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The Demographic Shift - 35

According to research women lure men into parenthood like some honey trap. I only mention this as I've been dating again and really it was all going smoothly until junior popped his head up, writes Gordon MacMillan.

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Is there a rule? Because really, you know, there should be. It should be a rule that says quite clearly anywhere between one and eight weeks into a new relationship is too soon (like way too soon) to be talking about children.

Research from LSE says that men see raising children as the price they have to pay for a good relationship with a woman they like. The funny thing is (and it's really not that funny) that it's women who are considerably keener to have children but the study discovered that 12% of women were regretful parents, which is double the number of men.

Somehow having an in-depth discussion after six weeks doesn't really work for me. I don't mind it being mentioned. I'm not allergic to the odd baby comment ("oh isn't he cute, really cute?" "errr, I guess") that's quite fine, I'm just not willing to take it further at least until the end of the first trimester. Did I say trimester? I meant quarter... or something like it. I don't even know what a trimester is. Doesn't have something to do with rugby? I'm pretty sure it does. It sounds kind of familiar like that. I could imagine a commentator saying something like "Job done, that's a trimester for Jason Robinson". That from me, who is not usually big on sporting metaphors.

Anyway, so I have been dating and was out with said girl and we are riding in a black cab on our way home after dinner one Saturday night not that long ago.

Here's another rule they should have. Everybody should observe this to ensure general harmony on the domestic front. Never start serious conversations in the back of taxis -- it's a recipe for major league disaster. See what I did? I used another sporting metaphor. I'm on a roll.

I digress -- taxi conversations. What happens when you're in a taxi is that it's like having a three-way conversation. There's the two of you and then there is the taxi driver. The whole time you're having this conversation you have one eye on the cab driver and you're wondering (at least I do) what he makes of all of this. This is why, apart from being too old for such antics, there's no kissing in the back of taxis, I mean ever (unless you drank the alcohol lake again). Really the back of a black cab is like an exclusive mini theatre with an audience of one. You can't quite be yourself so what happens is you avoid answering questions properly. Instead you skirt, duck and conversationally dive, which only pisses the other person off who, for some reason is unaware of the rule that you can not really have proper conversations in the back of cabs. So by the time you get home everything kind of explodes and ends badly.

I continue to digress. So we're there, in the taxi, me fully aware of the taxi rule but being able to do nothing about it. I kind of want to say "we're in a taxi, we have to observe the rules" but don't, which is probably a mistake.

"So," says "said girl", and it was one of those big rolling "SOs" that tell you something serious is possibly coming your way, "what do you think of kids?"

My first thought when she said this was panic. I don't know why -- it was just a feeling that I found really hard to suppress. Somehow it seemed a really weird thing to say. Don't ask me why. I'm saving it all for therapy. Apparently it's all the rage again.

I of course proceeded to answer her question in the best way that I know, not exactly evasively, but cautiously.

"How do you mean?"

"I mean have you thought about kids?"

"Thought about them?" I scratched my head. "What do you mean exactly when you say thought about them?"

At this point she shot me one of those looks, you know those dagger like looks, that are all pointy and, well, dagger like.

"What?"

"Nothing," she said.

"No, seriously what?"

"Seriously nothing."

"OK."

"OK fine," she said and crossed her arms and legs.

We didn't have far to go but we still hadn't spoken another word to each other until we were back at her place and walking through the door.

"You're avoiding the subject. It's a really simple question."

"Ask me again then."

"Have you thought about having kids?"

"No," I said, and then I shrugged.

She shot me another look. I mean I knew she would, which is why I kept quiet in the cab as women don't believe you if you say you have never thought about having kids, which is why it is best not to get into this conversation in the back of a cab. Because it is one of those conversations that only goes one way.

I swear it's true. I haven't thought about having kids and men don't talk about it. We don't sit around thinking of babies' names and wondering what it would be like. I'm not saying this is all women do, but I know it is certainly high up on the list of some...

"No?"

I shook my head. "No."

"But you must have?"

"I promise you, I haven't spent time thinking about it."

It's not like I'm alone on the subject. Research from the LSE says that in Britain 12% of women and 21% of men at age 42 are uncertain or have mixed feelings on the subject. At 30, 33% of women and almost 50% men were undecided. That's a big FIVE O.

"Not even a bit?" she asked.

"Not even a bit."

"Don't you think that's a little odd?"

"Odd? Er... no and at least no odder than you asking me what I think about having kids."

"You think I'm odd?"

"I never said that, I…"

"You just did."

"No, I said it's odd having a big conversation with someone about children when you've only been out seven or eight times. I mean you're only 31 and everyone knows the clock doesn't start ticking until you're 36 and..."

And then I paused and I realised that not only had I quoted from 'When Harry met Sally', but also what I had said was really one of those sentences you should keep to yourself. I've never been any good at that.

When she didn't say anything, I couldn't help myself adding: "But you know that just could be me, I'm funny like that."

Absolutely no reaction other than the stony-face kind and when she was still looking at me after another very long 10 seconds or so I had already come to a conclusion.

"Maybe I should sort of go?"

"Yeah, I think I'll sort of call you a cab."

I was telling this to Susan who is always so harsh on matters of the heart. I don't know where she gets it from.

"You always do that."

"Do what?"

"Provoke fights so you can get yourself out easily. All men do that, it has nothing to do with children."

"That's so untrue. I just really have not thought about it and it was weird."

"You know that's a lie. Why don't you call her up apologise. Tell her that you'd really like to see her again."

"No, it's too late. I'm always totally in favour of no going back."

"That doesn't explain your previous stalking behaviour."

"And you're so funny."

"Well tell the truth, what's the real reason you won't call her again?"

"We were just incompatible."

Susan laughed at this, which I knew immediately meant that I had said far too much.

"What?!"

"Incompatible?"

"Incompatible is a good word."

"It's weak is what it is. With you, incompatible is code for some perceived bodily defect or other. Talk about living in glass houses, you really should stop throwing stones Gord. I personally don't have a problem with noses but some people..."

Susan can be so harsh sometimes.

The Demographic Shift is a regular column on Brand Republic as Gordon MacMillan charts his own demographic timebomb.

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