Women not only worry that they might be forced to compromise in their choice of partner; they also fear that wanting to have children in the near or medium term will render them less attractive. Another egg freezer, Catherine, a 39-year-old acupuncturist, explained to the researchers: “Just the fact that, you know, you didn’t have to date people thinking, Oh God, I have like a year. Are you right for me? Are you right? It makes you sort of anxious to try to find a partner, because you feel like you have to do it fast.” Finding the right partner must take its natural, measured course. “I don’t know if I was just putting out a vibe,” Catherine continued, “like I need to find someone quick and like make it work so we can do the normal, okay, date for a year and then maybe get engaged, okay, and then like a year from then get married and maybe a year from then have kids.”
Slow love requires a remarkably passive approach to commitment and the prospect of children, as if we believe that starting a family is something that’s supposed to just happen, if only we wait long enough
Perceiving this tension between their procreative and romantic agendas, some women try to buy more time: As the pandemic has made slow love the ascendant dating strategy, egg freezing is booming (though, despite the rosy promises of the assisted-reproduction industry, egg freezing is by no means a sure bet). For others, the demands of slow love can heighten their ambivalence about starting a family, driving them to prioritize the romantic project over the family one altogether. Small wonder that the sole marker of “seriousness” that today’s singles score lower on than ever before is the desire for kids.
The deepest problem with slow love for those who want children is that finding the right partner with whom to start a family is not simply a function of time. It is possible to hit a target without trying, but what are the odds?
It might seem that the logic of slow love is so compelling, its dating norms so pervasive, that there is no viable alternative. Throwing caution to the wind and running off with the next stranger you meet in the COVID-testing line sounds hardly any more promising. But the opposite of slow love is not fast, or reckless, or blind; it’s brave. In Persuasion, Austen contrasts “that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence” with “early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity.” What would this look like in practice today?
Meredith McDonough, a 25-year-old doctoral candidate in history at Princeton, had followed the typical dating pattern for the first half of her 20s. She’d meet men online and date them casually until she landed on a longer-term relationship. An unexpected breakup with a serious boyfriend left her feeling hurt and disappointed. Shocked and confused, she was nevertheless clear on one thing: “I never want to be in this position again.”
But because they were merely “dating,” Meredith felt like she didn’t have a real claim against him
Instead of going slower the next time, Meredith resolved to try “failing faster”; henceforth she would try to figure out much sooner whether a match was the kind of person that she would want to be with. This meant abandoning the traditional script for first dates. Forget movies and music, “as if that is going to be the foundation of your life.” First-date conversations now included whether their views aligned on the philosophical meaning of marriage, whether they wanted to have children, and honesty about “dating red flags”-those aspects of their pasts and personalities that might cause a relationship to run aground at a later stage. Meredith let go of the hope that any period of dating-screening, testing the waters, running the life-partner simulation-could eliminate uncertainty. Looking for a partner is not the same as looking for a Wi-Fi router. You can’t just read Wirecutter. Carefully and intentionally analyzing potential matches for compatibility wouldn’t just yield the wrong decision; it was the wrong decision-making process altogether.
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