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Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Infertility Dating Analogy

It's an easy parallel to draw especially since many times the two situations intertwine: trying-to-conceive bears many similarities to trying-to-partner. In both cases, we believe the timing is within our control until we discover that life has its own timetable. We can put in hours and hours of hope and hard work and have nothing to show for it on the other end. It may be the thing we want most, but the only aspect of our life that is completely out of reach. Both situations can move like a roller coaster once the tame ride picks up steam after the first twist or drop.

Those who find their partner with relative ease or conceive their child on the first or second try, probably wouldn't describe these life events as difficult or a roller coaster. But for those on the other end of the statistics, the ones who put themselves out there and try Internet dating and allow themselves to be set up by their Great Aunt Jane or the ones who turn to assisted conception or adoption to build their families after years of disappointments, wouldn't wish this time period on their worst enemy.

I was speaking about this with my cousin last weekend: dating sucks. Anyone who is stressed out about never having a first kiss again needs to take a step back and remember all of the horrible things about dating that they're blocking out of their mind. Yes, there is the excitement of a first date and those nights where you don't sleep, trying to find out everything about each other. And that certainly is more interesting than the day-to-day life of picking dirty socks off the floor. But there's also the anxiety--why isn't the other person calling and what did they mean by that and do they really like me and will I have to go alone to my friend's wedding in June?

It's a little bit like how we long to be back in college. Yes, you want to be young again and relive those college years, but would you really want to be apply for college right now? Because that is part of the experience too. The filling out of forms and stressing about the SATs and waiting by the mailbox for a letter. And even once you got to college, it wasn't always pulling all-nighters with your friends around a half-eaten box of Gumby's Pizza Pokey Stixes. It was about arguing with a professor and receiving a C for all of your hard work and stressing about what you wanted to be when you grew up.

The infertility world often debates this analogy and it's interesting because sometimes, the two situations intersect: because a person didn't find their partner until later in life, they waited to try to conceive until later in life and their infertility may or may not be attributed to age (just to be clear, infertility in your 40s may be a condition of age OR it may be caused by a situation that has always existed but since fertility wasn't tested until later, wasn't discovered until later). I imagine it can be salt in a very open wound to have experienced the waiting and difficulties of a long road to partnership only to be met with the waiting and difficulties of a long road to parenthood.

One of the most interesting posts I've ever read on the topic came from Teendoc at Welcome to the Dollhouse. She writes of both sides, first an exchange she had with a fellow blogger who tells her that singledom (when one wishes for a partner) is not like infertility because love can happen at any age--there can always be hope that love is around the corner since it holds no limits unlike reaching parenthood. Teendoc responds with an interesting point:
Yet going back to the original theme of this post, I have lived both lonely singledom and infertility. I’ve been to hell in both arenas and I wouldn’t wish either of these states on my worst enemy. However, from where I sit, I completely disagree with the blogger I quoted. For me, infertility was not worse that 2 decades of being single and lonely. Why? Because I had my love, my partner, my husband to travel the infertility road with me. His presence soothed my heart in ways that I cannot begin to explain.

So what is the point of all this writing? Well, while we are still caught up in the pain, frustration and loss of infertility, and want others to be sensitive to our feelings and needs, we must remember that others can be living their own personal versions of hell that are equally important to them. We cannot decide that our pain is greater than another’s pain. Pain is pain. The distress it causes must be respected and not judged.
What kicked off this long thought about the connection between infertility and coupledom? An internal question about whether it is polite to ask after a single person's love life. Is it polite or rude--caring or hurtful--to ask a friend if they're currently dating someone? I can only speak for the infertility side and say that when you are trying and failing to conceive, it can be salt in the wound to be constantly asked at family gatherings or when catching up with friends when you plan on having children. Do you admit that you've been trying and failing? Do you lie? Do you blow off the question entirely by changing the subject? Do you burst into loud, gasping sobs?

Is it equally hurtful to ask someone single if they're dating someone? Does it show an interest in all aspects of their life or is it simply poking at a sore spot to constantly be asked the same question? And are the two situation similar--asking about family building vs. asking about dating?

Your thoughts?

27 comments:

Lori said...

Very good analogy.

I went to dinner this week with a high school friend who is single. I debated this same question.

I ended up thinking that it was probably ruder not to ask than to ask.

I hope I did the right thing.

Baby Steps to Baby Shoes said...

Having been in the situation of being dateless for a long time, I don't ask. I hated when someone asked me and I strongly believe that if someone is at a stage where he or she wants to tell me, he or she will. Plus, by asking, just as when someone asks "Do you have kids?," it boils the responder's life down to a single aspect. I always just ask "How are you?" and "what have you been up to?"

luna said...

having been on the receiving end of the kid question on way too many awkward occasions, I have become more sensitive about probing into other people's personal lives at all. I am quite receptive to discussing it when a longtime single friend raises the issue in any way. but I don't ask because I don't want to make any presumptions or intrude into a very personal and perhaps sensitive area, especially when I know everyone else asks all the time...

B said...

I think it does depend on how well you know their circumstances as well. If you know they are single by choice (and are not short of offers) then it is safer to ask the question as they are effectively in control of their own destiny.

I think it is a totally different ball game when it's not a choice thing, as it's about opening wounds about what they want but don't seem to be able to get.

I think that approach covers off both single people and 'childfree' people.

SarahSews said...

I think the situations are really similar -- in each the life we want to be living is out of our grasp. When I was single and struggling it was a crisis for me -- I desperately wanted to be a wife and a mother. When I took the mother part out of the couple part in my mind, the couple part took care of itself. Being a wife didn't alleviate my desire to parent. But having a husband who would walk that walk with me and always be by my side did provide some comfort I wouldn't have had otherwise.

As for whether it is okay to ask, I think context matters. If it is in a private conversation with a close friend, then yes I think both are okay. I was never offended when friends asked how the baby making efforts were going or not going. We were open about our struggle and our desire to parent and it seemed kind of my friends and family to inquire about how we were and what was next. I try to do the same with my dear friend who struggled to find a mate. Kindly ask how she is and what is new in a private way that shows that I know what is important to her and that I care about it.

I wouldn't have either conversation with someone I didn't know well.

Manda said...

I like the analogy and my feelings on the dating question are about the same as they are for the "Got kids?" question. "Are you pregnant yet?" pisses me off when it comes from anyone who isn't within my inner circle. And the people within that circle care enough to know all the time if I'm pregnant yet. It's the same with single people, I think. If you don't know them well enough to know if they're seeing someone, it's probably not your business to ask. I think it's a lot safer to just ask how they are, what they've been up to... If they want you to know they're seeing someone, it'll come out in conversation.

nutsinmay said...

I was very lucky. I met H when we were both 17. I never really had to have much truck with the suckitude that is dating. We did do Long Distance Relationship Hell, for five years, but really, in the grand scheme of things, my happy marriage and dearheart husband are un-earnt, un-deserved, a gift. But because I am deeply aware of how damn lucky I am, I am very moved by and empathetic towards people who really want a partner, or even just a nice date, and can't find one, and are lonely and sad. My heart hurts for them. I care deeply about whether they get what they need, or want. I long for them to have it too.

On the other hand, I am childless. And I have found that not all, not many, even, people I know with children feel that way. They do not seem to know how lucky they are. Even when they do, they cannot extrapolate from that that those of us who are having trouble getting a child are hurting. If I went about saying to single people just how annoying my husband was, were they sure they wanted one, weren't they lucky they could do their own thing and not have to share the remote, wouldn't I rightly be condemned as a heartless bitch?

Sorry, I am feeling very whiny and put-apon this week. I blame the clomid.

tragicoptimist said...

I had never really thought about the similarities until a few months ago when I blogged about a co-worker announcing her pregnancy. While we're not currently trying, and I am happy for her, it still hit me pretty hard. Another coworker who is single, read my post and sent me a private email saying how the announcement had really hit her hard, too. She's single, and really wanting to find the right guy, settle down, and hopefully become a mother. That's when I finally got just how difficult it can be for people in both situations, to always run into portrayals of the perfect family, and to want it, but not be able to achieve it. In some ways, being dateless is harder. There isn't the hope that maybe there's just an underlying medical condition that can be treated that would bring about a wonderful and fulfilling love life.

As for asking about kids or a love life, I think baby steps had a good point that asking can boil a person down to just one aspect - one in which that person has not yet been successful. But as others mention, it can also depend on the relationship. There were people I had talked to about infertility, and I might have been a little hurt if they hadn't asked, since they knew what a big part of my life it had become. For me, I won't ask unless the other person brings it up.

Carrie said...

I always hated it when people asked me if I was dating someone... especially after my fiance died. I know they meant well and wanted to see how I was doing, but constantly asking me about it always brought up the raw emotions of his death. No matter how kind they tried to ask, it always made me feel like they telling me to "get over him" and "move on."

His death and infertility have definitely made me more sympathetic to what people may be going through... even if I have no idea they're going through anything. The only way I'll ask someone if they're seeing anyone (or if they're trying to get pregnant) is if we are close or if they hint at the subject first.

If they want to talk about it with me, then they'll tell me.

Jen said...

My goodness, dating sucked. And, let me point out that I had an easy time of it too. My first date was my husband. Then I dated someone else for a couple of weeks. Then I dated my husband for the rest of my life. But I hated being single and dating sucked.

Now, I don't ask people if they are dating someone because I have always considered that to be one of those none-of-my-business questions. (Just like children.) I just ask something like "what is going on with you?"

kari said...

I dunno, I guess I've always felt like focusing on "are you dating anyone?" negated any and all successes I was having in the rest of my life, even when my answer was yes. I was always meeting new people, taking a new class, (switching jobs far too often) etc etc etc.

I take that take attitude with my single friends now, too. If they have someone special in their life--friend, partner, f***buddy--their name will probably come up in conversation if my friend wants to share, but that's the amoung of focus it should get--incidental focus to my friend's life, interests, etc.

I guess I figure that any more conversational attention on dating specifically (as opposed to dating as one among many activites in their lives) implies that there's something lacking in my friend as a person if they have nothing new to share.

WRT to fertility, I wanted to talk about it sometimes, sure--but I'd bring it up if I wanted to talk about it. Whenever someone brought it up for me, it was awkward and reeeally disempowering, because it felt like it negated some amazing things my husband and I were doing. "Well, that's all great, but what about children???"

Meh. I don't feel like I'm expressing myself as well as I could be.

Tammy said...

That analogy is perfect.

Several times before I met DH, I was told over and over that my Mr. Right would eventually show. In fact, I even had an 18 year old (who was married) tell me that maybe God didn't me for me ever marry.

Those two statments actually mirror my TTC journey. People telling me it will happen when it is meant to and maybe I am not meant to have a child.

Because of these experiences, I don't ask those type of question to anyone. Just like I never ask a married couple if they plan on having children. It is none of my business.

beagle said...

I'm with luna, I tend to be much more cautious than I used to be on any of those 'personal' topics. I'm almost dysfunctionally self conscious about it now that I think about it.

I married at 34. (I know, behind the curve on all count here.) I got a lot of those questions about when I was going to settle down. I don't remember it bothering me as much as this family building thing but that may be in part that I was not all that unhappy being single. I even figured I would adopt as a single mom if it came to that. But I am much unhappier about this child thing. Also I was not really without a date so to speak. So I wasn't lonely & single, I just chose to date unmarriables! (Which it took me a full decade to figure out!)

But, none of that really answers your question. I think it just depends. If the friend is single and sad and feeling left behind then I think it is a lot like the person who's still childless against their will. If the person is just enjoying the freedom of being single, then it probably won't hold the same sting.

As for the waiting to marry leading to infertility, it is a real kick in the butt. It really floored me because I didn't think 35 would be too old to get pg and even after we found out it was MF, they still kept harping on MY age which did lead me to regretting the wasted decade.

OK that got too long!

sara said...

Wow, good point! I never really thought about that. I have a few single girlfriends. Sometimes people will ask if they're dating anyone, and the look on my friend's face says it all. They probably feel how I do when people ask us, so when are you going to have kids?

Jess said...

I don't know a lot about the single life since I met and started dating Trav at 15, but I really think the two are similar. Finding a mate is largely our of your control much like IF...and it's got the same feeling of being stuck in limbo while everyone moves on. Or so I imagine.

I agree, though, about the pain being pain. And not just in dating/IF...in working a shitty job because you need the money, in not being able to afford a house and living with your parents, etc, etc. Whatever it is that keeps you from your dreams, that thing SUCKS.

I think that the dating question can be stepped around by asking "how are you?" or "What's new?"

When I was asked the baby question, I generally told the truth (in varying degrees depending on the person)...."We're trying" or "We just did an IVF cycle, hopefully soon..." blah blah blah. I found that people are SO uncomfortable with reproduction and IF that that usually shut them up. hahaha

However, I'm not sure the same would be true with dating questions.

Teendoc said...

I just don't ask a single person if they are dating anyone, period. I remember my aunt's husband always asking me that whenever I came home for Christmas. It drove me crazy. And then he would follow up with something like, "I don't know why the guys are missing out on someone as good as you!"

And I'm like, I don't know the fuck why either, but can we stop rubbing salt in the damn wounds, please?

My general question to friends is "how are things going?" and then they can tell me as much or as little as they feel comfortable in doing.

Also, just ran into another friend from college on Facebook...a black woman. Yes, she, like most of my sista-girl friends, is single at 45-46. I tell you it sucks out there for sistas.

ekunkelmann said...

I think the situations are similar, and the book "Unsung Lullabies" described this accurately as "loss of a dream." Most of my friends are not married, and I am careful in how I speak of IF to them. It's best to stick to the dream idea. It is not the biggest crisis ever, it is not all about the biological clock, etc. I've been told a few times, "Yes, but at least you are married AND you are still young." Point acknowledged.

No, I never ask a single friend whether he or she is dating. That person hears it all the time, just as I hear "Do you have any kids?" It's cloying. Like Beagle, I'm more cautious than I used to be.

Donna said...

It is definitely rude to ask for exactly the same reason as it's rude to ask about children. It's nosy and personal and you run the risk of really upsetting someone. What if they just had a horrible break up or their boyfriend just died in a horrible skydiving accident? It's really best to ask what is new and exciting in their life and if there is someone, they'll mention it.

I've always wondered why everyone seemed to be rushing me through my life. When I was just out of college, the questions about dating abounded from friends and family. When I was dating, I got questions about when we were going to get married. When we got married, focus immediately turned to children. I normally sidestepped the child question but once I did take sick delight mustering up some tears and muttering about infertility when an old college friend with a baby on the way asked me about it. He high-tailed it away with hopefully a lesson learned.

Tara said...

Before infertility, I would have said that I don't see the harm in asking a single person about dating, etc. However, after having been through infertility and knowing how sesitive and painful certain personal questions can be - I am VERY aware of what I say and who I say it to. I figure that if a friend wants me to know something he/she will tell me. I needn't ask.

jodie38 said...

I don't ask either one. They both kind of rank up there with asking someone if they're pregnant. Quite a loaded question, if you think about it. I've been through enough painful things in my life (crazy family, bad relationships, marriage counseling, IF)that I sincerely try to take cues from the other person as to where to direct conversation. I don't ask if someone has kids, if they're married or divorced, any of those life situation questions. If they mention it, groovy. Then it's out there. Otherwise, I am the queen of small talk until it leads to a comfy subject.

**susy** said...

Ahh.. so true how these 2 can have similarities. I've often thought that even though I'm going through IF, others may be going through their own personal hells. Like ekunkelmann said that sometimes one might get "but at least your married...", (which i've been told - and immediately made me pause and 'get it') it made me realize that yes, pain is pain. Just b/c its not like mine, it doesn't mean it's not there for someone else.

I didn't have a long singledom, and when I did it was by choice and b/c of that, I'll admit I've been inconsiderate in asking too many times, "so... any guys??". I've learned to be more cautious. I think it's ok to bring up the Q when it's someone you can be that open with, which on the same token you'd probably know before having to ask... other than that, better to not ask, if not offered first, for ttc and singles.

nancy said...

I need to come back. But I just wanted to say that I am SO behind with comments to you.

Here's my problem - it's with people like you and Pam (wordgirl)... You do such though provoking posts ALL the time. I read them daily, I do, but I don't want to just comment in any old fashion. I want to develop my words so they make sense (you both intimidate me!) and then next thing I know, big huge thought provoking post #2 is up. And so on.

Acckkk!! I'm so behind.

So, if you and Pam could just post some dribble for a little while, I'd be TOTALLY appreciative. Thanks! ~wink~

CLC said...

I never ask my single friends. I feel like it's pouring salt in an open wound. I didn't meet my husband until I was 30 and got married at 32 and I hated when people asked me. It wasn't so bad in the mid-20s when lots of other friends were single but by the time 27 or so rolled around, I just started feeling like a freak. I wait until they bring it up.

I think you or Teendoc had a really good point that everyone has their own personal hell. It's hard to remember that sometimes, but it's so true.

loribeth said...

Everyone else has always said it very well... I think I had one date the whole time I was in high school. I was labelled as a "brain" & I think guys were intimidated by me. At family gatherings, my uncles would bug me about where was my boyfriend, & I would just cringe. If I ever admitted to even liking a certain boy, I would get teased mercilessly. I learned it was just better to keep my mouth shut about certain things, but I felt soooo resentful at other people sticking their nose into my personal business, & that attitude has carried over into adulthood & infertility. I figure if people want me to know about it, they'll tell me.

DrSpouse said...

This is exactly the analogy that came to mind when I had my first miscarriage. Everyone tells you there are others out there but you want this one.

I hardly ever ask even my best friends if they are dating someone - even if I think they are with someone specific - if they have already shared I might ask "how is it going with so-and-so" but otherwise it's up to them to tell.

Bea said...

I never really had to go through dating. Not in the adult, high-pressure sense. High school sweethearts and all that, we were.

Even so, I never ask someone if they're dating or seeing someone or whatever. I just think it would be rude. I stick to general questions about how they're going, what they're planning, where they've been lately, etc.

The one exception is if someone's been confiding their dating woes to me. Then I feel like I actually *should* ask how the dating scene is going for them.

Wow. Sounds remarkably like my views on infertility. Thanks for pointing that out. Makes me feel more justified about judging all those people who made "when are you having kids" comments, as well as those who avoided asking how the IVF was going. (Was that your intention? To tell me it's ok to judge people?)

Bea

amazedlife said...

I just moved to a new city and the thing I love most about it is that no one ever asks whether I'm dating someone. It is far more cosmopolitan than my home town and many more people are likely to be partnered rather than married, etc. So people ask about other things - education, accomplishments, interest - rather than "have you met someone?" It has been incredibly freeing for me, and I'm a lot happier being single here than I ever have been before!

Thanks for writing about this.