Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.
Here's today's dilemma. A 38-year-old woman is in a relationship with a 24-year-old man. Despite the large age gap, everything is going well — she says they have "real, serious, beautiful love" for each other.
But she's always wanted to be a mother, and worries that time is running out to have a child. Her boyfriend says he's not ready for fatherhood. She's now faced with two choices that seem to be mutually exclusive: Stay with her boyfriend, or break up and have a child on her own.
I am in quite a jam. Two years ago, at the age of 36, I met a young man of 22. Yes, that's a 14-year age gap.
Three weeks after that first encounter, we traveled to Mexico, spent the following three months living in L.A. (both of us completely broke, I should add), and then moved back to our home of New York City and into our first apartment together.
Over these years together, we have grown to truly appreciate each other's differences, adore and applaud each other's ideas and successes, and work through our challenges in a respectful, kind and loving manner. We're the envy of our friends, and our families are thrilled to see how happy we make each other.
Our love is unwavering, honest, reciprocal and exciting. He's exceptional at understanding and supporting my 38-year-old needs, and I am patient and understanding toward his.
But with this big, safe, secure love, has come a desire to finally become a mother. I've always looked forward to having children. A nurturer at heart, I assumed I'd be a young mom, but after a tumultuous and co-dependent 10-year relationship that lasted through my 20s, motherhood never felt right.
Now it does. And it's well and truly time for me. The thing is, it's not time for him.
Now, almost 25 years young, my guy is still searching for his dream job. He's still finding himself, exploring friendships and discovering the hardships and treasures of life. In other words, he's busy being a young man.
I'm in an emotional quandary, because I don't want to rush the issue of parenthood with him, but thanks to biology, I don't have a choice.
I am a successful writer and creative director and have, in the past two years, saved a large sum of money — enough to buy an apartment and ensure security for the next couple of years. So financially speaking, we are good. I'm also in excellent health. I'm remarkably young-looking for my age, highly energetic and fit as a fiddle.
I don't want my boyfriend to feel pressure or obligation, and I don't want him to have to give up his goals and dreams. But the truth is, he will never earn as much as I do, nor reach my level of career success.
If I were single, without a doubt in my mind, I'd find a way to have a child immediately, whether through sperm donation or a friend. But I'm in real, serious, beautiful love with this person, and he is in real, serious, beautiful love with me.
We've had a couple of tense but adult conversations about it, and he's firmly but kindly stated his feelings against fatherhood for the unforeseeable future. He's just not ready.
At almost 39, I don't have time to wait for him to come around. Freezing eggs isn't an option for me either, because time-wise, I just don't want to get any older before I become a first-time mother.
Aside from just going ahead and falling pregnant without his full approval, I really don't know what to do. What would YOU do?
Age Doesn't Matter Until It Does
Steve Almond: This is tough. Biologically, she's quite realistic in saying, this is an experience I want to have now, not later. And if that's the case, Age Doesn't Matter Until It Does, then you have what sounds like a fairly stark choice. Do you want the experience of having a child and being a mom, or do you want this love?
Cheryl Strayed: I think she should go to the sperm bank and get pregnant. Age Doesn't Matter Until It Does, I think if you're so clear that you want to be a mother, you should become a mother. I also completely get why your partner doesn't want to be a father at 25, but I think it's part of his obligation to you as a partner to not stand in the way of you fulfilling one of the biggest desires in your life.
Steve: I would further interrogate the question of whether being in a secure, loving relationship feels crucial to the mixture. The reality of getting pregnant is something that I think she has to be ready to do on her own.
Cheryl: She says, "If I were single, without a doubt in my mind, I'd find a way to have a child immediately." We know for sure that she wants to become a mother, and if that's the case, her relationship has to fall around that. Maybe it means she and her boyfriend break up, or maybe they stay together in some fashion. There are all these different scenarios. But the one scenario that will be true is the one that she wants the most, which is that she has a baby.
Not every relationship, even if it's a great one, is fit for the long haul. I think we often forget to think about romantic love in such practical terms. Maybe you have to say, this relationship was wonderful, and now it has to end so I can live the life I want to live and you can live the life you want, too. That's not a failure. It can be painful, but it's usually more painful not to make those choices.
You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear from more people with disagreements over whether to have kids.
Have a question for the Sugars? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered on a future episode.
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