The rules for love and dating are constantly changing, with evolving pop culture, stigmas, lifestyle and general sensibilities. There was a time when dating itself was largely a hush hush affair in India. Chakkar, the word used to define dating by society aunties and uncles, painted you as a bad girl or boy, an ill-influence who isn’t supposed to be mingled with and who is doomed to bring shame on one’s family. And while our society may have opened up to the idea of dating to an extent, there is one stigma that still earns couples scowls and disapproving head-shakes; that of young men dating older women.
Why just you, padosis and relatives too on WhatsApp? Just look at how media covers celebrity relationships where the woman is the older partner. It has been over a year and yet a reminder about coverage of Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra marriage will make you cringe. Even in this day and age, it seemed like a big deal for a woman to marry a man who was ten years younger to her. We have many celebrity couples where men are older than women, and with a much more drastic age gap than Chopra-Jonas, but all such couples get is a wink and an eye-roll, and we let it pass. Men will be men. He is such a player. A man never gets old.
Let me be clear, I am not critical of relationships where men are much older than women. But I simply cannot understand what keeps society from accepting the vice versa.
Why must we frown on single, self-sufficient woman for dating a younger man? Why must we call her a cougar? Why must we make fun of a man who dates a woman older than him? Why is an age gap a barrier for one relationship, but not when the gender are reversed?
The problem perhaps is with this stigma in our society which associates age with maturity and stability especially for men and youth with beauty and fertility for women. In arrange marriages, parents prefer a match where the groom is older than the bride, because that not establishes a hierarchy in the relationship, but also ensures parents that the groom will “take care” of his wife. Since men are seen as providers by patriarchal societies like ours, not many would approve of an inexperience provider to run a household, would they. While we may have moved away from patriarchy in many aspects of our life, it still clings to our mindset when it comes to love and relationships.
We approve of a couple that ticks boxes in the checklist provided by patriarchy. Is the woman young? Is the man old and thus an efficient provider? Perhaps when this gaze changes, we will be more approving of relationships between older women and younger men.
Gender, religion, caste, age, these are all cultural barriers that we have out in the way of love, an organic impulse on which one has little control. However, social stigma and scrutiny often puts and end to such romances prematurely. Romances which have all the makings of being a healthy long lasting relationships. Only a brave few manage to take these relationships forward. But that doesn’t mean all the criticism coming their way doesn’t affect them.
If there is anything the current turmoil should teach us, then it is to be kinder and more accepting of one another. See beyond your conditioning and perhaps you will see what relationships for what they are, sans the tags of gender, race, religion and age; love and desire.
The views expressed are the author's own.