Dating profiles allow us to be upfront about issues that may be deal-breakers down the track. Photo: Stocksy
A year after my last relationship ended, I rejoined OKCupid, the site where it began, and re-answered the questions it uses to match its members. Curious whether OKCupid's algorithms would still consider my ex and I compatible, I compared our current profiles. Belying the incompatibilities that grew throughout our relationship, we were still a 92 per cent match.
But I did noticed one difference that must have escaped my attention when I met him – In response to the question "Are you looking for a partner to have children with?" he answered "Yes". I answered "No" but would have selected "Hell no" if it were an option.
I've known I didn't want kids since I was a kid myself. I don't enjoy spending time with children, I put my career before my relationships, I don't like being beholden to people and I go nuts if I can't spend a good chunk of each day alone. But, at 21, when I met my ex, I didn't pay attention to the "Are you looking for a partner to have children with?" question. I presumed that, if I started dating someone who wanted kids, either I'd change my mind, he'd change his, or (unfortunately, but most likely) our relationship wouldn't last long enough for children to become an issue.
But now, at 25, the chances I'll change my mind are lower, the odds that my next relationship will be my last are higher and I've already seen friends' partnerships fall apart due to disagreements about children. I'm starting to consider that if I want to meet a life partner, not a fling, I shouldn't be dating people who fill out their OKCupid profiles the way my ex did.
This is a tricky issue to address in real life. Mostly, I avoid bringing up kids on dates out of fear of coming on too strong. Other women have told me they don't disclose their preferences regarding children right away either. Zara, 24, says the topic usually arises when she and her partner discuss a tangential topic like what they'd name their children. But since the "Do you want kids?" conversation could end a relationship, I'd rather have that information sooner than later.
Dating sites like OKCupid let us discover a potential mate's future plans without that awkward conversation that often feels premature. Hannah, 24, tells me OKCupid was "helpful in finding people who also wanted kids," adding, "I don't think I would have dated someone who didn't want kids because, if I fell in love with them, it would have been a point of contention in the relationship eventually." Similarly, Andie, 42, says that when she was on Plentyoffish, "if I was matched or contacted by someone whose plans were not the same as mine, I usually eliminated them."
Online dating consultant, speaker and matchmaker Steve Dean also advocates taking advantage of the information dating sites provide regarding family preferences. "It's in our best interests to be honest about what we want and to be upfront about our long and short term goals and desires," he says. "If you're someone who really wants kids, then you really shouldn't hide it. Embrace yourself and your preferences, celebrate both, and invite others to join you in that celebration."
If you're not sure if someone shares your views on kids, Dean says you don't have to bring it up right away. You just have to go into dates or online exchanges with realistic expectations. "If we start our message with 'Hey, just so you know, I'm looking for children and don't want to waste my time with people who aren't' then we run the risk of ostracising lots of potentially awesome suitors and creating a rather hostile, exclusionary attitude that makes us treat people more like walking checkboxes than anything else," he explains, adding that if someone doesn't share your vision for the future, they still may be able to introduce you to someone who does: "I focus on being totally accepting of exactly who my date is, who they intend to become and what kind of person they envision helping them get there. At no point do I assume that I am the person they need, because probably, I'm not, but it's far more likely that someone I know (or may soon meet) could be their ideal fit."
Ultimately, only dating people who share our opinions about kids is just one example of something we all have to do when we're looking to settle down: pass up partners who might make us happy for the next few years but can't make us happy for the rest of our lives. That approach may limit our options now, but it could spare us wasted time and heartbreak in the long run.