You Need Help: I’m Uncertain About Wanting Kids, So Should I Only Date People Who Are Uncertain Too?

Q:

Dear Autostraddle Advice Writers,

I’m finally getting serious about dating women—that is, ceasing to date men and seriously putting myself out there in the dating pool, primarily online. So far, so good.

But… I was wondering about wanting kids. I recently got some clarity that, while I do hypothetically want a child in the future, I also don’t want one if it means sacrificing the things that are most important to me: creative work, supporting my mom and found-family sibling, and building my career. For that reason, I’ve been open to dating people with all attitudes toward children on their bios (want, don’t want, unsure, etc.)

But my friends are warning me that I might be setting myself up for failure by dating women who don’t want kids. Should I be avoiding people just because they don’t want children, even though they might otherwise be perfect for me? And what about people who DO high-key want kids: are they going to think kids should be our top priority the way my male exes did?

I know it’s not a zero-sum game, because I watched my single mom work full-time and get a bachelor’s, a master’s and a post-grad education while being a great parent. But my experiences also tell me that it CAN be a zero-sum game if your partner sees it that way.

What do you all think? Should I even be dating people who don’t want kids? Are there risks with people who do? I know what I want to receive from and give to a romantic relationship in every other regard, but I’m struggling with this.

[Editor’s Note: The Letter Writer then submitted the following addendum]

Hey I’m just writing in to clarify an ask I submitted a couple of days ago about what kinds of “kids” preferences I should look at while dating.

I just wanted to clarify that I do know raising kids is a HUGE commitment and I didn’t mean to imply that. Just that I think it’s been even tougher on the ambitious parents I know (divorced or not) with unsupportive partners than the ambitious single parents I know with a supportive network.

A:

Hi! I honestly have follow-up questions for your friends about why they think you’re setting yourself up for failure here, because I struggle to see their point of view. I think because you are not totally sure about whether you want kids or not, then being open to dating people with a range of opinions on children actually makes sense! I suppose I can see why some of your friends think “unsure” people should strictly date “unsure” people, but also — no I can’t!

First, I want to validate your uncertainty. A lot of what you wrote really resonates with me. I’ve changed my mind about kids throughout life. I adamantly didn’t want them…when I was closeted. For my closeted brain at the time, I associated marriage and kids with heteronormativity and was scared of living a heterosexual life as I was not, in fact, heterosexual. When I came out, all that changed, and I was able to imagine a queer future for myself that involved kids and marriage. I shifted more into a place of absolutely wanting kids and probably would have put that preference on a dating app at the time. Then, I moved into a place more like what you’re saying. My career and my writing ambitions became the top things I wanted to focus on, and my view on kids became something more like “probably, but not right now.” Some people know firmly exactly what they want in terms of kids and always have; I’ve found that the vast majority of my friends (who are mostly queer) have ebbed and flowed like me on the topic. Starting a family as a queer person often involves more steps (and more money!) than it does for straight people, and I think that’s one of the reasons attitudes about it are more malleable.

I think especially because you recently made some new intentions in the way you’re approaching dating (focusing on dating women and seriously putting yourself out there), then it makes sense to online date a wide range of people, including people who have a wide range of opinions on kids. While I do think people should in general talk about things like kids and marriage early-ish in a relationship, particularly before moving in, I also think it’s okay to casually date folks who might not share your exact views on the future. For starters, I do think it’s important to remember that dating people can look like a lot of different things and doesn’t need to necessarily lead to a long-term or forever partnership in order to positively impact your life. Even brief relationships can be meaningful. I think only you can know your own timeline and your own hard lines to draw, so if you start seeing someone for a few weeks, a few months, half a year, and you have a conversation about kids and seem like you might be misaligned, then that’s the point to reconsider things. And that doesn’t mean the relationship has failed! It doesn’t mean you’ve wasted your time! It just means you were compatible until you weren’t.

As for differences between women you might date and your male exes, it’s hard to say, because it’s indeed true that conversations around parenting and pregnancy and raising children do often look different outside of heteronormative expectations and structures. But it’s also true that there are plenty of queer women for whom kids are an urgent priority. It’s going to vary person-to-person. You just have to talk about it with folks when the time arises. I don’t think a box on a dating app can accurately capture a person’s views on parenthood, you know? That’s something that you get to know the more you get to know a person, not really something you can screen for ahead of time.

It’s very possible you might start dating someone who impacts your view on kids, and so long as that isn’t a pressuring type of impact but just a passive impact, I think that’s great! I realized I wanted kids again when I started dating my current partner, because I realized I specifically wanted a kid with her. Maybe if I’d been with someone else, I would have made a different choice. The first time we talked about it, we basically both said the same thing, which was that we were both open to the idea of it, that it wasn’t a hard no, but that it wasn’t something that was definitely going to happen either — and especially wouldn’t be happening soon. If either of us changed our mind, we’d cross that bridge when it comes. I feel aligned with her when it comes to our values about the hypotheticals of parenting.

These things are hard, and you’re not wrong for thinking about it a lot. But I do think it depends on so many different things and that all people change their minds — you could, the person you’re dating could, etc. Remain open to the idea of uncertainty as well as growth. So long as no one is pressuring anyone to change their minds, that’s all that matters.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 814 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. I am a huge advocate for dating people for who they are as opposed to what their general life goals are. When we first started dating, my partner of seven years wanted kids and I did not. Had we ruled us out on basis of that, our relationship would have never begun, and it is the best relationship I could hope for.

    As I see it, sometimes people are looking for a role of a potential partner (what job does this person have? Savings? Status? Do they want/have kids?) and see whether the role they want fits to the role the other has to offer. And I think this can mean missing out on truly wonderful people and relationships.

    Fair enough if a person wants kids very soon and the other person doesn’t at all, that both rather look for people who fit more to what they envision! But this is not the case for you, LW, and I agree with Kayla to be open to dating a wide range of people. You are not morally obligated to only date people who are unsure themselves. Trust that the other people you date (whether they want or not want kids) can decide for themselves if they want to give it a shot when you’re unsure; you don’t have decide for them by taking yourself out of the equation in the first place.

    Personally, I hardly know any queer people who are/were always like “I want kids 100%” or “No kids ever, 100%” – depending on their stage in life, relationships, health, money vs. poverty, trauma consequences and many other factors, this shifted throughout the years. I see it less as boxes “Yes,” “No” and “Perhaps” – and more like a scale where people can be on 20%, 45%, or 80% and this can also go up or down throughout the years. So my suggestion is: be open to that the “kids topic” and your scale changes for you and for the other person, and meet/date the people you find interesting and would like to get to know better.

    I will always be grateful that my partner and I didn’t meet online or decided whether to go for it according to roles because otherwise we would both have missed out big time.

    Best of luck to you!

    • LW here. Just wanted to say thank you for this comment bc it means a lot to me.

      When I was in some (highly heteronormative) relationships that just felt deeply Bad, this was a big part of why—that they seemed to be primarily deciding whether they wanted to be with me based on whether I could fulfill the role they had in mind. So why would I want to bring that into my relationships myself? Thank you for pointing it out.

      It’s also a relief to hear how fluid people’s desires have been in your experience when so much of the messaging I’m getting in my personal life is “all or nothing.”

  2. LW, in addition to Kayla’s advice… I think you know what you want and it’s in your letter! It sounds like it’s important to you to make sure a partner doesn’t see having and raising kids as “zero sum” with your support for other family members, your art, and your career. That’s harder to screen for than “do you want kids yes or no,” but you already have a strong ethical match to look for when chatting with dates and potential long-term partners!

    Even someone who doesn’t want kids might assume that you’ll be “zero sum” about other domestic/historically-feminine work in a relationship, and that’s worth looking out for as well if you are not looking for that kind of future. And at the same time, someone who wants kids on a similar timeline/conditions to you could be a good match or not, depending on whether you have the same assumptions about what raising those kids would look like.

  3. I just want to highlight this especially lovely bit of wisdom:

    “that doesn’t mean the relationship has failed! It doesn’t mean you’ve wasted your time! It just means you were compatible until you weren’t.”

  4. im a tad confused. if ur unsure then sure just be honest about that dont lie and hope the other person is honest about what they want or aren’t sure about either but why would u date someone who wants kids if u dont? not saying thats what ur saying

  5. 100% the part about your partner (passively) impacting your view of kids – I think sometimes the kid/no kid thing feel like people want you to pick like it’s a fundamental life value that you’ll never change.
    I was also kind of open to both having and not having kids. With my current partner, we’ve chosen no kids, and that feels absolutely right. That being said, it’s also pretty easy for me to envision a different life where I did have kids – if I had a different partner, lived somewhere different, and had just chosen different things, and I feel very at peace with that.

  6. Thank you, Kayla, for this amazing answer. It resonated so much with me. And I need to print out & tape up, “And that doesn’t mean the relationship has failed! It doesn’t mean you’ve wasted your time! It just means you were compatible until you weren’t.”

    So far, my new dating approach/pool been so amazing. Even when I don’t want to see the person again, it’s great to *have fun* during dating instead of constantly asking “am I doing this bc I want to or bc I feel like I should?”

    So there’s no WAY these experiences could be a failure. It’s inherently meaningful & valuable. And that seriously takes the pressure off, oof.

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