Just recently, the subject of marriage came up and he said, to my surprise, that he doesn’t ever want to marry again. That he “doesn’t believe in it anymore.” This broke my heart, but I accepted it because he is very anti-conformist and had bad experiences in his first marriage. He did say he’s happy to eventually have a ceremony and assume the titles of husband and wife, exchange rings, etc., but doesn’t want the government or religion involved. Fine. I think I can accept that.
What hurts me the most is social media. I have a huge number of friends online all getting married and having children. One of my closest girlfriends, who’s been ambivalent her whole life about marrying and having kids, now has done exactly that. And I can’t even look at her Facebook page without crying because I feel like I missed the boat by being in the relationship I’m in. When it comes to having children, he brushes it off, constantly saying, “We’ll try eventually, we’ll get there…” But I’m almost 38 and the clock is ticking louder than ever. I’m so worried and I don’t know what to do; it’s tearing me apart.
My depression, for which I’m medicated but of course still hugely affected by, has certainly put a damper on our interactions. I cry almost daily when I think about how late into my child-bearing years I am and how I’m with someone who doesn’t carry the same urgency to make it happen. I’m at a loss on what to do, so I am seeking your advice.
— 37 and Afraid
Lots here to unpack, but let’s start with this: You have depression that is exasperated by several things for which you have control. First, social media makes you cry, so get off social media. Seriously. Just delete your accounts and stop torturing yourself! On some level, I hope you realize that social media isn’t real – that it is curated moments of life that people want to share and that all the stuff they don’t want to share exists behind their posts. Those friends of yours who are married with kids still have struggles. Their lives are not perfect. The things they have that you think you want may not even bring them happiness, let alone you. Or they may bring happiness but also a huge dose of stress and anxiety that isn’t pictured on social media. Since what IS pictured on social media causes you distress, please stop looking at it. No good is coming from this.
Second, your relationship is exacerbating your depression, so maybe it’s time to delete that from your life too. Your boyfriend doesn’t want to get married. He doesn’t really want kids, even if he isn’t flat-out saying no. He’s doing one of the cruelest things actually by not being honest with you and by giving you just enough hope that “eventually” he may want kids so that you’ll hang around waiting for that day. It’s not coming. When someone’s been with you five whole years already and you’re both pushing 40 and he’s still saying “eventually one day,” the translation is “never, ever.” He just doesn’t want to lose you so he’s telling you the stuff he thinks will keep you around but won’t require any commitment at all from him. Sure, he’ll give you a ceremony and a ring that carries literally zero commitment from him, but forget ever having children with this guy. It’s a hard no even if he doesn’t have the balls to tell you so.
And let’s talk about those hypothetical children you desperately want. What is it about having kids that appeals to you so much? I think for some people — and maybe you’re in this group or maybe you aren’t — having children is a big box to check off the to-do list of life. It’s a hallmark of adulthood, of “making it,” of moving forward. It’s a big source of validation, but not necessarily of personal fulfillment. For other people – maybe like your friend you resent who was always ambivalent about marriage and kids – the desire to have children sneaks up on them, not from a need to validate their adulthood or to conform to tradition, but from something internal that’s hard to define. And if and when those kids come, so does an enormous shift: in responsibilities; in stress and energy levels; in the way their worlds are centered; and, frankly, in their mental well-being.
I don’t want to suggest that people who struggle with mental health issues can’t be good and happy and loving parents because of course they can and they are, but the reality is that kids affect mental health and someone who is “hugely affected” by her own depression to the point of crying every day in the face of adversity needs to consider that. If the idea of not having kids elicits such a strong and constant and near-debilitating response from you, the reality of having them may very well produce an even bigger response — and not necessarily for the positive. It’s possible your boyfriend has thought about this and it’s the reason he’s not racing to impregnate you.
What if you took kids off the table entirely? Would you still want to be with your boyfriend? If you removed social media from the equation — which you should do! — and you measured your relationship not in comparison to anyone else’s or by what you think is expected of a 37-year-old or by what you thought your life would look like by now, does it make you happy? Do you feel emotionally connected to your boyfriend? Can you imagine a future with him, just him, and no kids of your own? If the answer is no, you need to move on because he does not want to have kids with you, despite the comments about “eventually one day maybe.” But the thing is, what you think you want — a husband and kids — may not bring you the happiness and fulfillment you believe it will.
The best advice I can give you is to turn off the noise around you, like social media and maybe all media with its implicit messages and expectations about what your life should look like, and listen carefully to what your heart is saying. I want you to think about three times you were most happy this summer or even in the past year. Just three moments. What were you doing, who were you with, and what choices can you make that will support more of that kind of happiness in your life? The answers, as always, are inside you. But you have to tune out the external noise to hear them.
Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.
anonymousse August 27, 2019, 9:30 am
When I read this, it made me just want to give you a hug. I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time right now. I agree with Wendy that you have the power to remove a lot of the things that are contributing to your sadness. Social media for one. If you feel like your friends would notice or comment about it, just do a general “taking a break from social media post.” You won’t miss it, trust me.
You feel like you’ve missed the boat by being in this relationship. Let that sink in. This man is not going to marry you or have children with you. He’s not being fair or honest with you about that, either. I really think you should move on from him. He knows what you want, and instead of having any integrity at all, he’s basically trickle-truthing you. Even though he can see the pain this causes you. Suddenly out of nowhere he doesn’t believe in marriage anymore. You’ll have kids sometime…he’s a coward.
I hope you’re seeing a therapist or even a psychiatrist. I hope you are being treated for your depression, in whatever way works best for you.
I was like your girl friend, deeply ambivalent about kids my entire life. I had actually always liked kids, but I didn’t admit that to many people when I was younger. I never could imagine myself as a mother. And truly it just sort of fell into place for me. But it was also a big struggle for me. Kids tend to magnify the stress and any other problems you might have. So I do think you should do some deep thinking/meditation about whether you truly want to be a parent, or you’ve been told your entire life you’re supposed to be and that’s why you feel “less than” right now. Your life can have children in it without you having your own, if that’s something you choose. Volunteering can be very joyful, as well as heartbreaking. I know there are many children who need good foster homes. And if you want kids, your own bio kids, you can still do that. The picture you had in your head of your life might be different than what you will have. Have you seen a fertility specialist, or even an OB GYN? Fertility does decline, but I know a lot of women who were able to have children in their forties. It might be harder, but it can happen.
I’m truly so sorry you’re experiencing so much turmoil right now. I wish you peace. Be good to yourself.
TaraMonster August 27, 2019, 9:44 am
This is beautiful advice. LW, don’t feel ashamed that you need to step back from social media. LOTS of people do it and are happier for it. When my fiance began therapy for his depression, one of the first things his therapist instructed him to do was to get off social media. So he did. For almost 2 years. It *markedly* improved his outlook on life and himself.
As for your boyfriend, I’m sorry to say he doesn’t sound like a very good partner. If you’re determined to work on it, you can try couples therapy (make sure you have a deadline in mind for when things need to improve by). We went through something similar (about having children) and couples therapy helped resolve those issues. I will say to take this approach with extreme caution. I know my fiance well enough that I could tell he was having some big life change anxieties that needed addressing. I think in many cases an issue like this doesn’t have as happy an outcome, but if you do want to be with your boyfriend long term (and I think you should follow Wendy’s advice and really evaluate if that’s even something you truly want), then couples therapy is worth a shot.
Norabb August 27, 2019, 10:03 am
I’m so sorry youre feeling so low. If you are on medication but are still hugely depressed, then maybe it’s time to reassess your medication and your other options. There might be another medication that works better for you. And often, therapy needs to be added to your treatment to help even more. My advice is to consult your doctor and let them know that your meds aren’t getting the job done, and try to see a therapist to help you with as well. They can help you work through your issues with your boyfriend and help you decide how to proceed. I hope things get better for you. You deserve to be happy!
Bittergaymark August 27, 2019, 10:12 am
Depressed People make the Best Parents! As anybody who grew up with one. Sorry, grim reality check, I know. But I would be VERY wary of having kids with somebody who is clinically depressed. Why? It rarely works out well. I get reamed for this, but whatever. It needs to be said.
Jessica August 27, 2019, 11:03 am
Bittergaymark Thank you! That was rubbing me the wrong way. People absolutely can have depression and mental illness and be good parents. I know because I’m one of them. Being a parent is the 1 thing I know I’m best at and I kick ass at it!
Kate August 27, 2019, 11:24 am
Everyone thinks they’re a great parent.
Dear Wendy August 28, 2019, 7:42 am
That’s not really true. Most of my parent friends (myself included) struggle with feeling like we’re not great parents – at least some of the time. I’m having a period at the moment of feeling like a pretty crappy parent, actually.
Anonymous August 27, 2019, 1:10 pm
Everybody also thinks their sarcasm is readily apparent.
Clarification: I do NOT think the LW should have kids. SOBBING EVERYDAY while on medication? Sorry — but that sounds like a disaster! Kids will only add to that.
Bittergaymark August 27, 2019, 1:24 pm
Mr. Clarification is ME.
Fyodor August 27, 2019, 1:20 pm
Uh, I am not sure that you are interpreting BGM’S remark as it was intended.
Donna August 27, 2019, 2:21 pm
Yes, I feel that the sarcasm was clearly missed. This must be someone new to the board….otherwise they would know how BGM’s comment was intended. LOL
ktfran August 27, 2019, 10:16 am
Wendy, that was excellent, thoughtful advice. I really enjoyed reading your last paragraph and I think that’s good practice for everyone. I recently did an exercise about values, where we were given a deck of cards with different values. We had to continually narrow it down until only five remained. I really got a look at what’s important to me and what I need to do or change to foster those values. This is similar to your three happy moments exercise.
I’m in agreement with others about your partner LW. “Eventually” wanting kids doesn’t work for a woman who is already 38. He needs to seriously discuss this with you so you can make an informed decision. If we won’t discuss this with you, I’d MOA. Or if he does and you don’t like the answer, at least you can fully move on.
Ale August 27, 2019, 10:50 am
“I feel like I missed the boat by being in the relationship I’m in”
You keep making that decision every day, to stay in a relationship that doesn’t fulfill your needs, to keep accomodating his wishes to yours.
“He did say he’s happy to eventually have a ceremony and assume the titles of husband and wife, exchange rings, etc, but doesn’t want the government or religion involved. Fine. I think I can accept that.”
That’s the stupidest thing ever, to have a ceremony for that? And you thinking that would make you happy?
It’s up to you wether you continue making this choice every day or not.
Kali August 27, 2019, 10:52 am
Wendy – pretty sure you meant to say ‘exacerbated’ and not ‘exasperated’.
As for the rest, it’s spot on.
csp August 27, 2019, 11:25 am
First off, when I was dealing with infertility, I took a social media break and it was the best thing that I could do for myself. It was just too much with all the kids.
The only thing I will add is that you need to start taking control of your life and stop waiting for a man to give you the validation. I hate as women that we have to wait to be asked. Go get the life you want and stop waiting for this guy to pick you. You design your life.
Silvermoonlight August 27, 2019, 12:01 pm
Wendy and commenters addressed a lot of the macro-level emotional baggage that you should unpack with a therapist with regard to your relationship, life expectations, etc. I’ve personally supported many girlfriends in your exact position (even the same age!), so let me focus my response instead on some solid, practical steps you can take.
1) Spend time with those friends with kids. Seriously. Offer to babysit them. It will give you firsthand experience on what it’s like to deal with babies and small children. It will de-glamorize what you’ve obviously been idealizing from social media (and yes, do get off social media) and show you the cold, hard truth of what it is like to raise young children. If that’s too much to bear, volunteer at a nursery or somewhere else where screaming infants and wailing toddlers dominate.
2) Ask your boyfriend to see a relationship counselor with you. Tell him it’s time for a come-to-Jesus gut check about your future because you simply aren’t on the same page anymore. If he refuses to go, you have your answer of how committed he is to you. If he does go, you’ll have your answer soon enough.
3) Carve out an hour each day to get away from all the triggers that make you cry. Go for a drive. Take the subway to a neighborhood you don’t know. Better yet, if you can afford it, go away for a week. Somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Cabo? Italy? Japan? And go solo. Don’t bring the boyfriend. Join a tour group if you have to, but go on your own. The Chinese have a saying: The frog at the bottom of the well thinks that the circle he sees above him is all there there is to the world. There’s more to your life than that circle.
Skyblossom August 27, 2019, 1:11 pm
Your boyfriend seems like dead weight. He isn’t a positive experience in your life. If the two of you want different things then you should move on. If you want a legal marriage you shouldn’t settle for a ceremony that isn’t legal. If you want children don’t settle for putting them off.
When it comes to children you need to know that there is a huge amount of stress. They are more stressful than looking at social media. If social media makes you cry daily you probably aren’t up to parenting at this time.
Try to focus on things that are positive instead of going back repeatedly to do things that make you cry. Take control of you life. You don’t have to passively wait for your boyfriend to feel like he might want to have a ceremony where he exchanges rings. If he won’t do what you want for your life then you find someone who will. Don’t settle for mediocre.
anonymousse August 27, 2019, 1:27 pm
I do think it’s really, really critical to get your mental health under control and yourself on a better path before you try to tackle next steps with a relationship (not this one) or a potential child. You aren’t in a healthy spot right now, and a baby isn’t going to fix that. You need to focus 100% on yourself right now.
Kate August 27, 2019, 1:45 pm
I’m glad some of you who are parents are saying that, because that’s my impression too. If you’re depressed and crying daily and in a relationship that’s not working (and it’s not), having kids is not going to make you happy, healthy, and whole. The kids are going to have to deal with your fragile emotional state and the repercussions of the bad relationship, and the mental health issues will still be there. Sorry, but this guy is bullshitting and stalling with the “ceremony” thing, and definitely does not want kids (with the LW at least). She’ll be in a better position to be a mom if she moves on and takes care of herself.
dinoceros August 27, 2019, 6:48 pm
It’s also not going to be a healthy childhood if you have a kid and treat them like they’re the holy grail.
Miss MJ August 27, 2019, 1:58 pm
I agree with everyone who has said that you should get your mental health in order before you should have kids. In fact, I think you should start fairly intensive therapy ASAP, even if you’re already seeing a therapist. You have a lot of big decisions staring you in the face.
First, you need to decide, really, really decide deep down, whether not having kids is a deal breaker for you. If it isn’t, and you decide you can live a resentfulness-free life if they never happen, then maybe your relationship can be saved (though, that will likely require couple’s counseling since your BF has serious communication issues). If you decide that a child-free lifestyle is not something you’re ready to accept, however, you need to break up with your BF. Trying to convince him – or, worse, tricking him – into having kids is a recipe for disaster. Don’t do that.
Second, once you break up, then you’re going to find yourself at 37, mourning a 5-year relationship and on a time crunch to get into a new one and be in a place where kids would be a part of it. That’s… not optimal and almost guarantees that you’ll find yourself in a relationship that isn’t what you want just so that you can have children. That’s another recipe for disaster. Don’t do that, either.
Third, you should consider whether you’re interested in becoming a mother alone, via donor sperm or adoption. If you are, then you need to look at your finances, your mental and physical health, your support system, your lifestyle and the practicalities of sperm donation, adoption, or whatever and see if that’s a realistic option for you. If it is, the realities being what they are, you should probably start that process relatively soon.
What you absolutely not do is waste any more time crying over social media or waiting on your BF to suddenly turn into someone he is not. Take control of your life, LW.
Peggy August 27, 2019, 2:24 pm
I agree with Wendy’s thoughtful advice. And, if you have romanticized having kids,then spending time with them would give you a good reality check,as others have said.
The evaluation of your relationship “as is” at the moment,is key,as Wendy suggested. He does not want kids or marriage but how are things otherwise? I had a sister who married an older man. He already had a couple of grown kids and did not want more. She had always really,really wanted children. She also struggled with depression and anxiety at times and had allergies/skin issues that took a lot of “managing”.
It was hard for her to make a decision to marry him ( and there were still times she wished she had a child) but she thought about all her issues,the stress that can come with kids ( and medical complications that are possible with pregnancy) and his firm no to more kids, and she said yes to the relationship. This is not exactly the same,in that they did get married and he was upfront about his wishes,but she had no regrets. He was a great man , was a good match for her, and the marriage was very happy. Sadly,she was killed by a drunk driver many years ago.. but I thought her experience and choices may help you when considering things.
dinoceros August 27, 2019, 6:47 pm
I think regardless, you need to end the relationship. From your letter, it seems that you will never not resent him or be upset by him, so I just don’t really see a future between you two — unless it’s just out of not wanting to be alone. Presumably at some point in the 5 years, you realized it was a red flag that he wasn’t moving toward marriage or kids (considering your ages), so don’t keep drawing it out even longer.
ron August 27, 2019, 7:32 pm
All of the advice to you is good. You need to care for yourself. It almost seems that having kids is a magic bullet you are grasping at now to fix your relationship and life. Life doesn’t work that way. The stress of pregnancy and raising a baby/toddler will likely make you feel worse.
Why do I say this? Because you and your bf are both 37 and have been together for 5 years. You’ve said you would be ok without actually doing a legal marriage but are very upset about losing out on your own children. If you felt as strongly about children as you now say you do, you would have strongly pushed the children issue and made it a relationship deal breaker at least a couple of years ago. You didn’t. You now know for certain that he doesn’t want children or marriage, and yet you are crying every day but haven’t decided to leave bf. So, not having kids really is not a deal-breaker for you, because it is beyond obvious that it’s never going to happen with current bf, and the longer you stay with him, the more the clock ticks.
Refusing to marry, with really pretty sorry excuses, says at root he doesn’t trust you enough and is holding out for the possibility of something better. Marriage give you financial and other rights that you don’t have now. If it is important to you, or if kids REALLY are important to you, rather than simply representing a life stage you thing you have missed and see as a sort of failure, then MOA, because you don’t have a world of time left.
But… you have to get your depression and anxiety under control before you seriously consider kids. It would not be fair to them, otherwise. A baby won’t solve you your problems, and seeing your friends on facebook getting married and having kids is a very poor reason to decide to have kids.
LisforLeslie August 28, 2019, 9:19 am
I think crying every day because you’re not living the life you want is a pretty clear sign. Essentially you’re mourning the kids your not going to have and the life you want. The hardest thing you can do now is dust yourself off, move out, move on and either get your ass into a fertility specialist or start going out and getting laid so you can have the family you want.
But as others have said, you are clearly depressed but are you depressed because you’re in a go-nowhere relationship where your needs are second to his needs? Maybe you’re miserable because he makes you miserable.