Baby goggles syndrome: The single and childless 40 – something women who let their hunger for a family wreck their chances of finding love
Baby goggles: Katherine Baldwin discovered viewing men as potential sperm donors was a surefire way to fail in the dating game
When I saw him across a crowded room, I was transfixed. Lovely eyes, engaging smile, decent height and a full head of hair. Good genes — very promising. My gaze then fell on his left hand. No ring — even more promising. And was that Spanish he was speaking Perfect. I’d always wanted bilingual babies.
Like many modern women, I spent much of my 20s viewing potential suitors through what we jokingly termed ‘beer goggles’. I confess that on many first meetings, and indeed first dates, my vision was somewhat impaired by a courage-boosting vodka and tonic.
Today, I am 40, single and childless — but still hoping to become a mother. And, like many women of my generation, I had, until recently, begun to see men through a very different set of goggles: ‘baby goggles’.
On meeting any new man, my critical faculties were once more impaired, not by alcohol, but by the ticking ofmy biological clock, so that every guy I came across began to look likea potential husband and father.
When I was wearing my baby goggles, which was pretty much any time there was a nice-looking man around, I’d see images of a doting dad holding a beautiful baby in his arms, as I pushed a designer stroller beside him.
Mybaby goggles had extra-strength lenses. They could spot a potential date from a long distance, and they’d zero in on an empty ring finger like a precision-guided missile.
They also came loaded with searching questions. Did he want to be a dad Could he be a dad Would he make a good dad And this was before we’d even spoken . . .
Once we began talking, my mind would race off into a baby-filled fantasy future. You play football Excellent, I’d think, picturing him kicking a ball around with our children. You like to cycle Brilliant, I’d say to myself, imagining him riding along with our toddler strapped on the back.
And then, far too early on, I’d ask nonchalantly: ‘So, how do you feel about kids’ I knew the subject of children was off-limits on the first few dates, but my growing baby angst hijacked my common sense.
Relationships in my 20s were so simple. I could try someone out for a few years and, if it didn’t work out, we moved on, with no life-changingconsequences.
But dating as a would-be mother whose fertility was on the wane was an entirely different story.Somewhere deep inside — wedged beneath my biological clock — lay the knowledge that dating was about getting to know the man.
Instead, I was on a mission to find a father for the children I hoped to have.At least I wasn’t alone. Other would-be mums of my age describe how their thoughts hurtle off helplessly like runaway prams when they’re in the presence of a potential mate.
Strong desire: Katherine, 40, is currently single and childless – but still hopes to become a mother
‘I’d look at a man and the first thing I’d ask myself was: “What will he be like with kids” says Jude Claybourne, 40, a London-based actress and copywriter. ‘And then, as soon as he said “I’m really lazy” or “I’ve got no money”, I’d think: “Well, that’s not going to work, is it”’
Another single friend, who is 38, says she mentally mixes her genes with a man’s before she’s even halfway through their first date. ‘I look at his nose and then at my nose, and wonder what kind of nose our baby would have,’ she explains.
It seems the trend to postpone motherhood till later has produced an army of women in their late 30s and early 40s who, like me, wonder if they’ve left it too late.We had succeeded in our careers and now we were ready for a family, butno one informed our ageing ovaries of the plan. We thought we could have it all, but statistics tell us that not all of us can.
A fifth of women who are aged 45 or over in the UK are childless
Womenin England and Wales are having their first child on average at 28 — four years later than in 1970. There has been a corresponding surge in 40-plus mothers. But fertility wanes after the age of 35, and a study earlier this year by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed that nearly a fifth of British women are childless at the menopause.
For some women it’s choice; for others it’s circumstance. Rebecca Greene, 44, says that dating as an aspirant mum has been ‘an absolute nightmare’. ‘The older I got, themore I knew I had this clock ticking inside me that I couldn’t ignore,’she says. ‘It wasn’t just about meeting someone and having fun. I really wanted to settle down, and it’s very hard to get that across without sounding desperate, without sounding like I’m saying: “Do you want to have a baby” on the first date.’
Katherine says that once, every guy she met began to look like a potential husband and father because of her ticking biological clock (posed by models)
NowRebecca, a life coach from London, is exploring the idea of co-parenting — forming a non-romantic partnership with a man to conceiveand bring up a child. She has not given up on the idea of finding love and continues to date, but she is also meeting potential partners through co-parenting websites. This has relieved some of the pressure on her because, while co-parenting would not be an attractive option for everyone, she has a back-up plan if she needs it.
Another single friend, who’s 43, froze her eggs when she was 40 — a measure she describes as her ‘emotional safety net’.As a traditionalist, I was holding out for the whole package — marriageand children — as I entered my 40s, but I knew I was running out of time, often cutting to the chase on the first encounter.
Peter Spalton, a dating coach, says this is a big mistake. ‘Leave the emotional baggage out of it for the first couple of dates,’ he says. ‘If you talk about children early on, there’s a chance you’ll scare him off.’
Psychotherapist Phillip Hodson, who specialises in family, love and sex, advises caution: ‘The first thing you should be asking yourself is not “is he good father material”, but “is he good relationship material”. People have very sensitive radars when it comes to the motives of those close to them. A loving desire to have a child is quite different from desperation to become pregnant.’
Katherine says she spent much of her 20s viewing potential suitors through what she jokingly termed “beer goggles” (posed by model)
So what do men make of it when they meet a woman who clearly wants to have a child ‘It’s so odd to be talking about babies when you barely know if a woman takes sugar in her coffee,’ says William Burroughs, a 45-year-old engineer from Poole, Dorset. ‘Being eyed-up as a potential sperm donor is something of a turn-off.’
We women often think we are cleverly hiding our true intentions, but men can see through us. I remember casually trying to manoeuvre a friend’s new-born baby into the arms of one boyfriend, hoping he’d melt with broodiness. Instead, he politely declined to hold the baby. It seems I’m not the only woman to have tried this.
‘Looking back at past relationships, I should have identified the tests I was subjected to,’ says William, who doesn’t want children. ‘You’d meet her sister in the park with her nephews and nieces. Inevitably, an infant would be thrust into your arms and you’re supposed to be as enthralled by its gurgling as its doting parents.’
Of course, this is only one side of the story. Not all women want to be mothers, and many men are keen to become fathers. Alan Lowne, 38, a health and fitness expert from North-West London, is one such man. ‘I do feel I’m running out of time in a way; I don’t want to be an old dad,’ he confides. ‘Obviously I want to be with someone I see a future with, but I’d also like time to build a relationship before we have children, so the woman’s age is a consideration,’ he adds.
So where does that leave us 40-somethings, who followed the advice of our teachers and parents to put our careers first and secure our financial independence before bringing children into the world We are, it would seem, in something of a relationship no-man’s land. I know many women in my age group who’ve dated online, only to find interest coming from men significantly older than them. So men of our own age group are clearly looking to our younger, more fertile sisters to build a future with.
“The brutal science of fertility is a worry”
‘I felt quite tortured by the whole dating thing because having children is very important to me, but the brutal science of fertility was a worry,’ says Mark Collins, a 45-year-old entrepreneur.
‘I’d be thinking that if I dated someone in her late 30s then decided I didn’t want to commit, having wasted two of the last years of her fertility, the guilt would be huge.’
Mark is now engaged to a woman 20 years his junior but not, he insists, because of her child-bearing potential. Just like men our age, we forty-somethings would prefer to have time on our side. Like many females in my shoes, I love my freedom and would happily go another five years without hearing the patter of tiny feet. But what saddens me is the thought of never having children.
So how should we would-be mothers handle our baby angst If we really want a family, of course, we need to be out there meeting people. But, looking for a man with whom we can have children, rather than a partner who is right for us, is putting the cart before the horse — with potential for disaster.
Jody Day, 47, who runs Gateway Women, an organisation that supports women at the end of their fertile years, has some sage advice.
‘When we get into that frantic “I’m running out of time” place, we start seeing men as sperm donors on legs,’ she says. ‘It’s unlikely to end well, and it’s definitely not a good way to go into what you hope will be a lifelong partnership,’ she adds.
So taking off our baby goggles could prove to be our saving grace. It seems that way for me. I realised that dating to the diktats of my biological clock wasn’t much fun — for the men I met or for me — so I called off the search for a partner and set about gaining some perspective. I’m starting to see that fulfilment, purpose and joy don’t have to come dressed in a Babygro and bootees. It’s down to me to fill the baby gap with a life I love. Who knows, I might just find what I’m looking for then — not an ‘instant infant’, but partnership, adventure and love.
I’d be delighted if children come along: if they don’t, there will be sadness and grief but I’ll also learn to accept that what will be, will be. As psychotherapist Phillip Hodson says: ‘You can’t compel God or the world to give you what you want.’ You can, however, become very miserable trying.
Some names have been changed. Katherine writes a blog, From Forty With Love, at http://fromfortywithlove.com