I don’t want to deny any of those feelings. I’ve seen friends struggling to conceive firsthand, and it is hell. And I know from my own experience that watching your friend’s lifestyle change completely with the arrival of a baby can cause pangs.
But the idea that being child-free is inevitably a disaster for your social life, bringing only loss and loneliness, is damaging. At its most pernicious, it has the potential to scare women into thinking they need to start families in order to keep up or not be left behind—something not all women will want or be able to do. And, in my experience, it simply isn’t true.
Just as new parents find themselves making friends with fellow mums and dads, so being child-free becomes something to bond over as you age. There are people I’ve become closer to recently, who speak openly about changing dynamics in their own friendship groups, and how happy they are to find someone else not going down the parent path. I’ve also noticed that a lot of queer friends seem to see marriage-and-kids as less of an obvious default, and several are unabashedly, joyfully certain about not wanting to start a family, ever—and pleased to find people who feel similarly.
In 2020, I moved from London to Sheffield—something which obviously forced the issue of needing to make brand-new buddies. But guess what: all my friends in Sheffield are child-free, too—because parents of young kids don’t exactly have masses of spare time, I assume. Yet here, too, being child-free can be a point of connection. It’s a sensitive topic, of course, and I’m not going around demanding new mates declare their intentions around procreation. But there are often mutual, cheerful rushes of relief, when you realize you aren’t about to lose this fledgling friendship to sleepless nights and diapers.
And the luxurious thing about child-free relationships is that they can sprawl and stretch—over long afternoons uninterrupted by napping schedules, long walks not curbed by little feet, long nights dancing and chatting until dawn (yes, I still do this at 37). There’s space in our lives to continue to figure out who we are and what we want to do, and what we mostly want to do is work less and explore more. I joked to friends the other day that we’re in our “hobbies era,” but I am perpetually fascinated by all the wildly varied things my child-free friends make time for, from stone-carving to recording music, teaching kickboxing to photographing English folk traditions. I’m obviously not saying parents can’t connect deeply or have fascinating lives—but several have bemoaned to me how they have no time for much beyond work and childcare, at least in those intense early years.