My chat-up line? I want your children
When journalist Lisa Brinkworth’s biological clock started ticking loudly at 37, she decided it was time to rewrite the traditional dating rules…
Imet my husband eight years and three months ago. We’ve spent eight of those years married — the three months prior to our 2005 wedding was the sum total of our courtship. So brief was our engagement that my ring wasn’t ready until was pregnant with our first son.
There were 12 weeks between our head-on collision in a Moroccan restaurant and our wedding in a public park. On the night we’d homed in on each other, he called his cousin in Sweden to tell him he’d met his future wife, while I was optimistic that I’d met The One. He proposed on the third date and I accepted. By this time, we’d both decided that we were ready to settle down and start a family. When I said I’d rather do it sooner than later, he told me he was only too happy to oblige.
I feel compelled to admit that our coming together wasn’t solely down to Cupid’s intervention. I am a romantic at heart but simply didn’t have the time to get involved in another relationship which might or might not lead somewhere. With my 38th birthday approaching, the time had come to hit ‘fast forward’ on the track of my stuck love life.
The truth is I had reached a stage when I could no longer repress my longing for children. I had always wanted to be a mother, but was distracted by my career as an investigative journalist. Living out of suitcases or in safe houses was incompatible with having children and I had to prove myself twice as hard within a maledominated environment. However, having initially felt deserted by fellow career women who took consecutive periods of maternity leave, I began to see they’d got it right. My simmering dream of motherhood ignited into a burning desire. I was tired of being with men who would avert the ‘children’ subject at all costs. Given my age there was a very small window in which to explore my options. I didn’t exactly have a queue of keen fathers beating down my front door so I advertised my craving for children to all potential suitors, my future husband included.
In 2011, journalist Katherine Baldwin, then 40 and single, wrote about how she abandoned her ‘baby goggles’ — through which every man appeared as a potential father/husband — believing that men were repelled by the idea of being prospective sperm donors.
She, wrongly in my opinion, suspected that her baby goggles were sabotaging her chances of marriage. I must confess that if it weren’t for my own goggles, I would not now be a fulfilled mother of three sons. At the moment of meeting someone promising, I would measure up genetic material, intelligence and earning potential, then deduce within three dates his readiness to make a lifelong commitment. The night I met the father of my children — now seven, six and three — my baby goggles were so visible that I might as well have been staring at him through the lens of a telescope. The only difference between this and other promising encounters was that he didn’t drop his drink in alarm and scarper to the nearest exit. Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t out to grab the first man who’d agree to impregnate me. I wanted to raise children within a loving family unit, albeit one whose foundations wouldn’t be built until after the onset of parenthood. If I went at my usual ‘rules girl’ pace of pretending at first to be unavailable, then embarking on an endless cat-and-mouse game, I would miss the boat.
I set myself a deadline. If, by my 38th birthday, I hadn’t at least embarked on a relationship that promised to result in marriage and procreation, then I was off to Brazil to devote my life to street kids, with whom I’d forged a bond when filming for a BBC documentary. Having a fall-back plan prevented me from being desperate, but before buying my oneway ticket to Rio, I had to be sure I’d left no stone unturned in my quest for motherhood.
Youssef showed up just in time, three weeks before my birthday. It helped that there was instant chemistry. He did fit my physical ideal: tall, dark and handsome with the deepest, brownest eyes I’d ever seen. He had a quiet authority and a wicked sense of humour. No matter how entranced I was, I’d quickly have to deduce whether we were likely to last.
In the preceding weeks, I had recklessly broken the dating rules and accepted a host of dinner invitations at short notice. I had ditched all pretence of uninterest and by the time dessert arrived I had made it clear to my unsuspecting date that I saw myself married with children before my next birthday.
My critics, most of them my friends, felt that I was reducing the seriousness of marriage to a business arrangement, but I didn’t see it that way. I had fruitlessly invested two decades in men who made it clear that they had no interest in starting a family. That suited me then, but no longer. If it was acceptable for them to lay down their manifesto in such uncompromising terms, then could I not enforce the same inflexible ultimatum?
There was nothing cold or calculating about dating Youssef. On our second date we talked about having children together, but that only intensified the attraction for both of us. I was won over by his absolute conviction in the things most important to him: fundamentally
family and loyalty. He, too, had been hardworking throughout his adult life and achieved his ambition of setting up his own business as a finance consultant. He’d travelled and partied as much as I had. I knew that I risked not seeing him for dust when I initially told him I intended to be married with children within a year. Surprisingly, he told me that he’d been disappointed when women had told him outright that they did not want children.
What I couldn’t have known the night we met was that he was also wearing his baby goggles. Months before we met, he had made himself a promise to find someone to settle down with. Then aged 40, his life had become vacuous. He swears he dreamt of me but I imagine he was dreaming of someone who wouldn’t balk at the mention of children.
Within minutes of telling my best friend on the phone that I was getting married, she was outside my door, begging me not to give my life away to a stranger. As hurried wedding arrangements reached fever pitch, my parents demanded to meet my fiancé. My mother, when newly acquainted with her future sonin-law, flung her arms around him and said, ‘You’ll do!’ I think she was mightily relieved that I might give her grandchildren after all.
Baffled guests turned up at our wedding having received invitations just a fortnight earlier. The majority had not yet met the groom, or for that matter believed that one even existed. I overheard one long-standing friend say, ‘I give them six months, tops!’
We recently celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary and are proving our critics wrong. Friends’ marriages built on seven or eight years of ‘getting to know each other’ foundered with the arrival of children. Ours is flourishing, in spite of the fact we did everything in reverse. He didn’t move in with me until six months after our wedding — I was six months pregnant. It would be another 17 months, the day before the birth of our second son, that we moved into our first proper home together. If we rushed the natural course of love at the start, the joy now has come in getting to know each other slowly. We have achieved our dream of parenthood and with our children all now of school/nursery age, we are dating without the restrictions of feeding times and being too exhausted to leave home.
Every day we reveal something more of who we are — independent of our roles as mother and father. Without our children, I don’t believe we would have come this far.
Boys’ club Above: Lisa with, from left to right, Zak, six, Malik, three, and Rocco, seven