Everything I Know About Love: Not That Kind of Secret Baby

AdviceWelcome to “Everything I Know About Love, I Learned from Romance Novels,” an advice column wherein folks write in with problems and I answer them with the wisdom gleaned from romance reading. Yup, this feature has the same title as the upcoming book – though this column came first. The focus is the same, however, and boils down to one simple concept: being the heroine of your own life isn’t easy, but it can be done. Today’s letter is about mixed signals about important matters.

Dear Smart Bitch Sarah:

I’d love to get some help on my confusing guy and his (historical romance novel -ish) problem.

My boyfriend and I are very in love. We are in our early-mid twenties, so navigating conversations on what I’ll call “potential future children” can be somewhat tricky. I understand that we’re young and there’s always the possibility one of us could change our mind on children, on our relationship, or any number of things. Even if we did decide to have kids one day, it probably wouldn’t happen for another 6 – 8 years, so talking about it now can seem premature. What I do know is I love this man, he loves me, and we see a long future together. I also know I want to be a mother one day.

He claims he doesn’t want kids. He says there are already enough humans on earth (7 billion is a lot). Plus, children can hinder one’s ability to be free, to do what you want, when you want. I get that. But I also think he is a typical young man who is still sowing his wild oats, as am I, and one day his opinion might change. 

Well, lately he’s been throwing quite the curveball, starting with this one night: Starry night sky, bottle of tequila, Marvin Gaye, slow dancing barefoot in the grass… you see were this is going. Suffice it to say, we found ourselves in bed. I’d never seen him this drunk before, but I discovered pretty quick that alcohol was the ultimate truth serum for my guy. He began to say things.. whisper things.. that he’d never said before. He asked me if he “could give me something”. I was a little confused, so I just said, “yea”. He then went on to basically say he wanted to give me a baby. He spoke of wanting to “create something beautiful together” and I just didn’t know how to react.

He has now done this a handful of times recently. What’s going on here? Does he want kids but won’t let himself for some reason? Is it purely a sexual thing (I wouldn’t think so by the romantic way he speaks of it)? And why won’t he admit it in the sober light of morning?


Not that Kind of Secret Baby 

Dear Not that Kind of Secret Baby:

This is a tough one. A major difference of opinion on the subject of future progeny is often a dealbreaker in a relationship, because unlike many romance novels wherein the child-resistant character often changes his or her mind and wants 2.5 adorable children just before the epilogue, there are some who do not wish to have children. There are also romances wherein characters are very frank about their desire not to have children today or any future “someday,” and aren’t changing their minds about that decision.

And let me state right off: that is completely and utterly ok. No one should be made to feel badly for not wishing to have children.

That said, I’m not enthusiastic about your boyfriend’s way of handling his feelings, which have more to do with external reasons than his own personal feelings about having children. He’s sending mixed signals, saying one thing in the sober light of morning, as you call it, and something else when Senor Tequila is influencing his mouth (and his worm, it seems).

Drinking can sure be a truth serum, and it definitely lowers inhibitions, too. I don’t blame you for being confused. I’m confused by your boyfriend’s actions, too. But I’m also very impressed that you kept your wits and your head about you to be wary and confused while also dancing with Senor Tequila. Well done, Not Secret Baby.

The fact that this has happened more than once is a very large warning in my opinion. I think your first step is a Sober Conversation wherein you talk about what you want, and how you are feeling with his mixed Tequila-infused messages. 

A warning, though: talking about parenthood is not the time for waiting to hear what the other person thinks. This is not the time for “What do you think,” “No, what do YOU think?” conversations where no one is willing to own and give voice to their feelings.

You need to ask him to explain himself. Not with statistics of world population, but with his own feelings. He may not be able to articulate what he wants for the future, but if while sober he’s back on the “No kids, no thanks” refrain, you need to call him on his drunken babymaking song.

Second, and this is a very big question: do you fully trust someone who may only be able to admit how he really feels about something that important with the help of alcoholic courage?

My concern is that he’s putting the moves on you when you are both not sober, and he’s taking a chickenshit way out of dealing with the issue. If you’re drunk and he’s drunk and, oops, you make a baby, then is he somehow less responsible for it happening? Not really.

Parenthood (particularly the first three months, which I call “Baby Boot Camp” because it is full of painful exhaustion and is tremendously hard sometimes) is difficult enough without the additional question of being unsure of how committed your boyfriend may be to the idea. Thus it seems to me that your relationship is also at a changing point: if you want children someday, and he says he does not (whenever Senor Tequila isn’t around) whether or not it’s five or ten or two years into the future, you still have a major conflict obstructing your happily ever after.

His reasons for not wanting to be a father sound like the fears of someone who is not ready. I totally respect that. But declaring “not ever” then getting drunk and making the moves to the tune of “how about now” is not smooth, nor endearing. If I had to guess, I’d say his feelings about parenthood might be changing, but he’s not quite ready to man up and own those changing feelings in that painful brightness of morning.

And what you want is someone who is cold sober and ready to someday handle the incredible challenge and reward of being someone’s parent and, just as important, being your partner in parenthood.


General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    EbonyMcKenna says:

    What she said.
    Tequila roulette is no way to make a decision this important.
    Kudos to you for keeping a clear head.

  2. 2

    The thing to bear in mind is this:
    Children are not all about you. They are all about children. For the first five years of his life, at least, you will be the centre of his universe. And you owe that to him. You might have to put your own life on hold, or you might have to give stuff up, but that child comes first. Reason? Because a baby is pretty much helpless. Can’t feed himself, can’t visit the toilet on his own, can’t move without you.
    So the best way to make a baby is to prepare for it properly. Talk about it, see your doctor, take the decision. Don’t just do it. Because much as we’d love it to be, romance isn’t real life, not in this instance, anyway.

  3. 3

    Oh yes, and if you’re in your early twenties, you have years and years yet. Probably ten before things start to get urgent, and twenty to thirty before they get critical. No rush. Your life will split into Before Baby and After Baby.
    But it’s a good idea to see a doctor for a checkup, in case there are problems that might stop you.
    Hehe! word is finally65 – I wouldn’t leave it that long!

  4. 4
    Laura says:

    Parenthood (particularly the first three months, which I call “Baby Boot Camp” because it is full of painful exhaustion and is tremendously hard sometimes)

    I called those months my time of being the moveable Rest Stop—able to dispense food and clean diapers wherever we were.

    As a proponent of tequila, I agree fully with Sarah—what bf says in the shadows of Senor Cuervo needs to be revisited in the hot unflinching spotlight of Senorita Sobriety.  Make it the launching point of a serious, no shrugging off conversation about being parents together.  And remember, the theory and reality of raising children are light years apart.

    Will now bookmark this conversation to have handy for early-mid twenties son and his equally young girlfriend.

    Laura—wow the word is pay64—when the kids were young, that was a low daily estimate.

  5. 5
    Faellie says:

    Would you take a drunken “I love you” when a man is about to have sex with you as a proposal of marriage?  Thought not.

    Next time he comes out with these creepy drunken statements (in context, I think they are definitely creepy), either kick him out of bed or get him to concentrate on the job in hand instead.

    Long-term, the best way to decide what to do may be to do what you think you will regret the least.  It could be either sticking with this guy and not having kids, or leaving him and trying to have kids with someone else.  You are the only one who knows what would be the best (or least worst) life for you.

  6. 6
    megalith says:

    if you’re in your early twenties, you have years and years yet. Probably ten before things start to get urgent, and twenty to thirty before they get critical. No rush.

    I agree there’s no rush, but 30 years? She’d be an outlier for sure! I thought she said she was “early mid-20s” which would make her around 24/25. Last advice I heard was: best chance of having a healthy, full-term first child was if the mother was <35. By their late 40s, most women are in peri-menopause. Chances of getting pregnant are pretty darn slim. At 55? You’re looking at adoption or a surrogate.

    Again, I agree there’s no rush, but mid- to late-twenties seems a really reasonable time to start making decisions, to me.

  7. 7
    Diana says:

    Do not trust the words of anyone drunk on important, life-changing decisions. Especially if those words are diametrically opposed from the ones they speak sober.

    First of all, some guys find the idea of “making a baby” to be a sexual turn on. It’s a primal, biological imperative thing. But it’s also a game you play in the bedroom, not a life choice. (Same as if you like being tied up in the bedroom, but aren’t necessarily a submissive person in your life.) Keep this in mind.

    If he tells you, stone cold sober and NOT in bed that he doesn’t want kids, then THAT is what he means. However, what he means at 24 might not be what he means at 32.

    When I was 24, I didn’t want kids. It took me five years to change my mind, and another two to take the plunge, because I realized what a big commitment it was.

    You do have time, both to find another guy OR to see if this one changes his mind. But do not marry him unless you are on the same page. My husband and I did not wed until we were sure that I was on board for a kid, which he wanted. It wasn’t fair to him. As a woman, your situation is more time sensitive, but by no means desperate.

  8. 8
    Eileen says:

    I wouldn’t take anything anyone says when they are drunk as their real feelings on a matter.  I know it is hard to hear something that is a relationship dealbreaker from a man you really love, but he is telling you he doesn’t want children and you need to believe him.  Drunken ramblings right before getting laid aren’t a solid/healthyfoundation for planning children.

  9. 9
    Wendy says:

    I join the chorus of: Do not take his drunken words to mean something serious.
    That said, I also wouldn’t jump ship. When I was 18, I would never have imagined that I would be married at 25 (it was part of the ten-year plan, you see). We I was 25, I would never have imagined at 31 that I’d be doing serious “What do I cram into my last years of childlessness and what do I save for empty-nesting” thinking.
    I was the one taking the “usual” male role. When I met my now-husband, he wanted kids, and I wanted to be as far from them as humanly possible. There were times, when I felt extra into my man that I thought: kids. I could do that for him *hearts and swelling music* but for the most part, totally separate from extra-squishy feelings, I never wanted children. Squalling, obnoxious, smelly, messy beings who are even more selfish than I am? Ha!
    Now, it’s definitely on the table, but certainly not in a romantic light. (You know, I just want someone who’s going to drive me to the grocery store when I’m too shrunken to see over the steering wheel.)

  10. 10
    Meg says:

    Maybe it’s just because I’ve seen several articles recently about reproductive coercion as a form of domestic abuse but this dings my creepy-and-possibly-controlling mandar. The repeated use of “give (her) a baby” bothers me, like he thinks this is something he has sole control over. Granted I am a suspicious person but I would be concerned about this very quickly leading to a “if you REALLY loved me you’d let me” situations.

  11. 11
    Zee says:

    My lover pulled the opposite: wanted kids, then after we were married, told me he didn’t—which he’s since said meant he thought I wasn’t ready.

    What I learned was this: have a career with health insurance and good pay. Bust your butt. Make money, because kids cost money. Get your emotional ducks in a row, because raising kids will mess with you. Kick any necessary addictions.

    Then, if you’re running short of biological time, you can politely tell him to move out, because you can have kids yourself. You can buy sperm; you can have sex with other people and get it that way; you can have an entire other relationship. But you’re a woman with working plumbing, it sounds like. If kids are that important, nothing should stop you from having them on your own. Easy? No. Worth it? Your decision.

  12. 12
    Isabel C. says:

    I would jump ship because of “Can I give you something?”, insofar as I don’t generally order my boyfriends with extra cheese. But I’m bitchy like that. ;)

    That said, I agree on talking with him sober. Furthermore, as someone who’s 28, doesn’t want to give birth ever, and has been in a couple relationships with Aw, You’ll Change Your Mind Guy, I’m not sure about sticking around on that basis. He might change his mind, but he might not—and I always find AYCYM Guy to be annoyingly condescending, which might apply the other way around too.

  13. 13
    Mina C. Lobo says:

    Believe him when he’s sober, and believe that he *may* change his mind, but don’t count it (and who knows, maybe you’ll change *your* mind).  A friend of mine says people tell you who they are (and what they’re all about) all the time – it’s we who may not want to see the truth of what they’re telling us.

  14. 14
    catinbody says:

    My first thought was that he doesn’t really know what he wants as far as kids go if he gives reasons outside himself—I think Sarah was spot-on with that observation.  And for someone in their early-to-mid twenties, I think that’s fairly normal. 

    However, his wanting to “give you a baby” sends up all sorts of warning flags.  Was this your first time together?  To me, it sounds like he was saying what he thought you’d want to hear.  And, his word choice (give you a baby) makes we wonder where he’s going to be when your baby arrives.

    It sounds to me like you already know having kids is a big deal and you’re not trying to decide if you should go ahead and have them right now, but you’re hoping this guys is going to be the one, and you’re wondering if his drunk words are a window to his true desires—if in a few years he’s going to realize he really does want kids.  Alcohol is a truth syrum of sorts—what people say and do when they’re drunk is a very clear window into their soul.  So, that’s why I question why, when he’s drunk, he’s so willing to tell you what he thinks you want to hear, and to risk getting you pregnant when he hasn’t made any committment.

  15. 15

    As Diana said, reproducing is a primal imperative.  I am sure this guy has mixed feelings, but I am sure he wants to have kids.  When he is sober he gets all civilized and says what he thinks he should, but if he loves you and is hot for you, Mother Nature is going to give him another message, and he might be glad that a little liquor loosening his tongue is giving him an excuse to tell you that.  Just take your time.  I wish I had. There are so many things to consider about him before there is a ‘them’.

    Also, commitment-phobes sometimes want the pregnancy to make up their minds for them, and that is a risky road.

  16. 16
    Ashley says:

    Find a 4 month old, and babysit her together.  Find an 8 month old, and babysit him together.  Find an 18 month old, and babysit her together.  Find a 2 year old and a 6 month old, and babysit them together. 

    Better yet, find a friend with a new baby and offer to do night duty for a weekend.

    Then talk about this baby he’s going to “give” you, after you’ve seen how well he takes what a baby dishes out.

    This also stinks to me of “how can I really tie you to me?”  with a little “you said that’s what you wanted” and some “I’m just along for the ride”. 

    Also remember:  he can drink when you’re pregnant, you can’t.

  17. 17
    Jazzlet says:

    Oh yes, and if you’re in your early twenties, you have years and years yet. Probably ten before things start to get urgent, and twenty to thirty before they get critical. No rush.

    NO NO NO I am sorry to be so loud, but this is just NOT true. Most women’s fertility drops dramatically in their mid thirties, it may be possible to get pregnant after then, but counting on doing so if you really want children is foolish. Yes if happens, my Mother was forty-two when she had me, but for many women leaving it to their late thirties means going down the IVF route with no guarantees. In the UK the National Health Service will not give IVF to women over thirty-five because the odds of success are so low.

    from97 – by ‘97 I was beginning to realise I had left it too late

  18. 18
    catinbody says:

    I had another thought.  What would a historical romance hero be doing in this situation?  A romance hero could definitely think he doesn’t want kids because of some half-baked idea about world population or, more likely, a deep rooted insecurity stemming from childhood traumas.  Of coure, he’d have to change his opinion on that and figure out what he really feels by the end of the novel. 

    A historical hero could definitely have drunken sex.  Passion could overcome the couple leading to unprotected sex.  But this would be followed immediately by committment (in historical that’s marriage) or an offer to committ if she gets pregnant. 

    And a historical hero very well may tell the heroine that he wants to get her pregnant.  But I doubt a hero has ever been written who tells the heroine he wants to get her pregnant before he’s committed himself to her and their future children.

  19. 19

    @catinbody.  Just did that.  Coming soon to a Kindle near you.

  20. 20
    Jill Myles says:

    My husband has never wanted children. He made that quite clear to me the day we got together, and it has never changed in the 10 years we have been together (7 of them married). I can’t speak for all guys, but if they say up front they don’t want kids, they’re usually not joking around. If he’s telling you this up front, it could be for any number of reasons. Does he have a bad relationship with his father? He might not want to re-experience something like that by being a father himself.

    And honestly, “I want to give you a baby” while he’s drunk and in bed can be beer-speak for “Please don’t make me put on a condom.” You need to be looking out for yourself here. Maybe you should talk to him about how you both would handle an ‘accident’. You might be thinking “Oh, we’ll adjust to being parents” and he might be thinking “time for an abortion.”

    You really, really both need to be on the same page or this can kill a relationship later down the line.

  21. 21
    MB says:

    The pessimist in me wonders:

    Are you taking off for college?

    Are you soon going to be or already making a lot more money than him?

    Is he afraid that you are on the way out of the relationship?  I.e. actively looking around or thinking about a ‘better’ partner?

    Is he under a lot of stress?  Does he have poor self esteem?

    Which, bottom-line, comes down to the big question????

    IS HE TRYING TO CONTROL YOU?  Making a baby together forever ties you to him.  You may or may not stay together, but it’s going to be hard to fully write him out of your life if you decide to leave—after having a baby.

    So, my opinion is to think about what is really his motivation here.  I think it could be Fear. 

    Maybe I’m just weird?  But this was what sprung to mind when reading your question.

  22. 22

    @Jill Myles:  beerspeak for “please don’t make my put on a condom”.  Brilliant.  Illuminating.  Yeah, those words both mean the same thing, but it is.

    At least a thousand times I have said, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have had a hysterectomy at thirteen.”

    But, seriously, being a mom has its good moments.  Let me think for just a minute. . .

  23. 23
    LG says:

    Like others, I’m a little creeped out by the “could give me something” phrasing. I don’t see babies as a gift a man gives to a woman, because a gift, to me, does not imply the years and years of commitment that a baby will involve.

    I think this is definitely something that needs to be talked about with him while he is absolutely sober. While drunk, in the heat of the moment, “give you a baby” may have been a turn-on to him, because he knows you want one and he knows he has the biological ability to give you one. That doesn’t mean that, when he’s sober, he wants the reality of a baby. Whether he really wants one or not, he’s sending mixed signals, and I think that needs to be cleared up. Having a serious talk about children is scary, but he’s basically given you the perfect opening to have this talk. I say use that opening.

  24. 24
    CT says:

    Oh, my. I could have written this exact request for help five years ago!

    My husband did the sober no-kids, drunken make-a-baby dance a couple times when we were in our early twenties.

    Not that all stories will end like this, but: I’m currently 29 and pregnant. And I could not have asked for a better baby-daddy than my husband. He’s been awesome. (Minus the insisting on Winnie the Pooh for the nursery.)

    In his case, I really do think it was a matter of him not being mature enough or just simply being too scared to say it sober at the time. Because I am who I am, I just ignored him at the time and gave him time to grow up (basically). I couldn’t push a conversation with him, because he’s not the type of person who responds to that. He just needed time—-which I gave him because honestly I didn’t know if I wanted kids either.

    Good luck!!

  25. 25
    Merupo says:

    You… you didn’t provide all of your romance novel citations. I’m not sure this is trustworthy advice.

  26. 26
    Lori says:

    I have to weigh in on the side of “his phrasing is creepy and you probably ought to take a good hard look at that”. Or, what Ashley said.

    This isn’t directly relevant to the lw’s situation, but
    I also want to speak to the issue of changing your mind. We hear a lot about people who say they don’t want kids and then change their minds and want them. What we don’t hear much about are people like me who did the opposite.

    When I was growing up I always assumed that I would have children some day and in my mid- to late twenties I wanted a baby more than anything. The timing wasn’t right so I had to wait. By the time I was in my early 30s the desire had completely gone away so I dropped the idea of having children and moved on with my life. I’m now at the point where it would be all but impossible for me to get pregnant and I have zero regrets about not having kids.

    It’s taboo to say, but some people are really unhappy being parents, even people who truly thought they wanted kids. I’ve known several. I look at them and wonder how many of them could have saved themselves, and more importantly their children, a lot of pain if they had just wanted a couple more years to get pregnant. 

    To the degree that I have a point I guess it’s that no one should ever be pushed to have kids. Even people who take the leap willingly sometimes regret it. So if his heart’s not in it enough for him to talk about it honestly when he’s sober it’s probably best to assume that he’s not dad material and make your relationship decisions accordingly.

  27. 27
    Isobel Carr says:

    Not sure why a romance hero would HAVE to realize he really does want kids anymore then the heroine should realize that she doesn’t need them if she has him. Both options seem viable to me, but then I’m one of the childfree.

    Bottom line, if our letter writer really wants kids, finding a man who unreservedly shares her goal is not just smarrt, it’s a necessity.

  28. 28
    Alpha Lyra says:

    re: female fertility, some women have less time than others. I got pregnant easily at age 26, but when I tried for kid #2 at age 29, no dice. I ended up needing fertility treatment, which, happily, was successful. I know women who waited until their mid-30s or their 40s to have kids, but if I’d waited that long I doubt I’d have been able to get pregnant.

  29. 29
    Amber says:

    I have the totally unhelpful suggestion that perhaps he is a spy, and you have outed him. See His At Night by Sherry Thomas for details.

    But seriously, in my country/suburbia neck of the woods, everyone has kids eventually if they are married to a woman who wants them. I have never seen a specimen of man that was in a committed, loving relationship and did not eventually have them (especially when he is hinting that he is open to it in this way). Your mileage may vary for city mouses.

  30. 30
    catinbody says:

    Well, no, a hero in geneal doesn’t have to realize he wants kids, but if he declared he wasn’t having kids because of some half-baked reason (the world is over-populated so I don’t want kids, but no, I’m not otherwise committed to population issues and can’t more clearly articulate my reasons for not parenting), or if he hadn’t resolved his feelings about some previous experience (my father was awful and I’m just like him so I can’t have children and do to them what he did to me), I would expect him to resolve the feelings and realize he wanted kids and was a great father. 

    If he just didn’t want kids (like in Bet Me) then it would be a non-issue and I wouldn’t expect it to go anywhere except that knowing that helps us know he and Min are right for each other because she doesn’t want kids either—and not for external reasons, they both just know how they feel.

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