The stakes are always high in any relationship deemed strange or “impractical” by either the society at large or that one nagging relative who seems to be more enthusiastic about getting you hitched than you yourself.
The same holds true for those in a relationship with someone considerably older than them.
For starters, your love is often subjected to the gaze of strangers and faced with judgement. If you’re a younger guy, you can be labelled a playboy, fetishist, or victim. If you’re a younger woman dating an older man, you get stereotyped as a gold digger or someone with daddy issues.
But for Avaneesh Arya, a 33-year-old real estate manager living in Pune, India, none of that mattered when he fell in love with a senior at work who is six years older than him.
“We were compatible from the word ‘go,’” he said. “When I asked her out, it seemed like the most natural thing.”
Arya was only too happy to see that his parents had no objection to him marrying an older woman. This was certainly an exception in a country where men being the younger partner in a marriage is often considered taboo. “My happiness was all that mattered to them. My friends opposed it until the end, but I believed in our love and still do.”
That’s not to say that age gaps don’t pose challenges as most relationships do. What we seek out of life changes with time, be it money, stability, career milestones, or just what makes us happy. Heck, your partner might not even get the pop culture references you make.
But love is love, even if the most popular band when your sweetie was a teenager was Aerosmith. To be able to better navigate your own intergenerational romance, we asked experts and those in age-gap relationships themselves about how to bridge the gap.
Communicate what’s important to you
“He understands me on a molecular level,” Heena Shaikh, a 24-year-old entrepreneur based in New Delhi, said about her 38-year-old husband whom she met on a dating app. “And yet, we have to try our best to be on the same page when it comes to how we felt that day about the smallest of things.”
Shaikh believes that open communication about not just your day and goals in life but also your insecurities can go a long way in making it work. “The idea that a couple shouldn’t go to bed without completely resolving their point of conflict can be quite unfair. You can’t put a deadline to a resolution. But you can assure each other of persistent dialogue.”
Himanshu, a 32-year-old multidisciplinary artist based in Mumbai, echoed the sentiment. He was the older one in a relationship that lasted over a year with a man seven years younger. “There needs to be immense conversation on a daily basis,” he said. “But we didn’t choke each other with a barrage of confrontations either. There needs to be room to breathe, and also for poetry and drama – we’re not lab rats. With him, I realised only in retrospect that it should’ve taken place more often.”
Have a vision
Jasdeep Mago, a neuropsychologist based in Mumbai, said that before exclusively getting into an age-gap relationship, the conversation must be tailored towards the future without any delay.
“Perhaps someone who is much older is looking at settling down and wants a stable life, while the younger one in the equation would still want to experiment and check out all their options,” she said.
Mago believes that as we go through life, our career goals can change as well, and that both partners should work on being okay with what stage the other person is in. While one partner may want to bask in the success of a well-developed career or think about how to fold up that chapter of their life in the near future, the other might be focused on the hustle of building theirs. Instead of trying to force your partner to conform to the lifestyle that your particular stage requires, be supportive of where they are in theirs. Draw up your future plans together keeping in mind these differences.
Be aware of the skewed power dynamics, if any
Mandy Hale, a New York Times bestselling author, wrote in The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass that “red flags are moments of hesitation that determine our destination.”
Ashwini Singh, a 26-year-old banker, saw such red flags quite early on in her relationship with a man 15 years older.
“We matched on a dating app, but he told me only on our third date that he had joined the app [on] the very day his wife had initiated divorce proceedings against him,” Singh said.
Even though the first two dates flowed effortlessly, things took a dramatic turn after the confession on the third date. “It was evident that he was using me as a rebound.”
But Singh still kept meeting him, enamoured by his kind gestures. “I have never been in a nurturing relationship, so when he would bring me material gifts, I mistakenly interpreted that to mean he cared for me, and stuck on. However, on some level, I knew that I was just there to fill his divorce-shaped void.”
Eventually, Singh found it in her to call it what it was: a toxic relationship that was almost entirely transactional.
“My suggestion to many others like me who doubt the possibility that they will ever find care and love would be to never lose their integrity,” she said. “In an age-gap relationship, the power dynamic can be inherently skewed, but the onus is on the younger person to know their worth. You can’t settle with someone for whom you are just a way to pass time or a test run.”
Accept your differences
Minali Shah, who’s married to a man 16 years older, believes that both partners need to be open to accepting each other’s differences, and look at them as positives instead of weaknesses.
“I was 25 when I first met the man who’s now my husband,” she said. “Back then, I was raring to go with my career, which was just taking off, but he was ready to get married and settle down.”
Her then-boyfriend and now-husband, however, did not ask her to accelerate her timelines. “He let me concentrate on what meant the most to me back then, and that, in fact, gave me the courage and support I needed to take our relationship to the next level. Now, I am in my early 30s and ready to start a family with him. He reached this stage before me, but he patiently waited for me to want it as much. On the other hand, I, too, help him work towards what he thinks are important milestones for him at this point.
Ignore the brickbats
Heena Khan’s battles were along many fronts – she’s in an inter-religious marriage with a man 13 years her senior.
“We prepared ourselves for the possibility that convincing our parents might take years,” she said. “We knew that even if they did oppose our love, they’d not be spiteful. But with our relatives and friends, it was a whole different ball game. We decided quite early on that we would not fight it out with them or bother much about what the others had to say. Our lives are too short and uncertain to be worried about people who hold no real stake in our life.”
Mago, too, believes that acceptance can be freeing in such cases. “There will always be rejection by society to a certain degree. Some days it might get to you, but as long as you have robust discussions with each other, of comfort and intimacy, it doesn’t matter.”
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
Follow Arman Khan on Instagram.