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Watching the Clock

Men are just as susceptible to biology’s imperatives.

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Men in New York get a bad rap—even from me sometimes—stereotyped as shallow, lecherous monsters who live for instant gratification. But in recent years that generalization has seemed less apt; although some guys still insist on sowing their wild oats before looking for wife material, others are functioning more like women, with an internal biological clock that makes them want to procreate with every cute, smart woman they meet. They bring up marriage and kids in the first few dates and know stroller brands the way some men know speaker systems. What’s surprising is how frequently these men get rebuffed when they reveal this to the women they’re dating.

Peter Hyman, 36, author of the essay collection The Reluctant Metrosexual, says that in the past few years he has become “Maclarenized”: He sees expensive strollers and covets children. “Most of my male friends now have not one but two kids, and I see how happy and settled it’s made them. Those knuckleheads I used to carouse with are raising their children beautifully. I think, Should I be moving in that direction? And if I should, how do I achieve that?”

It’s not surprising that many men feel the biological clock begin to tick in their mid-thirties; a new book, The Male Biological Clock, by Dr. Harry Fisch, says men older than 35 are twice as likely to be infertile as men 25 and younger. As men age, the genetic quality of their sperm declines significantly, too, so guys like Peter may, without realizing it, be responding to their bodies.

But baby longing can also be a sociological urge. Men, who often see marriage as a form of tyranny, don’t hear the beat at weddings but at Brises and baby namings. Marriage isn’t enviable; fatherhood is. Peter has been dating his girlfriend, an attorney, for about eight months, and they recently went to ABC Carpet & Home to look for furniture for her apartment. Somehow they got separated, and he meandered over to the crib section. “She found me there and gave me a look like, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ It was like she thought it was weird. That was a role reversal.”

A flaky guy I dated a few years ago, Dan, 36, a director, has recently had a change of heart and is craving children. “The glamour of the bachelor lifestyle has dwindled down to leftover Chinese food in the fridge. I’m wondering if it’s ever going to happen for me, like hitting puberty late.”

Perversely, lately he’s been drawn to completely commitment-phobic women. A few months ago, he met a girl at a party, and the first time they made out, she said, “Let’s just have a one-night stand.” “We should really get to know each other,” he countered. Since then, they’ve consummated, but she’s told him repeatedly she doesn’t want a serious relationship. “I’ve gone from not being able to commence any kind of relationship,” he says, “to being determined that this is going to be the one.”

Although Peter and Dan may be feeling their stirrings in part owing to biology, some men are hardwired for children before they become adults themselves. Mitch, 23, a teacher, has longed for children since he was in high school but has become more obsessed since he met his girlfriend a year ago.

Still, he is mature enough to recognize that at least some of his desire is based on fantasy. “My boss just had a baby, and I’ll look at him and think how cute he is. But then I’ll see some kid throwing a fit on the street, with his mom screaming at him, and I don’t think he’s so cute.”


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