Pallavi Barnwal (left) and Jasdeep Mago (right) break the tropes of dating younger men. Photos: Courtesy of Pallavi Barnwal and Jasdeep Mago
“The girl must always be younger in any marriage.”
For as long as intimacy coach Pallavi Barnwal can remember, she heard the phrase repeated everywhere she went—from relatives, friends, while on dates, and even in films. The idea that a woman in a cishet relationship could be older seemed blasphemous to those around her. The topic was not even up for discussion.
“The age gap between a younger woman and an older man can even be 20 years and no one cares. In fact, in some social circles, it’s even lauded,” said the 38-year-old.
However, as Barnwal would soon discover, there are no unique issues that a couple would face if the woman were older than the man – besides the stigma. If there is enough love, she realised, coupled with compassion, and a healthy understanding of each other’s boundaries, age was truly no bar, as long as everyone is a consenting adult. It was with this mindset that Barnwal entered into a relationship with a man ten years her junior, now her ex.
“Initially, we did have some teething issues because he realised that when he’d turn 38, my current age, I would be [close to 50],” she said. “He wondered if our sex lives would still be the same. I laughed and assured him that I’m as active as I was in my early 20s, and that’s not going to change with age.”
Barnwal said that the relationship added a burst of colour to her life. His excitement at the smallest things made her see the other side of life; the fuller side of things where happiness and childlike excitement coexisted in the form of spontaneous plans and last-minute adventures.
“The stereotypes all come crashing down when you truly want to make things work,” she explained. “However, we were not blind to the practicalities of the relationship. So, I realise that he might be in a slightly indecisive space when it comes to long-term commitments. But we had constant conversations about it without being defensive. Even though the relationship eventually didn’t work out due to logistical reasons, we give each other the space to breathe and process things at our own pace.”
Neuropsychologist Jasdeep Mago said that the idea that an older woman cannot be with a younger man has been so deeply embedded in the Indian collective conscience that going against it remains a challenge for many. In some cases, women might give up on a younger partner because of that mental block.
“Women must overcome this mental block of being with younger men because the usual doubts they might have are fading,” said Mago. “For instance, they might fear that the younger man might not be mature. But they must realise that maturity itself is being redefined now. Maybe the younger man cannot handle complex family politics but is adept at [managing] his career. Maybe you are an expert when it comes to navigating [relationships with] relatives while he complements you in other [areas]…?”
In the case of Radha, a 47-year-old woman who works as an investment banker and preferred to be known by only her first name for this story, her live-in relationship with a 29-year-old graphic designer can be described as a series of “pleasant surprises, endless laughter, and stories.” The couple has been living together for the past four years.
“I have the privilege of staying in my own house, so there was no side-eye or any unnecessary questions from the landlord,” she said. “I’d like to believe that’s the advantage of being a financially independent woman in your 40s or even late 30s — the armour to love whoever you want.”
Over the course of the past four years, Radha said, they have both helped each other grow. The way she sees it, ideally, a relationship must be the least stressful aspect of anyone’s life. It must be nourishing, nurturing, and a strong enabler of each other’s emotional growth.
“I don’t want to diss any other relationship type and claim that age-gap love is the best thing ever,” she said. “But my own parents had the worst marriage known to mankind despite there being a difference of just seven days between them. If you are with someone who is toxic and manipulative, age, faith, or caste doesn’t matter at all. That person will annihilate your mental health.”
Neuropsychologist Mago echoed a similar sentiment. She said that genuine happiness should triumph over everything else, without losing sight of the practical aspect of any relationship. The way she sees it, any unconventional relationship from interfaith to intercaste love will face resistance from society.
“Some people have good reason to believe that if they get into such unconventional relationships, they might end up compromising their dreams, but for others love forms a part of their dreams.”
This article is written in partnership with Closeup. VICE and Closeup celebrate love and champion closeness of all forms. For similar articles, check out www.LoveForAll.info
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