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Does Love Require Complete Conformity?

This is a guest post from Dr. Kimya N. Dennis originally published December 11, 2016.

The above image depicts a man appearing annoyed with a woman who wants a kid but in actuality the man feels he has the woman “wrapped around his finger”. This image stands out to me because it can be interpreted in many ways. I interpreted the image in two ways: (1) Men, generally speaking, are socialized to behave disinterested when they are really quite interested in reproduction; and (2) women and men can use reproduction as a signed contract to presume a permanent connection with a “romantic” partner regardless of whether the “romantic” partnership is healthy and even lasts. While this might seem exciting, unavoidable, and inevitable to some people, I consider it exhausting and stressful. It sounds filled with conformity and “word games.” I want such conformity and “word games” to be challenged because it perpetuates the presumption that people are conniving and even mindless fertility drones.

Perhaps unintentionally, this highlights why many people who do not have children (by choice, circumstance or “on the fence”) have issues with dating and romantic relationships. There is apprehension based on dishonesty, distrust/mistrust, and miscommunication. There is fear to date someone who depicts themselves in one way while hiding unexpressed expectations. This can include a life partner who knows you do not want children, are unable to have biological children, or are “on the fence”; and the life partner stays in the relationship expecting to persuade, convince, or even trick and force you to have a child. This is connected to the assumption that people are destined to have children. This is also connected to the assumption that women’s only reason of existing is to want to have children and to have and raise children. Men are also believed to exist for reproduction but, despite the adamancy of cultures, some cultures accept men more than they accept women. This is a cisgender dynamic in which girl/woman and boy/man are expected to fit in narrow categories and live the “life script”. This is also a transgender dynamic, gender nonconforming dynamic, and gender fluent dynamic when people are expected to reproduce and fit into a narrow category of humanity and adulthood.

Why is this so common if so many of us find it problematic? For starters, who is happier—people with children or people without children? Who is more educated, has higher socioeconomic status, and is more professionally successful—people with children or people without children? Who is more likely to find a life partner—people who want to have children or people who do not want to have children? There have been news stories about these topics and exhaustive debates. Although we appreciate some discussions, it remains the case that, regardless of who is deemed happier and more successful, most people cannot fathom other people, and especially women, not having biological or adopted children.

However, people who do not have children should not feel ashamed or be shamed. We should not feel pressured or silenced. We should not be relegated to institutional policies and societal laws that restrict reproductive rights and freedoms. We should not be relegated to other people’s definitions of happiness, satisfaction, and reason for living. Family, friends, and romantic partners should not be able to control our desires and life decisions. Unfortunately, we know it is not easy to avoid such shaming and control. That is why many people who do not have children often carefully choose how we interact with other people. It is important for us to remember, other people (no matter how clever) cannot read our minds nor can they convince us to conform to their desires and their life decisions.

We do not need to devote all our mental space and time to impressing other people. Life is too short to only invest in the happiness and life preferences of other people. We can love our family, friends, and romantic partners without silencing ourselves. Love does not require complete conformity.

Biography: Kimya N. Dennis is a sociologist and criminologist. She conducted the first known study solely of childfree-by-choice people of the immediate African diaspora (62 respondents; 6 countries; 59 women, 3 men). She also created and teaches the first known course about the childfree-by-choice.

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