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Maintain friendships while dating

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Parents think the childless should be grateful that someone's producing the people to pay for their old age. And the arrival of children can make this more cruelly obvious if your friends are making families and you are not childless by choice."Some of us would love to have children but can't," says Georgia, 38.

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Parents think their childless friends are self-centred, thoughtless hedonists with no understanding of what it's like to be up all night with a sick child. In her new report on women's relationships, Shere Hite points out that women "prefer to stick with other women in the same relationship situation" and that therefore there is a 'hard line between women who are in the marriage system and women who are out of it' (ie, smug marrieds versus Bridget Joneses).Dr Janet Empson, principal lecturer in psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, makes the point that "having children encourages the parent to see things from another person's point of view; it brings a new maturity", but the childless often don't see it that way.I had one childless-by-choice, three-homes-owning colleague tell me that "parents are the most selfish people who expect society to support them". As one childless 30-something comments, "They can be oblivious to the feelings and needs of everyone outside their new little bundle." "We went away for a weekend with two sets of friends with children," says Andrew, 40, who is married and childless by choice, "people we used to meet in a local wine bar every weekend.Nowhere is the friction greater than in the workplace.The childless see parents forever swanning off early for parents' meetings and chickenpox crises, and they resent covering every Christmas as if their own free time doesn't matter."I went to a friend's house for dinner and spent an hour sitting by myself in front of the TV while they had family bath time.

It's a superiority thing."It can certainly look that way.

In order to cope with her three demanding boys, my friend Lisa unilaterally declared that visiting friends must now settle for a fish-finger tea with the kids at six o'clock - there would be no more grown-up dinner later on.

It's not personal, she has merely prioritised her family over her friends, but friends feel sidelined.

If you can say to friends, 'I won't have so much time to give to our friendship for a while,' people know where they stand." But it doesn't mean they like it.

Surveys show that many people these days consider friends as their new family.

"Sunday morning I was making breakfast, had some chill-out music playing.