Welcome 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.