The Dating Deadline

At what point do we sacrifice romance for fertility?

Photo: Makidotvn/Getty Images

My girlfriends and I sit around our favorite Brooklyn restaurant, red wine flowing, lights dim. We’re all in our late thirties, have jobs we love, friendships we cherish, passions that keep us up at night.

And we are all single.

It’s not news that New York is a terrible dating scene for straight women. My girlfriends and I have been enduring bad dates for years. At one point we coordinated a weekly meeting to review a Google spreadsheet of our collective dates so none of us had to make the same mistake twice. A crummy dating scene for women is par for the getting-older course.

But now the stakes feel higher. In a few years we won’t be able to have children, at least not naturally. This has always been a distant reality, a problem saved for later. Pregnancy is so ingrained in our image of the female experience we rarely think to question it. But now the time has come, it seems. Like a particularly challenging Escape Room, we have to act quick.

I’m the woman I made fun of in my twenties, early thirties, even.

Love finds you when you stop looking for it, is a ridiculous thing my mom used to tell me until I got angry enough to make her stop. When I’m not looking for love I’m exhausted on my couch after work, binging on Netflix, curled up in bed reading a book, or still at work. When I’m at work I’m working. I am not particularly attractive when I’m working. Actually, at this point in my career, I make an active effort not to look attractive, lest some creep makes an inappropriate move and I have to spend my mental energy dealing with it. When I go out I’m with friends who have grown to be like family, talking over cozy dinners, not falling over casual acquaintances ready to pick each other up at the first sign of a smile, like the parties I frequented in my twenties.

Women in their thirties, especially the busy ones, have to make an effort.

The problem with anything that takes effort, though, is that it gets tiring. Recently exhausted, I took a break from online dating. Accepting the occasional romance but rarely seeking it. It was great. I deepened friendships, entertained a few flings, finished my novel. When you’re happy by yourself being alone isn’t lonely, it’s a relief. But now I feel like I have to go back, put in the effort all over again. If it weren’t for the kids thing, I wouldn’t really care, is a refrain my friends and I repeat in circles.

Kids.

The desire for kids (no matter how complicated and uncertain that desire may be) makes us put in the effort. And so I re-download the apps, a pit of dread rising in my stomach. I assign a certain number of nights per week to the task. Like starting an exercise routine in the new year, it takes resolution. More of a chore than a choice.

I am dating right now because I’m on a timeline. If I want to have children, I have to. The sentiment that makes the modern, urban man run. The opposite of “chill.”

I cringe at myself. It’s disgustingly unromantic. I’m the woman I made fun of in my twenties, early thirties, even. I thought women with an agenda were, dare I say it, crazy. But unless you can afford IVF or raising a child alone, both of which are prohibitively expensive for most women, the pressure to search for a partner is real. I often imagine if men were in this position, faced with losing their ability to procreate. There’s no question they’d have both an agenda and a timeline. And we’d probably praise them for their ambition.

Appetizers are finished, our dinners are served. “I recently met a guy,” I tell my friends. He’s the first guy in a full year, 365 days, who I enjoy spending time with more than I enjoy being alone.

Applause. They’re thrilled. They understand how rare this feeling is, like winning the lottery.

“But he’s moving across the country.”

Nods, long nods of understanding. Of course.

My twenty-something self would be saddened but not deterred by this glitch. I would have thought it was romantic to try despite the odds. We would visit each other. I would dare him to find someone he liked as much as me as we lived our lives at our own pace, spontaneous trips threading us together. But my 35-year-old self understands that, while the connection really is special, chances are it will end in disaster. And it’s probably not worth the time.

Another bottle of wine.

To find someone you connect with when you don’t hate being alone is hard. To find that person and also have all the practicalities of starting a life together — their age, location, desire for children — match up just right so it can all come together in a few short years, is miracle-making.

The question floats around the table: At what point do we sacrifice romance for fertility?

We look to each other for answers. We know the alternative. The alternative to the potential disaster of romance is the inevitable disappointment of reality. It may be another year, or more, until I find another person I like enough to see regularly. A person who makes me want to put aside the joy of a happily independent life for time spent together. But without the practical pieces in place there’s so much risk, and these days, there’s little room for error.

I could have it all wrong, I am still single, after all. Maybe romance is overrated. Maybe real connection comes later, with the shared experience of building a life together. Or maybe I should keep following my mostly misguided and foolishly optimistic heart, fingers tightly crossed, that all the details will work themselves out.

Honestly, I don’t know the answer. But I’m all ears.

Asking for a friend.

Writer and founder of Chorus, the matchmaking app where friends swipe for friends. More at getchorus.co (or emjsmith.com).

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