Tick, Tock…

For many men, dating a woman whose biological clock is ticking is a tricky situation. Here, how to deal—and a few things you should never, ever say.

By Gregory Gilderman

hen I was 29-years-old and living in New York City, I met and began dating a photographer’s assistant I’ll call Tracey. There was a lot to like about Tracey — she was smart, good-looking, and she liked my jokes — but there was one thing that set her apart from other women I’d dated: She was six years older than I was. And because she had never had kids and had never been married, even though she never said anything about the topic, it was as if there was this voice whispering at me most of the time we were together saying, She’s 35—don’t stay with this girl unless you’re serious about settling down with her. I know that sounds crazy, but I assumed, given the biological facts of life, that she didn’t have time to waste on a casual relationship.

A lot of guys have had this experience. We’re dating women who are over 30, and we’re not sure how to deal with the fact that unlike women in their 20s, dating is probably not only about fun and games. Of course, there are many guys out there couldn’t care less about whether
There was this voice whispering, She’s 35—don’t stay with her unless you’re serious.
they’re messing with a woman’s future, but the truth is that most men, even though they don’t run toward responsibility and commitment, probably don’t want to ruin a woman’s life by stringing her along with false promises. If there’s any error, it’s this one: We don’t say anything about the biological clock. So here’s some advice for the guys out there wondering how to deal with the issue. As usual, it all comes down to a simple idea: speaking your mind, but being smart about it.

Don’t rush the conversation
Simply because a woman is over 30 doesn’t mean she’s looking for a proposal from the next guy she has coffee with. That means that if you’re in the early stage of the relationship — before the two of you have made a commitment not to date other people, for example — there’s no need to press her about whether she wants you to father her future children. “Trust me, if a woman is thinking along those lines, after a few months, she will initiate that talk,” says Laurie Puhn, J.D., the author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. “If you’re just starting out together, and she hasn’t even brought up exclusivity, don’t be in any rush to ask her how she feels about her ticking biological clock.” Case in point: My friend Anthony, a 32-year-old restaurant owner, admits, “I completely screwed this one up. I’m asking her about kids on the third date because I figured that’s what she wants. Meanwhile she’s looking at me like I’m nuts. I could have waited for her to bring it up.”

You can wait for her, but don’t wait too long
There are many women who want to bring up marriage and family to the guy they’re dating. But because they’ve read all those articles in women’s magazines about men not wanting to feel trapped, they make the mistake of saying nothing. Days, months, years fly by as the woman wishes she could tell the guy she’s been imagining their wedding announcement
It’s tempting to tell a woman what she wants to hear.
in the local newspaper. All the while the guy cruises along, quite possibly happy he’s not being asked to settle down.

Now, it’s easy to say that that’s a woman’s problem, but that raises a bit of a moral dilemma. If silence will probably be interpreted as “everything’s great,” isn’t bringing it up the right thing to do? If the thought of The Talk gives you a headache, try being indirect about it. “One way to do it, if you don’t want to be direct, is to say something like, ‘Oh, my friend so-and-so just had a daughter,’ or, ‘My friend finally got married a few months ago,’” suggests Puhn. “Then see what her reaction is.” Nonchalant? Totally psyched? Either way, you’ll get some clues. Also try to tune into her subtler signals. “I took my ex to a wedding,” says Daniel, a 38-year-old magazine editor. “And she’s there telling me how wonderful it is, how she always wanted to have a small wedding, stuff like that. Let’s just say I got the message.”

Be clear about what you want
It’s tempting to tell a woman what she wants to hear. And that’s the path many guys take. But if you’re in a committed relationship and you want to keep the pace slow — or if you just don’t see yourself getting married or having kids any time soon — the best way to express that thought is simply and bluntly, especially if she has reason to believe you’re moving toward marriage, i.e., you’ve agreed to stop seeing other people. If you say things like I just need more time, or Give me a few more months, a woman who wants things to turn out well may misinterpret that as a sign you’re shopping for a ring, much as when we’re waiting for sex, statements like, Someday soon, sound like, Please take me tomorrow night.

Accept the consequences
But what if a woman puts you on the spot and says, “So, do you see yourself as a dad? In the next five years?” How on earth do you answer this? If you’re pretty sure you want to have kids eventually but just aren’t decided on when or with whom, go ahead and say so: “Yes, I eventually want kids, but want to make sure it’s with the right person.” Most women will respect this answer, since it suggests that, rather than being gun-shy, you’re a responsible guy who just wants to make sure he picks right before pulling the trigger. If she presses for something more concrete and you haven’t been dating that long, you can call her on the fact that she’s rushing things. Say, “You know, I’m feeling you’re more interested in having a baby than figuring out if we’re good together.” Because that’s truly what it feels like sometimes—like we’re merely a means to an end. And no, it’s not endearing. And when women can get babies off their minds long enough to think about it, they can see where we’re coming from.

But if, on the other hand, you’re pretty sure you don’t want kids (whether you’re just not the dad type or you already have some from a previous marriage) or are on the fence about it, honesty is best, even if the answer is “I’m not really sure” or flat-out “no.” Sure, if she’s really gung-ho for kids, this may mean you never see her again. But at least from then on, the cards are on the table, and you can sleep soundly knowing you never led anyone on. Again, there’s nothing wrong with playing the field for a while longer. Just be clear about it. After all, every man has the right to push his adolescence into his 40s and beyond if he so desires. But a woman has a right to move on if what you’re telling her is that you’re not the future father of her children.

Gregory Gilderman is the author of She’s the One: The Surprising Truth of What Makes a Woman a Keeper.
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