We all have our checklists for what we desire in a potential partner. And now, thanks to modern technology combined with a little wishful thinking, online dating sites allow us to actually sculpt our vision of our perfect mate with prompts as specific as “has pets.” But how much selectivity is too much?

In my case, “wants children” was a must-have in the vital stats of my prospective partner. Despite my strong desire to have children, though, I always tried to remain open-minded when reviewing profiles from prospects on Match.com. So when I noticed the “yes” in JPKeeper’s profile signifying “has kids” — often a strong indicator that someone may not be gung-ho for more — that didn’t stop me from responding to him. After all, he seemed great otherwise and, I reasoned, what were the chances this would actually lead to a serious relationship?

A couple of weeks later, JPKeeper (now known as Joe) was sitting opposite me, pouring an outstanding Chianti into my glass at an Italian restaurant. He turned out to have eyelashes that seemed half a foot long and a crooked smile à la George Clooney that kept me warm. I had just entered a maze of delight and anxiety that was to be my life over the next few months. Sure, I was thrilled to be falling in love, but every time I spotted a stroller in my local bagel store, I wondered, Will I ever become a mom myself?
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The ultimate touchy topic: “Do you want kids?”
Three months after that outstanding first date, I decided to stop guessing and find out for myself if my nagging suspicions were true. After a deep breath and a couple of false starts during one of our romantic dinners out, I asked him: “So, I’ve been wondering… would you ever… consider having any more children?” Whoa, what a relief to finally get that out.

Now he was the one who took a deep breath and a sip of his drink. In the time that passed as I waited for his reply, tears began to well up in eyes. He got up from his side of the table and sat down next to me. Wow, I expected this kind of treatment for a proposal, maybe, but not for the how-do-you-feel-about-kids conversation, I thought.

“There’s nothing I would love more than to have a ton of kids,” he said. “I absolutely love children. But…” He looked down at the table.

I wasn’t surprised. I saw how hard he worked at keeping his own kids happy and healthy, not to mention the financial strain of being a single parent. For him, a typical week would be filled with work pressures, open school nights, grocery shopping, house cleaning, laundry, home repairs, cooking, homework and — oh yeah — weekend treks down to the city to see me. I appreciated his honesty in telling me that the likelihood of us having kids together was… not likely. “Maybe if we won the lotto and could hire three nannies” were his exact words, I believe.

While it was hardly what I was hoping to hear, strangely, this conversation made me feel closer to him. And at this point, there was no way I was walking out — on dinner or anything else. “Well,” I said, “I guess it’s not a deal-breaker.”

And I meant it. That’s not to say I didn’t suffer pangs of grief when girlfriends of mine would announce, “I’m pregnant!” or email me photos of a newborn or of themselves with captions like: “Can you believe how humongous your preggers pal is?” But mostly, Joe came through in ways no one else had ever quite been able to. As we continued seeing each other, it became all too apparent he and I would have to take the next step: meeting his kids.

Sometimes, not getting what you want can be a good thing
It happened one night when Joe and I went to his house after a dinner out. There we met Alex, a 16-year-old high school jock who immediately accepted our leftovers, turned his skinny back to my face, and started devouring our lobster ravioli and veal ragout. Next came Alyssa, who was 12 and said little more than Alex had (although I do think I noticed a smile when we were introduced). Though she barely said 30 words to me in the first six months of our relationship, I instinctively knew there was hope.

To this day, I wonder if the ache I feel while spotting strollers will ever subside. Perhaps not. But instead of feeling bad about it, now I know I can replace my desire to have kids with a different kind of tug — taking Alyssa for a manicure and hearing about this week’s new best friend, or seeing the priceless expression on Alex’s face as he proudly showed me his new driver’s license. It’s moments like these when I think to myself: What would my life be like had I stuck to my dating deal-breakers?

As a result of dating Joe, my dreams for the future look different now. There’s the dream of being a stabilizing force in his children’s lives, who have seen more than their fair share of pain from their parents’ divorce. The dream that, as the years roll by, I will have someone to share a bit of grown-up wisdom with — or at least be able to impart some helpful advice when Alyssa’s first crush breaks her heart.

In love, I’ve learned firsthand that you may not always get what you ask for. And I also learned that maybe that can turn out to be a good thing. I guess we never know for sure whether our deal-breakers are really carved in stone until we’re face to face with someone special who challenges them. In my case, I learned that sometimes, the things you think matter the most are worth questioning when love comes into your life.

Jami Kelmenson is a freelance writer and marketing executive living and loving in New York City.