Last night while surfing channels I heard a lady drop a pearl of wisdom in some program on a Hindi Channel. She was telling her daughter that since women tend to age faster, they should always marry someone older than them. When the girl tried to protest she authoritatively dismissed her saying “Now you won’t realize it. Twenty years down the line you will regret this.”
Memory flashed back to a time 40 years ago when we would receive letters from families of prospective brides for my uncle. Post-lunch we would open the envelopes, pass the photos around while one of us would read the letters aloud. Then the analysis would begin.
‘Girl’s features are lovely even though she is only wheat-ish” mother would begin
“Girl seems tall enough for the boy. 5.6 is a good height for a girl even though the boy is 6.1” an aunt would add.
‘Educated but not more than the boy which is good’ another relative would add
“All that is fine but she is just one year younger than the boy. That is a problem” grandma’s voice dripped disappointment.
“Why is it a problem Paati. She is still younger no even if it is just one year?” I asked.
“Girls tend to mature faster than boys. In a few years she will look older than him even though they are about the same age.” grandma explained.

It was a time when people did not attempt to defy age. They let nature take its course. They gained weight and wrinkles without worrying about them. By their mid thirties men were bald and paunchy and women gained a matronly frame and wore a silver crown. So they did not want a woman looking even older than her husband and ensured this through adequate age differences between the spouses.

There were also other reasons. Traditionally among Indian marriages, the wife was expected to look upon her husband as her ‘lord and master’ and our ancestors must have felt that this would be easier if the girl was younger than her husband. Men possessed more authority and wielded more power – all this was more easily achieved if the woman was younger and more quiescent. They tried to make sure that the woman was less qualified, younger, more docile. My father had a friend who had 3 sons and he and his wife were keen on finding brides who were not more than eighteen years of age. Their reasoning was that it would be easier to mould the girl to fit into their family structure if the girl was young. Those were times of joint families and the brides had to live under the same roof with their in-laws of various generations.
An aunt who is a gynecologist finds medical sense in this arrangement based on the psychological and physiological structure of the male and female of the species. According to her, emotionally women are capable of motherhood even by their late teens while men are not ready to accept fatherhood until their mid twenties. They also need this time to become financially self sufficient. A healthy age difference also ensures that their sexual drives reduce around the same time thereby avoiding the possibility of infidelity and associated mess. Apparently women lose their sex drive by the fifties and men around their sixties.

One of my aunts is 10 years her husband’s junior. At 80, he still considers her young. The 70 year old aunt complains “when do I get to be old?’ while she rubs oil on his feet for his arthritis. :) I wonder if she would have been happier to have been the older one and have a younger husband attending to her needs in her old age.

In today’s time the structure of family, the power balance between the man and his wife have changed considerably. They live together more in mutual respect than as a protector and protégé. Women take good care of themselves and there are enough aids to mask their age and look younger than they really are. In any case many women do not opt for early motherhood and usually have children only in their early thirties. They need to look at their career demands first and then fit in motherhood at a convenient time. Many opt not to have kids too. Marital relationships are more open and less inhibited in every way.

In this changed scenario, does age difference between a man and his wife still have any validity? Except for the wisdom from experience, a man or woman of 25 is as mature as a person of 40. I know a couple where the man is balding and out of shape at 30 but the woman is svelte and fit at 40 but people still have problems accepting their union and keep waiting for the day when the man would cheat on her and the marriage would fall apart. Terms such a Cougar and toy-boy are used cattily with reference to the relationship. But in my opinion they are a very happy couple who seem quite made for eachother. if at all anyone has a chance of finding another mate in this case, it is the woman and not the man. So all their predictions are simply born out of an inability to accept a reversal of an age-old tradition (pun intended)

So what are your thoughts? Is the difference required? Is it already changing? Are younger men marrying older women? Is age difference a consideration at all in today’s spousal equations?