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. …

What Do We Do About It?

Todd:  In the midst of several hard conversations that led to a breakup, I noticed a trend. My then-girlfriend kept repeating what I thought was one of those sincere compliments paid during a healthy breakup. She said often, “You’ll be such a good dad.”

I didn’t think much of it at first. I mean, I was saying things like, “We’ve had so much fun,” and “You’re a great friend.” Then, I realized her repeated line wasn’t just a compliment. Nor was it really about my potential fatherhood skills. Instead, this was a nagging thought as she was processing our breakup. She knew we were splitting for legitimate reasons, but she just couldn’t let go of one idea:  This is a chance to have a family. And she was watching it disappear.

This was the first time I saw the power of the desire to have a family. That desire isn’t necessarily a negative, but both genders have to be aware of the role it plays. Yes, we date to find a spouse and — God willing — a partner in parenting, but of course we can’t just pick anyone who carries the needed set of chromosomes. My then-girlfriend, knowing the relationship didn’t fit with what God wanted for each of us, was obviously torn. With a few different variables, maybe we would have stayed together, mostly fueled by our mutual desire to have kids. But, it wouldn’t have been right.

Of course, people settle for less than God’s best in romantic relationships for various reasons. But for never-marrieds who are getting older and for singles looking for a spouse to help parent existing children, there’s an especially pervasive little voice saying, This one’s good enough. Go for it.

I’ve seen my desire for children cloud my thinking when looking for a spouse. Tag-teaming with my desire to not be alone, the desire to have kids has pushed me to remain in relationships I shouldn’t have and ask out women not based on our chemistry but her availability and potential as a mom. Besides that, I face a whirlwind of questions when considering a woman I’m interested in. What do I do if after a year of dating she announces she doesn’t want kids? What if she isn’t sure whether or not she wants children? How do I balance my hopes for fatherhood, a woman’s desire to be a mom, and God’s leading when making decisions about dating?

For me, I think the key to discerning the answers to all these questions is honesty: honesty in the relationship, honesty with myself, and honesty with God. You really have to look at your intentions — and hers — and be honest about what you see. With God, I try to be open about my motivations and pray for wisdom and discernment. In the relationship, openness is just as important — especially in the beginning. I know, you don’t want to open the first date with, “So, do you want kids?” But I’ve found it good to at least broach the topic in the first few months in order to save great heartache later on. Then, once the commitment grows, so can the specifics of this discussion.

Sometimes, it’s hard to really evaluate whether you’re practicing all this needed honesty. This is why observant, trustworthy, and frank friends are necessary (in addition to older, mature married couples who can guide and mentor). Ask these trusted friends to look for internal pressure on the relationship and to be honest with you — even if you don’t want to hear it.

Dating … With Children

Camerin:  Sometimes the complicating issue in a dating relationship isn’t the absence of kids but the presence of them. Namely, kids from a previous marriage, or relationship, or rendezvous. It’s difficult enough with two people in a relationship, but when you add kids who’ve suffered a divorce or death of a parent, who may or may not be keen on their mom/dad dating you, who may get attached to you too quickly or fear attachment because you, too, might leave, things can get really complicated. That doesn’t even factor in the former spouse, who’s a permanent fixture in the lives of these kids and your date.

Years ago I had a tough conversation with a friend who was agonizing over her relationship with the man she was seriously dating. He had three kids from a previous marriage, all of them of junior-high-school age and younger. He had custody of them every other weekend, which meant if she married him, she would become an instant mom. While she loved this man dearly and was excited about the prospect of becoming his wife, she wasn’t sure if she was ready for the throes of motherhood at the age of twenty-five. She was seriously torn about how to proceed.

Another friend of mine, Joy, dated an older man off and on for many years before eventually marrying him when she was thirty-one. At the time, he had a college-age daughter who presented an interesting challenge for Joy. The daughter obviously didn’t need much hands-on parenting, which left Joy with the awkward task of figuring out how to factor in to the young woman’s life. And the ex-wife only made all of their lives miserable. For the first few years of their marriage, Joy and her new husband had to adjust not only to each other and to married life but also to these two other people spinning in and out of their orbit on a regular basis. On many occasions, Joy was quite open with me about just how challenging this was. Did she regret marrying in to this sometimes-sticky situation? No way. She loves her hubby and her new life dearly. But this extra cast of characters hasn’t exactly made this new chapter of her life smooth and easy.

They say when you marry someone you marry their entire family. While this is usually a warning to carefully check out your potential in-laws, in the case of kids and exes, this truism is especially crucial to consider. These people will be a part of your new life together, for better or for worse. Going in eyes wide open will at least spare you the surprise of these complications. While it’s always important to remember that dating involves people’s hearts and to make all communication, actions, and decisions accordingly, with the case of children, it’s our responsibility as the adults to remember that these are young, tender, and often bruised hearts we’re dealing with. Their health needs to be one of the most important considerations.

I found it interesting, and quite telling, that when I asked the readers of my singles column who have children or have dated someone with children about guidelines for dating with kids in the mix, I received answers all over the map. I heard from a mom of four who’s waiting until her kids are out of the house to date again, and from another single mom who wants her daughter to see her in a healthy romantic relationship so she can model what one looks like. I heard from a woman who still has a relationship with an ex-boyfriend’s four-year-old son, and others who regret getting so attached to the children now that the relationship’s over.

All to say there are no formulas here. As with many things in the single life, I think it’s important to know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses and take those into consideration when creating any boundaries. And it’s obviously crucial to be in close relationship with God, who knows us, our dates, any children in the mix, to know how best to proceed in any romantic relationship. In these instances we’re reminded of how much we need God, and how blessed we are to be able to lean on his all-knowing, all-wise, higher ways.



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.