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By "Today" contributor
updated 1/27/2005 11:22:48 AM ET 2005-01-27T16:22:48

Q: I am 40. My boyfriend and I have been living together for seven years. He won’t marry me because he says it’s not important. I am desperate to have a child. Should I go ahead and get pregnant?

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A: I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you that you are confusing two issues. One is whether you should have a child without a husband. The other is whether you should have a child to get this man to marry you.

The latter is called entrapment, and it’s an age-old idea — and mostly not a good one.

While you may want to be married, you may not want to be married to someone like this, who has one foot out the door. Marriage is hard enough between people who want to be married to each other. You would be starting out with many strikes against you.

As for wanting to have a child, this is perfectly natural. Many women feel they will never be fulfilled if they miss out on this important life event. And at 40, you feel your biological clock has nearly ticked out.

If you do get pregnant, there are several ways this scenario could play out:

  • The most unusual is that he finds new meaning and purpose in life, changes his mind, marries you and turns into a devoted husband and father. But don’t count on it.
  • Or you could wear him down, so that he caves in and marries you because he can no longer think of a reason not to. This is a lousy way to enter a marriage. He will feel cornered and resentful.
  • Or you might try to maintain the status quo — living together with no deeper commitment (plus, of course, a baby). Think about this, though: Some people say there is no reason to get married unless you have a baby. But it’s highly unusual for someone to say the opposite — there is no reason to get married now that we are having a baby. And don’t forget — a baby upsets the balance profoundly. If your boyfriend has a problem with commitment, having a baby will likely make it worse.

So he might bolt. This is a man who avoids commitment, and parenthood is, by default, a committed position. With a baby, the noose around his neck is even tighter.

Be prepared for him to leave you. You should think about the road as a single parent, because that might be what you are facing.

If you want to go ahead with a pregnancy, I would encourage you to do it. A loving mother and child can make a wonderful family on their own. But not with this guy.

That said, I wonder about your own ambivalence about having a child. If you want a child so desperately, it makes little sense that you wasted seven vital biological years on this guy. Most people would say, “I want marriage and a child but you don’t, so I am moving on.”

If you want to “settle” for this uneasy, tentative partnership and let the cards fall as they may, that is an option. But do you really believe this is the best you can do?

I suggest you re-evaluate signing this guy up as the father of your child. If you get pregnant by him — admittedly, that’s easy since you are sleeping with him anyway — that binds you to him forever. You’re trapped, too.

As your baby’s father, he will have legal rights. Do you want a future where your child spends every other weekend with him, or where you can never move more than an hour away?

If you decide instead to go to a sperm bank, that gives you more freedom to stay in the relationship or not, or to find another man — someone who does want to marry you. Not every man is afraid of commitment, and you can continue to look for one whose wishes for a future are more in keeping with your own.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line:Having a child to trap a man who does not want to marry you certainly does trap him. But it’s a risky idea if your goal is a successful family life.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,”  was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2004 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.

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