When my five-year relationship ended last January, I felt heartbroken and needed time to regroup. I moved back to my hometown of Wallingford in Oxfordshire, spent my days with family, and enjoyed a slower pace of life.
The pandemic, when it hit in March, was like an enforced break from men for me. But come summer, after lockdown, I was ready to date again. So in August last year, on one slightly inebriated afternoon at a hotel garden in the Cotswolds with a girlfriend, I downloaded the obligatory dating apps again and created a profile.
The swiping began and I started to consider what I wanted from my next partner. This will be fun, I thought, as I scrolled past posh country boys in flat caps and Barbour jackets and swiped right to show I wanted to match with men with dogs. It felt like an exciting game, but little did I know just how frustrating it would turn out to be.
I’d not used dating apps since I lived in London in my 20s. It was all about after-work drinks in Covent Garden and late-night snogs on Putney Bridge back then. Now I’m turning 30 and living in the countryside, it feels different. I have to drive to meet people, so that means no booze-fuelled meet-ups or drunken kisses, and I am more sure of what I want — I’m fussier. But that’s not why it’s hard.
Lottie Gross, (pictured) from Oxfordshire, had her five-year relationship end last January and since dating has noticed some men have been put off because she doesn’t want kids
I don’t want children. I know it’s usually men who run when kids are mentioned, but I’m the one who legs it. I’ve never wanted to be a mother. This decision is non-negotiable — even if Peaky Blinders’ Cillian Murphy tipped his flat cap at me, I’d still never say yes to babies. But, that makes it difficult to find someone to share my life with.
My ex had a child and didn’t want any more, so I never had this problem with him. I’ve never been one to talk long-term at the start of a relationship but I’m at an age where that feels wrong. When men my age are looking for something serious, it often means marriage and, for many, kids. For me, neither of those are appealing, especially the kids, so I feel the need to be upfront. I don’t want to waste anybody’s time.
Fortunately, the apps make it easy, offering a space to declare where you stand on babies. Unfortunately, many men don’t read.
Lottie (pictured) says that she has never wanted to be a mother but that it makes it difficult to find someone to share her life with
Despite the ‘don’t want kids’ label on my profile, I still match with men who, I later find out, do want a family. I’ve been down the online rabbit hole with people who, after looking closer at my profile, have then unmatched. There was a lovely, honest guy from Berkshire who invited me for lunch during the brief window before more lockdowns. He was good looking and seemed interesting, but got cold feet the morning of our meet-up. ‘I’ve had a think,’ he told me, beginning a sentence that could only spell the end before we’d begun. He didn’t want to start something with ‘shaky foundations’ because, later down the line, he wants children.
I can’t be angry as he’s being truthful. I appreciate his honesty. But after the fifth time, it gets tiresome. You get your hopes up, establish a bond, so to speak, and have it dashed by a fundamental difference that was staring them in the face from the start.
Of course, this has brought stranger men out of the woodwork. One guy assumed my ‘no kids’ rule equated to ‘up for anything’. We chatted briefly, then he sent me his number. When I messaged him to say hello, he asked if I’d like to meet up for sex that night. That’s not exactly in the spirit of social distancing, is it?
Then there was the man who couldn’t get his head around how I could manage to remain unpregnant for the rest of my life, and asked for a breakdown of what I plan to do about contraception.
When I asked why he needed to know, he replied: ‘Because I don’t like condoms.’ I told him it was unlikely he’d use one with me. I blocked him and moved on.
But none of that is as frustrating as the men who flagrantly ignore the situation. I started one relationship last autumn with a man who made my stomach flutter. We had dinner at a pub then did a video-call date the following week. We messaged almost every day, and sometimes he’d call me out of the blue just for a chat. I was, it’s fair to say, charmed.
Lottie says she knows plenty of child-free couples who are older than her, so is not worried she’ll be alone down to this ‘dealbreaker’ (file image)
Then he Googled me. He read a swathe of my past work and saw an article I’d penned for this paper on wanting my tubes tied. ‘Did you mean it?’ he asked after a few drinks. How patronising, I thought. I should have ended it, but it continued for six more weeks under the label of a casual and convenient ‘pandemic fling’, during which we enjoyed the connection we shared and the intimacy that came with it. However, almost every time we met, he’d bring up the subject. ‘Why can’t you have my babies?’ he whined one boozy night. I explained that beyond my personal preference it’s an environmental choice. I travel for work and pleasure, so my carbon footprint is extensive enough as it is. Adding a child would make it uncomfortably large. Eventually, trying to justify my choice got so frustrating I walked away.
Not long after that, I struck up a conversation with a handsome, broad-built guy from Buckinghamshire. We had chemistry from the off and met for an after-work stroll in a town halfway between us. We walked by the river and he brought hot chocolate, blankets and a hot water bottle to keep me warm as we snacked on pretzels.
It was Bonfire Night, so he brought fireworks. We giggled like children as he set them off, and we kissed under the full moon as a fog drifted along the Thames. It was wildly romantic, the sort of unbelievable, this-only-happens-in-movies experience.
Then came the bad news. ‘I wasn’t sure if I should bother talking to you because your profile says you don’t want kids, and I want a family.’ No, you shouldn’t have, I said. And yet he did, and there we were, enjoying the most wonderful first date, until he ruined it. We resolved to meet again. We were entering the second lockdown, so we formed a bubble and saw each other once or twice a week for outdoor adventures and cosy nights in.
It was deeply enjoyable. We kayaked on the Thames, stared at the stars from my garden, and walked around the countryside. For a while, I worried I would be smitten, but fortunately, our differing political opinions helped drive a wedge between us — that, and the expiry date put in place by his hankering for a family. We kept investigating other options on dating apps and said goodbye when one of us found something more long-term.
I anticipated my Bucks beau may be toast when I met a man online from Reading whose conversation starter was ‘I’m not into the kids thing either.’ I so wanted to like him, but our Zoom date was a little dry and when we met in person, I was pretty underwhelmed and I think he was, too.
Luckily, as I don’t want children, I’m in no rush. As we grit our teeth through a third lockdown, I read about women who fear they’ll never be mothers. But I won’t ever have that anxiety. I know plenty of child-free couples who are older than I am, so I’m not worried I’ll be alone down to this ‘dealbreaker’. I have so many years ahead of me, I am going to take my time to find someone whose future aligns with mine.