Heterosexual single Americans now blur societal gender lines in respect to dating, love, and marriage. It’s harder than ever to find a child-free man.
When it comes to meeting men, Jane faces a bit of a challenge.
You’d think she’d have no problem finding a boyfriend. She’s educated, successful, pretty, and outgoing. She’s even a bit nerdy (face it, nerdiness is hot).
What’s keeping Jane from finding that special long-term someone? She’s never wanted kids—ever. She had her tubes tied six months ago.
“My dolls were friends, not babies,” she laughs over the phone one rainy afternoon.
I’ve known Jane since high school. (And no, Facebook friends, Jane isn’t her real name, so don’t try stalking her.) We’ve talked before about her finding guys who don’t want kids. It turns out that besides yours truly, she knows only one other man who isn’t into the whole babies thing.
“I would have thought it would be very easy to find a man who did not want children,” she sighs. “But I haven’t been able to.”
Like so many modern singles, Jane has turned to the Internet.
First, she tried Match.com in 2006 when she lived in Pennsylvania. The results weren’t good.
When it came to kids, she says, “everyone I was matched with already had them or wanted them.” She says Match lacked a good feature for sorting out those guys who want kids.
In 2008, after moving back home to California, she signed up for eHarmony. That site included options for selecting various reproductive goals. Her matches, however, had checked both yes and no—or nothing at all.
“It may have been that they could have been swayed either way,” Jane says.
That same year she went back to Match, but the matches were worse than before: “A lot of them had children not that much younger than me,” Jane said.
What’s the deal here? Shouldn’t it be easy for Jane to find a baby-free man? After all, don’t we men prefer to be free of those pesky rug-crawlers and the burdens they bring? Aren’t we notorious for running away when the pregnancy test comes back positive?
A couple days after talking to Jane, I call Justin Garcia, SUNY Fellow with the Laboratory of Evolutionary Anthropology and Health at Binghamton (NY) University. Garcia studies human mating and dating behavior from an evolutionary standpoint and recently worked on a survey of over 5,000 American singles.
(I find out during our interview that, coincidentally, he’s a scientific advisor to Match, which commissioned the survey. So, just in case you’re wondering, this month’s column is not sponsored by the website.)
I tell Garcia about Jane’s dating troubles. He says he’s not surprised.
“Most people around the world do want to reproduce,” Garcia says. “I’m not saying everyone, but most.”
And, he explains, having kids is often part of the relationship package.
“There’s a desire to have affiliative gestures and build a life with someone,” he says. “So that might mean something like living together, having kids together, or maybe getting married, maybe getting bank accounts together. Things that say, ‘We’re a family, we’re a unit.'”
I contacted Garcia because the survey results show that in many ways, heterosexual single Americans now blur societal gender lines in respect to dating, love, and marriage. For example, when it comes to being in a relationship, women place more importance on their personal space, goals, and hobbies than men do. Men are more likely to experience love at first sight and are quicker to introduce partners to their families.
One particular result seemed relevant to Jane’s case: more men (24 percent) than women (15 percent) want kids.
Surprised? I was. But then again, my Mormon upbringing conditioned me to think that all women have that motherly-instinct stuff preprogrammed.
Garcia points out that a lot of factors go into a decision to produce offspring. The cost of raising a child, for example, can be daunting in today’s economy. But how we live our lives has changed dramatically compared to our ancestors.
“Today, unlike ever before, we can live an incredibly long time,” he says. “We can have incredibly rich lives. We can travel all over the world. These are historically recent things. Many people want to spend that time with a partner, not necessarily with big families.”
Garcia welcomes the flip in what men and women want in their relationships because it shows “the sexual double standard is getting smaller.”
“Just as we’re seeing more stay-at-home dads or seeing more women in the workforce, American culture is really changing in terms of what’s expected in family life, and that includes relationships, or raising kids and working,” he says.
So, why are guys more likely to want kids?
“We still hold onto these notions of males leaving heirs,” Garcia says. “It’s kind of a cultural importance, and it’s a biological imperative.”
But there may be a deeper biological reason, too.
“The realistic side of reproduction is that childbearing is a much bigger toll on women,” he explains. “Women alone have parental certainty and the biggest brunt of reproduction. It’s a much bigger challenge in today’s world for women.”
My translation: Guys are more likely to want kids because we’re not the ones stuck carrying around extra pounds of tissue and amniotic fluid for nine months. (And that probably explains why so many congressmen vote against abortion, too.) Women understand that cost, so they’re more likely to say “No, thanks.” (Fire away, Internet commenters.)
I ask Garcia if he has any advice for Jane.
“If she doesn’t want to have kids, I say, be upfront about it,” he suggests. “Be upfront that ‘I’m a professional woman, this is what I want, this is who I am. And I don’t want to have kids, but I do want someone to share my life with.'”
He points out that finding a partner can depend on time, location, and even the economic climate.
“I think with time she’ll find someone,” he encourages.
Jane is still trying the Internet. She’s ditched Match and eHarmony and has moved on to Zoosk’s iPhone app. I’ll check in with her in a few months.
After I email her Garcia’s thoughts, she writes back:
“With the societal pressure to procreate and mankind’s innate desire leave a legacy, I understand that I may not find someone. When searching for a partner, everyone has their own priorities. Mine just happen to be one that not many share, but that doesn’t mean I should give up or give in. After all, there isn’t a very good return policy on children.”