I just got married. The ink on my thank-you notes isn’t even dry and already I’m bombarded with everyone, EVERYONE asking me when we’re going to have kids.
I’m thrilled to be married and love to talk about it to anyone who will listen. But it seems like anyone who finds out I’m recently wed doesn’t want to talk about our glorious wedding, or our fabulous honeymoon, or the new home we’re planning to build, or about all the exciting plans we’ve made for the future. They only want to know when I plan on squeezing that first baby out.
And I don’t want kids. Ever.
And I don’t want to have to tell people why! It’s no one’s business. But what else is there to say? It would be weird to lie, even if it is a white one. So when I tell people this, about not wanting a baby, it’s like I just delivered some horrible news. Smiles disappear from people’s faces. The conversation stalls.
Why is it my responsibility to justify my choices? Why does it make people uncomfortable if you don’t want to have kids? Why do people ask so much? How is it not fine to decide not to reproduce?
Dear Frustrated Conversationalist,
You know how, when you were in college, there was a friend of a friend who would occasionally pop up at social gatherings who didn’t like pizza? Someone would say, “Let’s get some pizza!” And as you were calculating how many slices you would need she would say, “None for me. I don’t like pizza,” and the room would go silent for a moment.
“You don’t like pizza?” someone would ask. And then someone else would say, “How can you not like pizza?” or “What do you eat?” or “You don’t like any pizza? Like ANY pizza?”
Humans’ love of pizza is so assumed, so universal, that it was never as simple as her just stating her dislike of pizza and the world continuing on. It always had to be a conversation. Do you know how many times that friend of a friend must have answered the same questions about her pizza dispreference? I shudder to think.
Now, Frustrated Conversationalist, let me tell you about a kind of conversation that never happens. Let’s call the participants “John” and “Andy.” John is an accountant. He finds his career both challenging and fulfilling. There’s nothing he enjoys more than settling down for a long afternoon of tax preparation. His brother, Andy, is a high school geography teacher, a job that he, too, very much enjoys. Here’s a conversation they never ever have:
John: How’s work?
Andy: Great. I love it.
John: Yeah? That’s good. Listen, why haven’t you become an accountant yet?
Andy: Um. I don’t know.
John: Well, when are you going to take the CPA exam?
Andy: Actually I wasn’t planning on it…
John: What?? Why not? Being an accountant is amazing! I love being an accountant!
Andy: That’s great. I just—I don’t think I want to be an accountant.
John: Not ever? Really? But you’d make such a great accountant! You’re so good with money!
Andy: I just really like being a high school geography teacher.
John: WHY DO YOU HATE NUMBERS?!?
They never have this conversation because it would be incredibly rude for John to assume that what’s best for his life would be best for Andy’s. They never have this conversation because to push Andy into accounting simply because John enjoys it would be ridiculous. They don’t have this conversation because anyone can see that being a high school geography teacher is a completely valid way to live and that the world would be a truly boring place if we all had to do exactly the same thing with our disparate and splendid lives.
That said, except for the absurdity of the specifics, I’m willing to bet that this is a kind of conversation you have all the time about whether or when the babies will be on their way. The thing is, most parents are just bonkers about being parents. They love it even though it is sometimes hard and terrible and messy and expensive and exhausting. They love it so much that they want to share that happiness with you. They want you to experience it for yourself.
For them, a life without their children would be dismal and desolate, like John without his beloved adding machine. They aren’t looking at the world through your eyes, the eyes of someone who doesn’t want children. They don’t see all the other wild, amazing possibilities for happiness that lay before you. They just don’t get it.
You, my dear Frustrated, are the friend who doesn’t like pizza. Of course it’s OK to not like pizza, and of course it’s OK to not want children. But, just as college social life revolves around pizza (you must admit; it’s a crowd-pleaser!), so do the complex structures of married couple life revolve around children. There’s no way around it right now. When you say you don’t want kids, people are going to want to have the conversation.
But people always have questions, and that in no way obligates you to answer them. If you’re looking to deflect, you can employ all of the same conversation stoppers you used two years ago at holiday gatherings when everyone wanted to know where your engagement ring was. “This casserole is delicious; who made it?” is a perennial favorite. I’m also a fan of, “Why do you need to know that?” And, of course, a long beat of silence and a slightly surprised expression can do wonders for repelling an unwanted question. If you prefer to keep the conversation going and just refocus it, you must lay out your bottom line with as much confidence as possible, “Actually, we’re very happy with our family as it is. We’re not planning any changes.”
For my part, I want to take a moment to remind you that it’s OK not to want to become an accountant. Accounting’s hard work and it would be a dreary life for someone who didn’t love it. And Geography? Well, that sounds pretty cool, too. I’m glad you and your partner have found each other, and found the path that’s going to lead to the most happiness for both of you.
Congratulations on your wedding and the start of your new life together, just the two of you. Now go enjoy it!
Aubrey Hirsch is the author of “Why We Never Talk About Sugar.” Her work has appeared widely in print and online. You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com or follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch