Last summer, I connected with a guy online. His name was Tony. Our messages back and forth became more and more frequent as we discovered things we had in common. He seemed to like that I think and talk deeply. I appreciated how passionate he was about his work. We decided that we wanted to meet in person.
In one of our conversations, before our scheduled date, we brushed up against a new conversation topic. “I’m so ready to be a father,” he said in a text. I paused for a moment, reading over the words, trying to figure out how best to respond.
“Before we go any further, I should tell you that I don’t think I ever want to have kids.” I wrote back. “I understand if you want to cancel our date.”
“On a scale of 1-10, how sure are you?” he asked.
“Probably about a 7,” I said, a little peeved by the question. He seemed to be asking: how likely are you to change your mind?
“I’d still really like to meet you,” he said. “Let’s keep our date.”
It was extremely hot the night we planned to meet for drinks at a local restaurant. I was sweating on my way over, even as I blasted the air conditioning in my car. I was nervous, and part of me was still thinking about that ‘kids’ exchange.
It had taken me a long time to admit that I didn’t think I wanted children. As a young girl, I remember thinking that I’d be okay if I couldn’t have them for some reason. I thought a lot about adoption, not knowing that choosing not to have children at all was an option. In past relationships, I’d gone along with boyfriends who talked about their future kids, at first thinking that having children was a small price to pay for love, hoping that it would eventually work itself out. But after those breakups, I would breathe a sigh of relief.
One such breakup had happened about a year before my date with Tony. In therapy, I processed through my feelings about the end of that relationship. I’d flirted with the idea of having kids with my ex, knowing that they were a part of his long-term plan, but my heart wasn’t in it. “It was strange to see you talking about having kids,” said my therapist. “It just wasn’t like you.” After years of thinking that there was something wrong with me, or that my mommy gene would kick in, I allowed her words to wash over me and stick. I didn’t want to compromise who I was for a relationship anymore. Someone who really loved me would be able to love this part of my personality as well.
My evening with Tony was everything I’d hoped, based on our messages back and forth. We laughed and talked through drinks, ordering dinner as well. When we were finished, it had cooled just enough that we decided to take a walk through a local park. We walked and talked, stopping to swing in the playground or sit for a moment by a cool fountain. He asked me if he could hold my hand, and at the end of the evening, he asked if he could kiss me goodnight. We never talked about kids.
The next day, there was no message from him when I awoke. I had grown used to hearing from him as he began his day. There was no text where his lunch break should have been. I didn’t hear from him at all, which was unusual. I began to worry.
That evening, I finally texted, having worked myself into a frenzy. He texted me back almost immediately. “I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch today, Cara,” he wrote. “But I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I don’t think we should see each other again. I want kids and you don’t.”
I paused for a moment before responding. “But I told you that,” I said. “You still wanted to meet me.”
“I know,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
That week, in therapy, I reported that I had not capitulated as I had every other time. I hadn’t told him we’d work it out, or that maybe I would change my mind. I had stood my ground. I had chosen to honor myself.
Many months later, Tony reached out via text. He hadn’t stopped thinking about me and our connection, he said. He’d thrown it away unnecessarily.
“Actually, I think you had a pretty good reason,” I said. “In fact, that experience helped me realize how crucial it is for me to find a partner who loves me for all of who I am, not someone who is hoping a part of me will change.”
It was nice to hear that I had been memorable, that he was still thinking about our single date, all these months later, but though he tried to convince me that we should give it a try anyway, I wasn’t tempted. In the meantime, I’d been out on dates with men who liked the fact that I didn’t want children. I knew that they existed, that I didn’t need to hide who I was in order to find love and hope that it would work out. That would have been a disservice, not only to myself, but to Tony, or anyone else who hoped I’d change my mind. Call me a romantic, but I’d rather be alone than with someone who can’t accept all of me, as is.