Childfree dating online: boon or bust?

So I joined a group for childfree singles. My heart hurts whenever a woman posts about coupling up with a childfree man she (finally!) met through a dating site/app only to discover—sometimes years later—that her erstwhile beau was still skulking around the site on the sly all along. Fuck those guys very much. Actually, no. Don’t. That’s what they want.

Some childfree men have gone through this, too. It seems to be a common story.

I was married during the years computer-mediated communication went from Something Only Nerds Do to Hey, This Is Pretty Cool. Online dating was de rigueur by 2010, when I was ready to start over again. The childfree demographic was growing, just not on trees. Moreover, identifying prospective partners in real life was a pointless endeavor. Try it sometime, if you don’t believe me. So on one hand, it’s logical to assume that a childfree single can meet a like-minded partner online, if he or she has the patience of Job makes an honest effort.

On the other hand, when you, oh single childfree person, hit “Subscribe”, you open a veritable Pandora’s Box and unleash the ills of the interpersonal world. See, we call the same shenanigans as our childed and child-wanting counterparts and then more. (Re-read first graf.) If you’ve used these sites/apps, chances are excellent you’ve been duped into a date with a cheating cheater someone who’s married or in a relationship. That’s always a fun one.

People whose profiles state they don’t have kids but really do? Childfree guys seem to get the lion’s share of these hopefuls. Dispiriting messages from strangers shame-shame-shaming us for not wanting kids? Women own most of those.

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Each online dating dilemma warrants its own blog post. I think we can agree that online dating can be all that and a kettle of queso if we do it smart, but also that while exposing ourselves to liars, losers and creeps impacts all singles, it impacts the childfree differently and perhaps more profoundly, because we depend on the internet to find and connect with our “tribe”. We need to trust the data.

When I re-entered the dating world, attractive, emotionally available single men were all over the damned place. They just weren’t childfree. I coffee-dated a few single dads and mid-life fence sitters. Great guys, but it wouldn’t work for the long haul. I needed a childfree life partner, and the best way to meet one was to give online dating a whirl.

Novelist Anais Nin wrote, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” It’s human nature to see others through our own filter, projecting onto them our values, beliefs and motivations. I admit to having loftier expectations of childfree men by virtue of their childfree-ness, which doesn’t necessarily translate into “stellar human being”. I should have checked those expectations at the door.

I just knew my stellar counterpart was out there wondering when I’d show up. This magical golden unicorn of a man had put his ear to the ground and hearing nothing but the tick-tick-tick of biological timeclocks had capitulated to “this stupid online dating stuff” friends warned him against. I imagined him typing his profile with an earnest heart and weary brow, and the flutter of hope he felt when it went live.

Hope. That tiny creature at the bottom of Pandora’s Box.

Welp. I dunno about my imaginary boyfriend, but my expectations of online dating ran laps around the reality. I did meet some incredible childfree guys that live in other states and countries. I lunch with one whenever he passes through town. But I encountered far more men, even childfree ones, who didn’t seem to like women very much. Then I had The Big Bad Experience that only seems to happen when you meet somebody online. Damn it.

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Childfree singles’ opinions of online dating sites/apps are polarized for this reason. They give us access to other childfree singles we wouldn’t have ever met—as well as strangers we shouldn’t. It’s a coin toss, really. Heads you win, tails you lose. And lose. And lose. For every man or woman who met Mr./Ms. Magical Golden Unicorn almost straight away, there are gobs more whose trust got clobbered so hard they vow to stay single for life. Because, jerks among us.

I suppose I could make light of my online dating escapades. It’s only a site! Why take it seriously? Because there’s a spiritual trade-off to deception and betrayal, no matter how it comes about. Our ability to feel is diminished; we lose the capacity, the desire, to know who is of true heart. We risk devolving into our own worst nightmare: the guarded, defensive, ludicrously picky childfree man/woman who rejects others for really dumb shit.

Online dating sites don’t exactly have built-in quality control. Lest we forget, they exist to make money. But if we childfree single folk opt into this madness, we can change the culture. We can start by giving each other more deference. We can be honest about who we are and what we want, so we don’t hurt one of the tribe.

We might not feel the magic with someone. That happens. To simply acknowledge that we have met one of our own, so special and rare, and wish each other well on our respective journeys, is good enough.

We don’t have to be the liars, losers and creeps of online dating. We are the magical golden unicorns of singles, remember—far more than just pixels on a screen—and we can make a better, brighter virtual world.

I hope that we will treat each other well there.

Childfree: is it really a “choice”?

(Dedicated to the wonderful ladies I met in Cleveland — you are The Best Ever!)

If there’s one question I dread more than why I didn’t complete my thesis, it’s being asked why I chose to be childfree. Chose. You know, like I had some say in it. Given my druthers, I would have chosen to be born like most people, with the innate instinct to be a parent. Deep down, I know that having society’s nod of approval would have made life a helluva lot easier.

Some NotMoms and NotDads don’t have kids, unhappily or resignedly, due to life circumstances. They never had a choice. Funny, but I never considered being childfree a “choice” either. I was born a NotMom, as sure as I was born a vertically challenged, heterosexual female with brown eyes and hair. The world has no shortage of tiny, brown-eyed women who get melty when the right guy comes around. But that “won’t have kids” thing … oh, gosh. Try explaining that you’re absent the mommy drive and no, it wasn’t because you have some unbecoming personality disorder or your parents messed you up, and you have a lot more ‘splainin’ to do.

When I was a child, my mom and dad read me a lot of Dr. Suess books. One of the good doc’s quotes is, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” My parents always encouraged me to be genuine, and if I did this, I would make and keep friends. I naively took it to heart, which is why I made the mistake of absently confessing to being a NotMom to a trio of middle school besties.

There we were, four 12-year-olds walking around the phys ed area after lunch. The conversation gravitated to our burgeoning hormones future aspirations. Unsurprisingly, marriage and kids came up. All of the other girls wanted at least three or four children.

“I’m not having kids,” I said absently when it came my turn, stopping everyone dead in their tracks.

“Never?” Sandy, my best bestie asked incredulously. “Why not?”

(Here’s me, shrugging.)

“Are you going to get married?” another gal pal chimed in, looking alarmed.

“Sure, I want to get married.” That was true. I wanted to get married to the cute, popular guy in homeroom, not nerdy Gary Snell, who was always creeping around jingling his I.D. bracelet in my direction. “I’m just not having kids.”

Sandy glared at me like I’d grabbed her 7-Up-flavored Lipsmacker and ground it into the hardtop while the rest of my posse stared at the pavement in a study my memory has captioned: Bewildered Awkwardness. “Well, then … you—you’re just weird,” Sandy sputtered indignantly. “If you get married, you have to have kids.”

Can we pretend I never said that?
Can we pretend I never said that?

I felt like Insta-Crap. I also started to form an unhealthy view of marriage, which was that it was a privilege for those destined to procreate, and not girls like me. If I gamed the system and someone found out, would I be forced to get divorced? Was I forbidden to date, too? That was a bummer. I had my heart set on prom.

It was unwise to allude to being different while growing up in a churchy small town. Really unwise. Until I could flee that environment, I learned that the socially correct thing to say was, “Oh, I want to have at least ten kids—five girls, and five boys!” and squee! like a Duggar I really meant it. Look, I didn’t want my house TP’ed.

I also learned that my friends weren’t really friends.

I was an innocent. Nefarious thoughts like “I need to come up with clearly convincing reasons for not wanting children lest I be labeled ‘weird’ by peers” weren’t integrated into my brain’s wiring. I knew that I knew—just like I knew when I looked in the mirror, I would see a girl with brown hair and brown eyes who was far too concerned with getting pimples and who would like Gary Snell if he were taller, cuter, and didn’t have a lisp.

Now it’s freakin’ 2015—make that 2016. It’s close enough, right? When I was that innocent tween, I thought I would be working in a space station somewhere by the year 2016. We’d live in egalitarian society like you see in Star Trek, where the squandering of skills and talents mattered far more than a person’s inability or unwillingness to conceive. Women could even have blue skin and silver hair!

The Enterprise never became a reality, so I relocated to a true-blue progressive city where it was par for the course to have drinks with a homeless guy named Leslie, who wore a tiara and tutu. It is a community where we “born this ways” can flourish. But in 2016, we must still have a cache of “reasons” on hand when that inevitable question comes: “Why don’t/didn’t you want kids?” Um … children cost too much money. That I don’t have. The planet. I don’t want to maim it by leaving behind a Godzilla-sized carbon footprint. My career, it’s the bombdiggity. I’m too selfish. Too lazy, too crazy, too genetically flawed. I don’t like kids.

None of these things are genuinely true in my case, but I plead guilty to trotting out the “reasons”. Reasons seem to make people less hostile confused. Because I have a warm, smooshy, nurturing personality, inevitably, a well-intentioned childed friend will insist that I never met the “right guy”, triggering that old Insta-Crap feeling. I have to wonder: would that person say I just hadn’t met the “right guy” if I were gay? Why not ask why I wasn’t a runway model while they’re at it?

There’s a lot about ourselves that we can hide, change, and enhance, thanks to the miracle of Alcon, Sephora, and the shoe industry. I can make (and have made) my brown eyes blue with state-of-the-art contact lenses. I can (and have) streaked my hair blond. My Max Studio heels might murder my instep, but they give me temporary leverage. I could have flipped the bird at my nature, had those ten kids, and … I thankfully will never know what would have happened.

I never needed reasons, and those of you who “chose” to be childfree don’t need them either. What thankfully isn’t artificial, and what will never be, is that I am who I am—a NotMom since I was nascent. Childfree by a choice I never actually made.

I was born this way.

The single dad dilemma

“I don’t think it could work out between us because my kids come first.”

—Almost Every Single Dad on Every Single Online Dating Site

“Don’t get involved with a man with kids. You’re just getting someone else’s problems,” my mother advised me when I, a childfree woman of a certain age, informed her of my brave new agenda to do just that. She made single fathers sound like used cars—no warranty, no guarantee, and probably too much mileage to go very far.

“The mother of those children would always be around,” my mom went on, but a bit of ominous had slipped into her voice. “There’s child support, and then college to pay for, and in this economy, who knows if those adult kids would ever find a job. Ever think about those things? No, find a nice man without children.”

“But you don’t know what’s out there,” I wailed. No, really. Mother. Did. Not Know.

I used to peruse the virtual personals. The good news: childfree men, also of a certain age, existed! The bad news: the odds weren’t good, and the goods were odd, and nowhere else was this more evident than Match.com and its ilk.

I don’t know what I thought would happen. I suppose I thought there would be a handful of eligible bachelors just waiting for a girl like me to come along. Instead, I found single men whose relationship potential had the tenacity of Silly String.

After I had sorted through the binge drinkers, the terminally unemployed, men more than a decade my junior or senior, the Peter Pans, Walter Mittys, Indie Jones wannabes, obvious players, “personal asset” $eeker$, the narcissist that berated the waiter, and the OCD guy that showed up at the café with his own sack lunch, I had settled for the least of the evils: the player who thought he wasn’t a player.

Hey, what’s a little abject lack of honesty between two childfree souls?

I had squeezed my eyes shut tightly and thrown my last vestige of altruism into that relationship, which I swore would be my last attempt. Even after a painful, drawn-out divorce from a childfree husband, I had never stopped dreaming of a small family—a family of two. A normal, somewhat traditional family. I dreamed of Thanksgiving at Threadgill’s with our closest friends, vacations to sunny Caribbean islands, and stupid spats about whose parents we spent the Christmas holidays with.

We might marry, we might enjoy a lifelong courtship. We might live together, but probably not. As long as we loved each other, had each others’ backs, shared the same core values, and put each other first, we would be golden.

There was a reason I clung to a moribund marriage so tightly. I knew finding another childfree man wouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t. It had been disturbing. And, most recently, soul destroying. After getting summarily dumped because my childfree boyfriend decided he had to have a life partner with a zest for skiing (he’d never skied in the two years I knew him, just so you know I didn’t fall for it), I had my come-to-Jesus moment: maybe a big part of these faulty equations lied with moi.

There’s an old chestnut writers trot out before they capitulate to misguided editors: “You can be right, or you can be published.” I could have everything just the way I wanted it … or I could have love.

I decided to give single dads a chance, even theirs were not the choices I would have ever made, or even understood. I like being around kids—well, most of the time—but especially tweens and teens, with whom I have the patience of proverbial Job, because hey, I remember that confusing time of life vividly, and I totally get you, kid. I was willing to brook raucous sleepovers and snarly, palms-out ex-wives that changed timeshare at the last minute. I’ve always made my own money, so who cared what my beloved did with his, as long as there was enough to go around?

There was only one condition: I must come first in my partner’s life.

I hesitated before I typed those words into my profile. For a relationship to work, of course two people must put each other first. Of course. This is simple fact. Er … right—? I knew why I felt ill at ease about hitting the “save” button when the messages from single dads started pouring in. You seem to really have it all together, but my kids come first …

It was then that I grokked my mother’s “used car” logic. Just like you must be assured that your car will get you where you need to go, you must be just as sure of a life partner. I was smart. Any man who told me that his kids came first had just told me why his marriage had epic FAILED. He was also giving me a clear picture into why any potential relationship with him would epic FAIL as well.

I sussed out the thrill-seekers and patriarchal traditionalists during one-off coffee meets. These were the men who treated me like they would a hook-up and/or couldn’t understand why I’d ever gotten married if I didn’t want kids. Oh, you know, so we could exercise each others’ end-of-life decisions and inconsequential stuff like that. No second helpings for you, sir.

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Could I commit to a man with children? Absolutely, if he treated me the way my father had treated my mother. My parents’ relationship with each other had taken precedence over their relationships with me and all other living persons. There was no doubt in my mind that if the house were burning down, my mom and dad would have saved each other first.

That they put each other first didn’t scar me for life. On the contrary, it made me feel secure and far more independent. Before those of you from dysfunctional families of origin say, “Sheesh, you were one lucky bitch”, let me assure you that there was a ginormous downside to functionality: I grew up believing that the love my parents shared was par for the course, and that I too could have it one day, too. With anyone! Whee!

No.

Then I struck pay dirt: I went on a real date—“real” meaning plates and utensils were involved—with a single father. He didn’t care if I skied. He didn’t tell me his kids came first, either. He had two teenaged children, one at university and one almost out of the house. This dad-man wasn’t some antiquated specimen in a moth-eaten cardigan. He didn’t quote Mr. Rogers or speak in the dreaded “eat your peas” voice. Best of all, he thought my childfree choice was just the bombdiggity and thought I’d be a good influence on his own kids.

He was an excellent conversationalist with intriguing passions. We shared the same alma mater and Netflix queue. He was exactly my age, smokin’ hot attractive, and had the social aptitude that made him a good candidate for my “plus one” at the upscale social events I sometimes must attend.

He and his ex-wife had divorced amicably, he assured me. He had a healthy view of his former marriage, which was that it had lasted just as long as it needed to. He told me that it wasn’t until his kids started to lead their own lives—college, career planning, and relationships of their own—that he realized he had gone through much of his life alone.

He needed to be someone’s priority. He was ready to put the woman in his life first, too. And that’s when I got a lump in my throat.

Many of us childfree and childless single women have known this feeling of aloneness, too. Many of us have had several halcyon years with husbands and partners interspersed with years of aloneness. But some of us have lived with it all of our lives. When you meet another person who feels that aloneness that begs to be assuaged, his childed status has no bearing, and you are simply two people trying to solve the same problem.

I really liked this man. I felt as though I could slide into love with him comfortably, like I could my Ugg boots. But something gave me pause. Maybe I don’t believe in magic golden unicorns. Maybe we hadn’t been in a burning house together, so I found his truth hard to believe. Or maybe old habits just die hard, and I still wanted exactly what I wanted.

After I left the restaurant that night, I lost his number.