Singles and the Biological Clock – Part 1
- Wednesday, February 08, 2006
In "The UnGuide to Dating," a he said/she said look at adult dating relationships, authors Camerin Courtney and Todd Hertz discuss singles and the biological clock: guys who are ready to get married and start a family and gals who perhaps are not. ...
The Parent Trap
Todd: The high school youth group boys I work with invented their own game when they got bored with less violent games like broom hockey, tackle football, and boxing. Fumble Rumble is a simple game with two rules: (1) someone holds on to an object (usually a ball, but in moments of ingenuity, the boys have used shoes, hats, and, one time, a freshman) and (2) everyone accosts that person.
One Sunday afternoon – just moments after being on the bottom of a Fumble Rumble pile and only a half hour before offering a sincere prayer for the Chicago Bears – a sophomore named Paul opened up to his small group when asked what he most wanted from life. “I want to raise a family,” Paul said.
Like Paul, many men have an innate desire to be a dad – usually hidden deep down under a tough-guy image, Simpsons’ quotes, and baseball stats. Granted, the desire is greater in some men than in others. Starting as early as preschool, I’ve daydreamed far more about being a dad than driving a race car, pitching in game seven of the World Series, or going on a date with Jennifer Garner.
Even though men can have a strong paternal urge, we’re often overlooked in cultural discussions about parental longings. You can just look at all the sitcoms and movies where dads are portrayed simply as dolts who hand out allowances and watch television, and know a guy’s desire for and joy in being a dad isn’t given enough credit in our culture. Let’s be honest. Cuddling a baby isn’t considered manly. But I’m not totally blaming culture. Instead, I think guys’ parental longings are probably less realized because, well, we aren’t the best at relating our feelings (surprise!). Because we seldom talk about it, I sometimes feel like I belong in a support group, shyly announcing, “Hello, my name is Todd, and I want to be a dad.”
One day after church, my friend Laura was holding her baby, Natalie. I said, “I’ll hold her a minute if you want to go get a drink.”
“No, I’m fine,” Laura said.
“Yeah ...” Laura said, somewhat perplexed.
I wasn’t sure what to do at this point. I really wanted to hold Natalie. I couldn’t even understand exactly why. But I didn’t feel like it was kosher to just come out and admit it. On the other hand, our mutual friend Jen, who’s also single, is so blatant about her desire to hold Natalie that Laura often passes the baby over like a baton as soon as Jen walks into the room. It’s OK for Jen to admit she longs for a child. But for guys, that desire doesn’t feel as publicly acceptable. I feel like I have to go watch a couple of '80s Schwarzenegger movies after holding an infant to regain an appropriate testosterone level.
But that day in church, I told Laura, “Um, could you act like I’m helping you? I just want to hold a baby.”
OK, so I like holding babies. And I want to be someone’s dad. But is my desire to be a parent as strong as the desire women feel? I don’t know. I won’t argue it is. But I do think it’s a God-given desire, an extension of my personality type, and a male need to provide for, protect, and shape another person. I also know what I feel isn’t just a feeling of “Boy, that’d be nice!” – it’s a long-time longing. And as I get older, I worry more and more it won’t happen. Sure, I don’t have the biological timetable women do, but I also fear becoming a first-time dad late in life. My friend’s dad was nearly sixty when Gene, an only child, was born. Gene’s dad lived late into life, but that still meant Gene was only in his mid-twenties when he had to bury his dad.
Even with all these thoughts, I still find it hard to imagine the hormones and biological urges women have. I recently heard two women in their late thirties talking about contingency plans if they don’t get married soon. They both said they’ll probably opt for artificial insemination. Other single women decide to adopt. But I’ve never even considered adoption on my own if I don’t marry. So, that’s my biggest sign that a woman’s drive to be a mom is far greater than I can imagine. It seems like single guys instead get their pseudo-parental sense of protection, nurturing, and adventure by being an uncle, a tee-ball coach, or a youth-group counselor.
So yes, this is different than what women experience. But, I think we men can also play up or overestimate a woman’s longing for kids. I’ve heard too many guys complain that Christian women quickly “latch” on after one date because they can hear that steady tick-tock-tick. I don’t think that’s generally true. In fact, I think it’s funny. Guys typically don’t get enough consideration for wanting to be parents, and women may get too much. That’s why we need to just let members of the opposite sex – like sports fan/family man Paul – surprise us from time to time.
Camerin: It seems ironic, or perhaps a sign of just how much things have changed in our postmodern age, that while men are now being affected by the biological clock (or are finally starting to talk about it), women are seemingly less and less affected. Most of the single women I know fall into two camps: those who want to be a mom yesterday and those who have a vague notion of wanting to be a mom … someday. And of the women I’ve spoken with about this, the majority seems to fall in the latter group.
Why? Well, that’s a great question. I have a feeling the answer, as with many things associated with the modern dating scene, is multilayered and complex. I have a few theories, though, as one who also falls into this Waning Maternal Urge set. There are times I suspect this lack of urgent maternal desire is a gift from God, as there’s not a lot I can do about such an urge in my current life stage (except adopting, of course, which is a huge undertaking as a single person). I also feel so busy trying to do everything in a household, from paying bills and fixing leaky faucets to cooking dinner and decorating the walls, by myself that even thinking about caring for another human being, especially a “dependent,” makes me break into a cold sweat (though I know single parents miraculously perform this feat every day).
I also wonder if at times it’s a defense mechanism to not desire mom-hood so strongly. Feeling out of the wifehood loop can be painful enough; adding the reality of being out of the mom-hood loop could possibly push me over the edge emotionally – so I just don’t allow myself to feel that. Also, as women, so many other doors have opened for us over the past generation or two – from career to travel to ministry opportunities – that perhaps the longstanding door of becoming a mom holds less enticement. Mostly, however, I think motherhood just feels so “other” that it’s tough to picture, let alone yearn for, this life stage. Most of the things that make singleness great – freedom to travel, supreme control of everything from our Daytimer to the remote, time to invest in a wide array of friends, ministry pursuits, and career opportunities – would be seriously impaired if not erased if we became a mom.
That’s not to say that those of us with the Waning Maternal Urge don’t love kids and want them someday. I became an aunt last year and love my little nephew to pieces. As I write this I’m planning to fly to see him (and his parents and grandparents, of course!) next weekend, and I can hardly wait to lay eyes and hugs and countless kisses on the little guy. Often when I spy cute kids or hang out with my friends’ offspring, I think of a line from "Mad About You" when the main characters, Paul and Jamie, were at the pre-parenting stage. Once when they were visiting some relatives, Jamie told Paul, “Your niece is so cute it makes my uterus hurt.” There are days I so get that, when I long for a little person to love on, care for, tuck into bed, and teach about everything from Jesus to shopping.
Mostly what I feel as a thirty-four-year-old single woman is a sincere hope that motherhood will be an option for me someday. That I’ll get a chance at one of the most amazing of women’s unique abilities: birthing new life. That there’s a father-of-my-children in my future. That he’ll show up before all my eggs go kaput. I’ve watched my sister and others go through infertility, so I know there are no guarantees at any age. And an OB/GYN friend of mine assures me that due to medical advances and the miracle that is our bodies, by and large, women even well into their forties needn’t worry too much about fertility issues. But a niggling worry persists. Mostly in that very American part of me that sees biological motherhood as some sort of inalienable right and that will be altogether indignant (and grief stricken) if I’m denied what seems to come so easily to others, even unsuspecting teenagers in backseats of cars.
I read a chick-lit novel several years ago called Dating Big Bird in which the main character, a still-single woman, described the ticking biological clock not as sand in an hourglass (which can simply be turned over when it’s run out) but as a big gumball machine with a limited number of gumballs slipping out one by one. Once they’re gone, that’s it. No more eggs. No more chance for a baby. Sometimes, when I spy a cute kid, or watch a meaningful mother-child moment, or just for no foreseeable reason whatsoever, the maternal pang hits and I feel like a grubby, penniless kid with my nose pressed against the glass of that gumball machine, eyeing the slowly disappearing treats, hoping for the needed “currency” before they’re all gone.
So what does all this have to do with dating? Well, if a date- potential happens to catch me on one of those gumball-machine days, I can view him with everything from contempt – as in “You’re late! Your bad timing is why I’ll never be able to become a mom!” – to desperation – “Please share your life, and sperm, with me!” Dating, as you’ve gathered by this point in the book, is complicated enough without our whacked-out hormones or Baby Lust factoring into the equation. I don’t want my waning egg count to speed up a dating relationship. And I want to truly consider whether a guy would make a good father, not just whether or not he’s physically capable of making me a mom. I also sometimes fear that Paternal Urge-y guys will view my age as a liability and will opt for a younger woman, which just makes me want to scream.
More often than not, however, a date-potential will catch me on my more numerous Waning Maternal Urge days. And this new trend for single women can alarm or confuse guys. A friend of mine almost suffered a breakup with her boyfriend of many months when he discovered she wasn’t dying to become a mom. She, like many modern single women, had that “someday it’ll probably be nice to be somebody’s mother” feeling. In his mind, this translated into no interest in mom-hood, and that worried him, since he really wanted to be a dad. It took a good deal of conversation, as with many things when it comes to male-female communication, to help them realize they’re basically on the same track.
Used by permission of Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright © 2006. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.
Camerin Courtney is managing editor of Today's Christian Woman magazine, author of Table for One, and a columnist for ChristianSinglesToday.com.
Todd Hertz is an associate editor for Ignite Your Faith Magazine, formerly Campus Life. He's a frequent contributor to ChristianSinglesToday.com and ChristianityTodayMovies.com.
**This excerpt first posted on February 8, 2006
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