Men Keep Asking Me If I Want Kids On The First Date – Why?

Photographed by Refinery29.
Everything is moving so fast. 
We eat fast food, wear fast fashion and expect our shopping to show up on our doorstep in less than a day. We take Ubers because public transport isn’t quick enough. We change jobs because our career progression is too slow. 
Our relationships are no different. Once upon a time, we had to go through the rigmarole of meeting partners in a bar, wading through a sea of people in a bid to stumble across one reasonable person. We have dating apps for that now. We can flick through pictures and profiles, get through just enough conversation to work out whether they are on our level and then meet up. We are able to shortcut our way to meeting someone. 
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It seems that’s not all we’re trying to accelerate. Huge life choices – the sort made by two people who already have shared investments in property and a future together – are now ripe for conversation on a first date and, sometimes, even before. 
"I went on a first date with a guy, he seemed nice enough so I met up with him again. We were sitting in my flat, drinking wine and he suddenly said, 'Oh, so do you not want kids?' in response to something I said," Annie*, 31, tells Refinery29. 
Naturally, she wasn’t quite sure how to answer. They had only just met.
"I really hadn’t contemplated it and I’d only just met him," she continues. "Like, I don’t just want to have kids for the sake of having kids with the first person I meet on a dating app!
"Was he trying to suss out whether I was serious or not? It made me feel like my womb was on show and made me feel really self-conscious about my fertility – which is something I try not to think about too much because dating in your 30s is stressful enough. It really threw me when he asked."
It was an intrusive one-off experience that Annie was keen not to repeat. Until it happened again with a different guy. 
"He was a few years younger than me, and he seemed to be suffering from Peter Pan syndrome," she explains. "I think he was trying to suss out whether I was after a sperm donor or I was just up for a good time because I am a 31-year-old successful woman who owns a flat – perhaps they both thought I was just looking for a baby daddy?"
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I went on a first date with a guy, he seemed nice enough so I met up with him again. We were sitting in my flat, drinking wine and he suddenly said, 'Oh, so do you not want kids?'

ANNIE, 31
It didn’t take much investigation to uncover that Annie is far from the only woman being subjected to such unromantic womb analysis in the early stages of dating. 
Eve*, 37, hadn’t even met her date before he popped the biological question.  
"On [the dating app] Hinge, you can tick whether you want children or not on your profile, and I ticked that I didn’t. Men bring it up right away with me all the time.
"I’ve had quite a few guys ask me straight up, 'So, you really don’t want kids?' My response is always the same: 'Why are you even asking me about that?' 
"I was really surprised because I’ve never had that before. It’s only been since I signed up to dating apps again this year. I’m in my late 30s now, so from a man’s point of view, perhaps I’ve only got three more years to be a viable baby factory. It was like I was being screened to be a mother of their children before they’d even bothered to get to know me."

Being asked about children constantly made me feel like an animal, that I'm only valued for being a female with reproductive organs. 

Eve, 37
Eve said that being asked about children constantly made her feel "like an animal" and that she was "only valued for being a female with reproductive organs". 
"It’s worse than some guy just wanting to f**k you," she adds. "At least that’s understandable. There’s a level of attraction there. You’re not just being interviewed to be a prospective wife or mother."
Scores of women Refinery29 spoke to between the ages of 25 and 40 cited similar experiences: a strange forgoing of all the usual protocols in order to determine something most couples discuss at length after spending years together. 
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That’s not to say this is a one-sided, gender-based phenomenon. Valeria, 35, has long been adamant about her wishes not to have children, and often tells dates before she meets them that this is the case. 
"I didn’t want to waste my time dating someone who might actually want children," she says. 
"I didn’t want to fall in love and then discover that we saw things differently and have my heart broken. Apart from the usual conversations about music taste and places to go and have fun, I didn’t ask much else before I met my current partner, Tom.
"He was so relieved when I started the conversation about children because he didn’t want any either but didn’t know how to approach it for fear of disappointing me."
Her practice of telling men early on that she plans to remain child-free, however, hasn’t always been smooth sailing. 
"At the beginning I really started to believe that there was something wrong with me, or something broken, because I didn’t feel I had a maternal bone in my body and people would pick up on that," she continues.
"After several months of therapy, I started to feel more secure of myself. I started to see myself as not serving a man. My sole mission was not to find a good man and get married. I really started to take charge of my life and I found so many more people that didn’t want children too."
Herein lies the rub. The truth is that whether a woman wants children or not, there is always a degree of pressure and societal judgement weighing on her shoulders. 
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If you want kids there’s the implication that you’re looking for a "sperm donor" as Annie put it, out to tie a man down. But does wanting to be a mother someday mean you want to be one right now and therefore aren’t up for much in the way of fun? 
Say no to kids and there’s a whole other world of stigma. What is wrong with you? Are you an unfeeling ice maiden with nothing but money on your mind? Will this make you a less caring partner? Perhaps you eat men for breakfast, picking your teeth with their bones afterwards.
And if you’re not sure? You need to make your mind up! Do you have enough time left to be unsure? How many viable baby-making years do you have? 
That biological clock is always ticking, and the assumptions that go with it aren’t going anywhere. 
Asking a question like 'Do you want kids?' on a first date is also, by most people’s standards, pretty rude. 

Small talk is the oil of social interaction, it is a vehicle of engagement. People have it intuitively, that's emotional intelligence. When you first meet someone, you are getting used to them.

dr siobhan mccarthy
Psychologist Dr Siobhan McCarthy explains: "We all have social etiquettes that change over time. You learn this when you’re a child. Marching in and asking those personal questions straightaway would be overwhelming in most contexts. There are rules."
Small talk, she says, serves an important function.
"It is the oil of social interaction, it is a vehicle of engagement. People have it intuitively, that's emotional intelligence. If you meet someone, you are getting used to them," she explains. "You are judging, 'Are you a threat or not?', 'Do you know the social rules?' Romantic or not, if you’re making a friend, you don’t want to know everything about them in the first few minutes."
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None of this is to say this is a one-way street. A number of (straight, cisgendered) women who do want children and want to be direct about their expectations early on told Refinery29 that they regularly ask men about their future plans. But as Valeria points out, it isn’t such a loaded question when it is reversed.  
"Of course men don’t really [care if they] get asked about children," she explains. "Women get tasked with the whole of it. Carrying the child, caring for the child... Men are still praised for being 'so sweet and caring' when they look after their own children while women are expected to do it and also be scrutinised while they do it. God forbid we make any mistakes!"
She isn’t wrong. Having a child impacts women in an entirely different way from men. It affects our bodies, which we then have to counterbalance with a culture that values perfection above all else. It affects the way we feel in our bodies: our hormones, our mental health, coping with a loss of independence that men simply do not experience in the same way. According to the most recent figures by the NHS, one in 10 British women experience postnatal depression, although many incidences go completely unreported
And then there’s everything that happens to a woman’s career after giving birth – the much lower paycheque we may well end up receiving in a society that fails to value the thousands of hours of free care we will give to family members throughout our lifetime. According to the Office for National Statistics, women do 60% more unpaid work than men.
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One of the many reasons that the gender pay gap persists is that there's still an expectation that women will bear the brunt of childcare. 
This is why the issue of when and whether to have children is still so thorny.

Times are changing. Paternity or shared parental leave is becoming a more mainstream idea, but one of the many reasons that the gender pay gap between all employees still favours men by a staggering 17.3% in 2019 is that there’s still an expectation that women will bear the brunt of childcare. 
This is why the issue of when and whether to have children is still so thorny, particularly for straight women. We carry around with us every day an implicit awareness of what we might have to sacrifice if we do. 
And as Dr McCarthy points out: "Cutting to the chase can be psychologically disturbing to someone who doesn’t hold those rules. 
"Some areas are very, very sensitive. If you go in on a first interaction with someone on the very, very personal, very quickly, it doesn’t show regard for that. 
"Psychologically, that’s not safe and you will drive people away." 
Instead of trying to get to the point where we know someone – actually know them – at the same speed as we seem to want everything else in life, we should start taking things slowly, because that will almost always yield better results. 
*Names have been changed.
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