Online Love - The Kid Question

One woman explains how to read between the lines of profiles to see how daters really feel about having children.

By Lori Gottlieb

’ll admit it: When I check out a guy’s dating profile, the first thing I click on (OK, the second, after the hair question) is the kid question. As a single mother, I want to know upfront whether or not the person has kids—and whether or not he wants them. These might seem like straightforward “yes” or “no” questions, but in today’s online dating world, they’ve become multiple choice. In fact, for both people involved, there are four possible responses to the deceptively simple “Have Kids?” question: (a) No (b) Yes, and they live at home (c) Yes, and they live away from home (d) Yes, and they sometimes live at home. There are even more choices for the “Want Kids?” question: (a) Definitely (b) Someday (c) Not Sure (d) Probably Not (e) Don’t want to have kids.

At first, I was thrilled by this level of detail because whether a person has or wants
“I don’t aspire to be The Brady Bunch,” she said.
children can really provide a good picture of what his or her life is about. In my divorced friend’s case, for instance, just because she has kids doesn’t mean she wants more. As she put it, since she’s already got three kids, the guy she meets better not have three kids, too. “I don’t aspire to be ‘The Brady Bunch,’” she said. “That’s not a family, that’s a litter,” I agreed. The downside of all this detail, though, is that it can still be hard for daters to make sense of the combinations of answers — and to take into account what people really mean by each response — unless you deconstruct them as mathematical equations.

But that said, I decided to take a crack at it anyway, based on my own and my friend’s experiences.

Let’s decode the men’s profiles first:
  • Have kids “no” + want kids “definitely” = “If you have kids, that’s not a deal-breaker, but if I’m under 40 and have never been married, I’m also going to want to have my own biological kids with you. If I’m older than 45 or 50, I’ll take kids any way I can get them—Yours? Ours? Doesn’t matter!”
  • Have kids “no” + want kids “someday” = “I love kids but I’m about five years away from being ready, so please don’t ooh and aah if we pass a Baby Gap store on our first date.”
  • Have kids “no” + wants kids “not sure” = “If it’s very important to you to have kids together, I might consider it. Just don’t expect to sign me up for Little League coach.”
  • Have kids “no” + want kids “probably not” = “I date women who think they could be OK without kids, then realize they want them, and the ‘probably’ in my profile keeps their hope alive long enough for them to have wasted their most fertile years dating me. If you think there’s even a one-percent chance that you may want kids, put a block on my profile, no matter how cute and smart and interesting I may seem.”
  • Have kids “no” + “don’t want kids” = “I prefer to date child-free women over 40, with whom I can share carefree adventures and conversations in which the word ‘poop’ never comes up.”
Here’s the women’s profile side of the equation:
  • Have kids “no” + want kids “definitely” = “If we get into a relationship, you have exactly twelve months — and not a day longer — to propose to me.”
  • Have kids “no” + want kids “someday” = “I’m still trying to make partner/finish graduate school/travel the world/train for a marathon, but one day I’m going to be sneaking little pink sticks into the bathroom, and you’d better be on board.”
  • Have kids “no” + want kids “not sure” = “I like kids, but I have other priorities that are equally important. I only want kids with a husband who will share the child-rearing duties 50-50. Or even better, be a Mr. Mom.”
  • Have kids “no” + want kids “probably not” = “I don’t want kids, but if I admit that in my profile, men will think that I’m not ‘warm’ or ‘loving’ or ‘nurturing,’ even though they’re probably just as ambivalent about kids as I am.” Bottom line: Even men who don’t want kids of their own want to marry motherly types. (And men say women are contradictory?)
  • Have kids “no” + “don’t want kids” = “I don’t want my own, period. But if you have them — and are not the primary caretaker — I might play the fun parent role on the occasional weekend.”
Of course, once you consider the remaining combinations (the yes options to the “Have kids?” questions) plus the match-up side of the equation (the guy is a have kids “yes” + want kids “maybe” while his preference for a future partner is a woman who is have kids “no” + want kids “maybe”), you might need a Ph.D. in factor analysis. Besides, sometimes it doesn’t come down to mathematical equations—often it depends on the person. Use the kid question as a screening guide, but then look at the bigger picture. My profile, for instance, says that I’d like to find someone without kids, but if I really connect with the guy and he loves my son as his own, I may not care whether he has no kids or several. Well, maybe not several. As I told my divorced friend, “That’s not a family, that’s a litter.”

Lori Gottlieb is the co-author of I Love You, Nice To Meet You and a commentator for NPR. Her website is
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