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.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.