that except either break up (which seems extreme) or not get married until you’re both sure what you want (which still isn’t a guarantee this issue or something else won’t come between you) or accept that you simply can’t figure it all out ahead of time. There is no perfect relationship. This is no path that is smooth forever. At some point, you’re going to face a dilemma in your relationship that no amount of talking beforehand will fully prepare you for.
So what do you do then? You cross the bridge when you get to it. When it comes to this particular bridge — the bridge of children, let’s call it — then the person who wants a baby has to decide if that desire for a child is more important than his or her very real spouse and marriage. And if it is, then the marriage ends and you both go on your way, one of you maybe having a baby with someone else and the other maybe finding a new relationship with someone who does not want to have kids. Or, conversely, maybe the person who wants a child decides that that desire isn’t strong enough to end the relationship and so maybe you get a dog instead and that fulfills the desire to care for something, to feel maternal or paternal. I don’t know. None of us can know what will happen in the future. That’s why loving someone and committing to someone and vowing to be together forever is so fucking scary because we can’t predict what forever will bring. But we follow our hearts and we trust and we love and we hope that things work out and that, if they don’t, we have the strength to withstand the fall-out. That’s all any of us can do, really.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.