A dilemma for future mums: date to find the right person – or single parent? | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
A A few years ago, I went out for a drink with a friend who had been dating for a while, but hadn’t met anyone in a long time, and she was adamant that she wanted to have kids. She felt her biological clock ticking intensely, but was frustrated that the men she met acted as if they had all the time in the world. “I decided that I wasn’t going to wait for a man to get his act together and commit to me and the possibility of having a family,” she announced, quoting the Danish phenom from the solomor, or single mother. “I’m going to give her a few more years and then I’m going to find a sperm donor and go it alone.”
I admired him. Being single in your 30s isn’t the quagmire it may have been in the 90s, when ‘singles’ had to negotiate a world of ‘married sufficiency’, as Helen Fielding satirized in the Diary of Bridget Jones. Today’s 30-somethings are more open to alternatives to heterosexual monogamy as a relationship model, celibacy is less stigmatized, and in today’s post-recession economy, the benchmarks of adulthood are less clear-cut. For the first time in 2020, the Office for National Statistics found that half of women in England and Wales had not had a baby by their 30th birthday, an increase of 32 percentage points in 50 year. This is a radical societal change, which reflects women’s increasing access to education and career opportunities. But for 30-somethings who want kids or are open to the idea, finding a partner in the modern dating economy can be tricky.
Pippa Bailey, 30, broke up with her longtime boyfriend a year ago and is now “on the apps” looking for a partner. She is one of the female writers who could be said to have taken over from Fielding in writing candidly and honestly about the experience of modern romance. In a recent column about Joachim Trier’s film The Worst Person in the World, whose thirty-something protagonist is in the midst of an early-thirties crisis, she hits on a sentiment familiar to many. “[My friends] buy houses, get married, have babies, while I continue with “more of the same”. I know it’s childish and naive, but I find it hard not to feel betrayed, left behind,” she wrote.
Bailey thinks she “probably” wants kids, but when she first became single, she had no idea how many people weren’t looking for a relationship, let alone kids. This means the prospect of being a parent requires “two extra steps of imagination”, as she poignantly puts it. She tries to be more open to the fun of dating without too much pressure, while “balancing that with wanting to be upfront about what you want in the beginning so you don’t waste your time.”
Apps can facilitate this. Just as you can filter partners based on their vaccination status or whether or not they smoke, you can also filter based on whether or not someone wants children. Bumble even has a basic info badge where you can mark it as a deal breaker. But Bailey says a lot of men just don’t answer the kids question.
The men I talk to who date tell me they just don’t feel the same fertility pressure women do. ‘It was always like that, you might say. The feeling that women aspiring to have children are a little “desperate” isn’t new, but the transactional nature of dating apps highlights it.
Although modern women are more confident in expressing all kinds of desires, it seems to me that for a woman, expressing the desire for a child – especially when it feels deep and urgent – remains to some extent taboo.
At least scientific advances mean more women have alternative options. My friend didn’t end up needing a donor; she met a lovely man and now has children with him. But I speak to Sioned, 36, who is now going down this road after splitting from her ex; he already had a child from a previous relationship and did not want more. After several years of dating, she has become increasingly direct about her desires and has found the partner screening options helpful, but is less invested than she was in finding someone to start dating with. parenthood.
“I love being single and I love dating new people, but I didn’t want my prospects for parenthood tied to someone else’s changing desires – especially a man who doesn’t have the same time biological pressures and might change your mind when it’s too late for me,” she says. She draws inspiration from powerful stories of solo motherhood and says queer parenthood has taught us that there are many types parental models beyond the traditional mother-father models.
It turns out that Sioned has just started dating someone who said he wanted kids at some point but, aware that the sperm donation process can take a long time, she has a date during the week. next in a clinic. “I’m going to have to tell him what I’m doing and risk him not being okay with it, but I’m also looking forward to seeing if the relationship works out and we might try for a child together.” For women tired of waiting, such conversations – unimaginable centuries ago – seem increasingly likely. All power to them to act themselves.
I enjoyed Jessica Traynor’s collection, Pit Lullabies, (Bloodaxe) this week, poems exploring early motherhood, often through lyrical reference to nature and the environment. I particularly liked his metaphysical poem on breast milk: “I hold you to my bosom / where your pinch is the pinch / of the universe / squeezing into existence”.
What is not
I try to understand how it is that French and southern European parents can go out at night with their babies. When my son was a newborn it was easy to take him out to dinner, but now that he’s going through bedtime in a frenzy of pooping and poo-feeding, I’m afraid we’re becoming slaves to the bedtime. Is this cultural conditioning in action or is it just a phase?