How soon should I tell someone I’m dating that I cannot have children?

In most situations the relationship does not progress when I tell of my infertility

PROBLEM: As a child I suffered a severe injury that has caused me to have a low sperm count. I received expert advice about two years ago which suggested that it was highly unlikely that I would ever father a child through natural conception. I was advised that it would not be impossible for me to become a father through methods like assisted reproduction and there are even choices such as sperm donation available.

I would like to have a family, but am accepting of the fact that this may be difficult and perhaps impossible to achieve. I was in a relationship for a decade from my late teens up until my late twenties; this relationship broke up for entirely different reasons. Anyway at that time having a family was not really an issue that either of us ever really talked about. I am now in my early thirties and have been on the dating scene over the past few years and have had a number of short term relationships. Once I have dated someone for four to five weeks and begin to believe that a longer term relationship is possible I will usually tell them about my fertility issues. In most situations the relationship does not progress to the next date or it ends very shortly afterwards.

My male friends think that I should just enjoy myself and allow feelings to develop in a relationship before I inform them that having children may be an issue. I feel that this would be disingenuous and could cause someone to unwittingly have to make difficult choices about their future. I do know that I may very well meet someone who will not be fazed by this problem and in fact I may meet someone who does not wish to have children. I am not desperate to have a relationship, but I do find this situation frustrating.

ADVICE: You seem to have a very good handle on this issue and perhaps this is because you have had a long time to come to terms with it. However, any potential partner you have will have only a few meetings with you before this information creates a major decision in the relationship. Such a decision happens before there is any substance to mitigate the future difficulty and perhaps most people decide at this stage that avoiding such possible difficulty is the best option.

There is a well-published figure that says that one of six couples in Ireland will experience fertility difficulties and so this is a very common problem that couples face and survive daily. Most couples do not prepare for this and perhaps it is the silence around infertility that is the real difficulty – do we think that speaking about the possibility will somehow jinx us?

If the conversation about the possibility of future infertility problems is to be had at all, it is likely that it will happen when a couple is considering committing to each other at a serious level. All this is a precursor to the possibility that you are introducing the topic in a fledgling relationship that has no real ability to take it on board.

However, there is also the very real possibility that if you wait until an appropriate time to tell your future partner of your fertility issues that you could be accused of dissembling or lying and there would be some justice to this accusation.

Good judgment

So where does this leave you? Good judgment is called for in each situation and you might consider that there is no one “right” time or way to do this but that each relationship situation calls for a judgment all of its own.

For example, to date you have decided that date four or five is the correct time to speak of your infertility. But might it be a better option for you to judge if the relationship has enough potential to warrant this challenge at this stage or judge if the person you are dating has the capacity to absorb this information in their potential future?

This judgment must be based on what you see in front of you in the moment and not on some previously decided pattern. Intelligence and capacity to reach over into the other person’s position will let you know if they can cope with this news. There is the added fact that in their 30s (I assume you are dating people roughly the same age as yourself) most women are considering having a family and so this is a big consideration for them at this stage. But you are not shying away from having a family but are offering the possibility of alternative methods of conceiving and fathering a child and this is to be lauded and should have the possibility of being appreciated.

When you are dating someone, you are looking for someone who can choose you over all else in their lives, and this takes some time to discover.

Trust your judgment and speak when you think it might be worth it for both of you.