Before We Go Any Further

These days, it is no longer taboo to be gay or unmarried, but if you don’t want kids, everyone looks down on you. Even same-sex couples get flak from their parents now, about when and how they’re planning to make babies. So when, on a date, a single person admits to not wanting children, he frequently encounters recrimination, confusion, or, most insulting, disbelief. But if he holds off telling his partner until further into the relationship, it’s worse, with accusations of betrayal. As with all dating deal-breakers, there is no perfect time to come clean.

Editor Todd Seavey, 36, is vehemently opposed to having children. He feels so strongly about it that he had a vasectomy at 26. “If I bring it up on the first date, it can be off-putting. If I bring it up a few months into the relationship, there are hurt feelings. Even waiting a week or so can result in the person feeling angry and betrayed. Basically, you’re doomed.”

He thinks the best tack is to bring it up before the first date, so there is no confusion. “But even if you bring it up in advance, go on at great length about your philosophical reasons, tell them you got a vasectomy you would never reverse, and tell them you’re more likely to convert to Christianity or communism than have children, women still think you’ll come around.”

Seavey has had one girlfriend he might have married if it weren’t for his feelings about children. “She rarely mentioned child-rearing. I was hoping that since my position was inflexible and hers was unstated, it meant that she was flexible. She wasn’t.” His current girlfriend, whom he’s been with on and off for two years, is as anti-child as he is.

My friend Meghan Daum, 35, a novelist and essayist, says that when she brings it up depends on the man. “I told one guy on our first date that I didn’t want kids, and he later told me that my disclosure was like ‘a knife in his heart.’ So it’s a little uncool to bring it up then.”

There have been some men she dated who wanted children, and the relationships ended in part because of her feelings. In other relationships, though, her attitude about children has helped her get out. “It’s a way of dissuading a guy you’re really not that interested in. My friend Alison, who doesn’t want kids either, calls it the ‘get-out-of-jail-free card.’ You can avoid dumping the guy because he’ll probably just dump you.”

Most men she meets do want kids, and she understands why. Parenthood is a weightier decision for women than it is for men, she says. “A lot of men have this idealized notion of their own childhood and family lives, even if their families are really messed up. It’s like, ‘Yeah, my dad was a werewolf and my mom was a python and we spent Saturdays performing musicals based on the writings of Pol Pot, but I’d like the chance to coach my kid’s Little League team.’ Or they think they have these amazing genes that they should pass on. I dated a guy who claimed to be distantly related to Daniel Boone, and he thought it was incumbent upon him to spread those genes.”

Rich, 32, a wildlife biologist, does not want to spread his genes; he checked “does not want kids” in his online profile. When he first went online, he did a search for women based on age and geography and got about 2,000 hits. When he narrowed it to women who didn’t want children, he got nineteen. Some women contacted him, and after exchanging a few e-mails, “they’d write and say, ‘I noticed that you don’t want kids. Did you mean it?’ I’d say yes, and they’d say, ‘I don’t want to date you.’ ”

He just got out of a six-month relationship with a woman he met at a party who wasn’t sure she wanted kids but wanted to keep the option open. She decided that, at 32, she couldn’t bet on a future with him. Now he’s dating again, and he comes clean early. “I’m looking for someone I can be with long term. It’s better off for everyone if you’re up front, but you run the risk that they’ll walk away.”

There is one unintended benefit to going into the dating world with a Major Issue already in place: It makes you more flexible about other things. “It’s forced me to become diplomatic about everything else,” says Seavey. “I’ve gotten pretty good at overcoming political differences and religious differences. I don’t care too much if people disagree with me about those things. But kids are a deal-breaker because you can’t have half a kid.”

Before We Go Any Further