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?
34 Responses
  1. shilpa Says:

    My husband is younger to be by 2 days, and we look like the same age. And we BOTH would like to look fit and be healthy when we are older. Regarding age difference, I look at couples where the girl is 22 and the guy 28 and sigh! The man takes so much care of his younger, innocent wife. With us, we both take care of each other, and are mentally uncomfortable taking on the role of provider-seeker. I am still confused about which is better, or not, and I guess it shows in my comment!

  2. Praveen Says:

    Remember I told you about this guy I know, who is 28, his wife 42 and they have an adopted boy who is 7?

    These days the age difference between couples is max 2 years if at all the gal is younger. Sometimes the wife is 2-3 years older and men are not complaning.

    Jab Miyaan Biwi raazi, to kya karega kaazi?

    Talk about this to the Paatis and they would say...err what is that word called....ahh yes Kalikaalam?

  3. Vishnu Says:

    My girl friend is 22 days older than me. When I 1st told my mom about my feelings for her, she was shocked for the fact that she never anticipated a love marriage in my case. She was even more awed when the age difference was brought to her knowledge. But then, she came over it very very quickly, as we really loved each other.

    I personally feel that, people get easy as generations pass by. Their outlook towards life varies by generations. I am pretty sure, if I had told the same to my Grandmother, she would scorn me for doing this, though she was okay with the love marriage thing (effect of movies / serials :D).

    Speaking about the age gap, many people (including my girl friend) say that I look much younger than her. But who cares, all that matters to me is her presence :).

  4. Devaki Says:

    Interesting question. The husband and I are of almost of the same age. I worry sometimes about him looking younger than me. Especially now that I am pregnant and he still has the same college boy looks. :(

    But I look at it this way... the average life span of a woman is more than that of a man. So if a husband and wife would like to spend their old age together, it would be ideal for the wife to be slightly older, nahi? :)

  5. Unknown Says:

    I am two years younger to my girlfriend. Now if it will end up in marriage, I do not know. But it's compatibility and not age that matters.

  6. Munimma Says:

    I am 10 years younger than my hubby, and he has never looked upon me as an 'innocent' to protect. And no, not arranged.

    Although his you-don't-know-anything-about-it attitude is more towards me, he does that to everyone ;-)

    Age is just a number. We have our differences, but so do all married couples. Makes life interesting.

  7. Reema Says:

    ahh! cant change these traditional beliefs. They still exist very much :(

  8. aargee Says:

    When my parents were groom searching for me, I specified, I need a guy atleast 5 years elder to me. I felt that way he would understand me well:) There were many other reasons too behind it. But I still feel, I did a very good thing and I am quite happy about my decision. Atleast even if I make mistakes, he forgives me easily... Even I hear my grandparents insisting on the age gap and they give the same reasons that you have mentioned.
    I don't know,in general, if age gap is good or bad, or necessary or whatever..but personally I am happy I took a good decision :)

  9. The other half is a year and 2 monhts younger to me. and that was one of the reasons my ILs at the time opposed the relationship.
    But now, the ILs are happily adjusted to the fact that we're as happy together as a husband and wife can be. ;-)
    I think it all depends on the maturity of the people involved. Some people can be old, without gaining the maturity of those years.
    And some can be old in years, but young at heart.
    Our MBA class has yielded 4 couples, all girls older than the boys.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    At the risk of TMI, let me say that my jaw dropped when I read your line about the out of shape 30yr old guy and the svelte 40 yr old girl - it felt like you were writing about me and my boyfriend. He's a White American, I'm a dark (no wheatish for me) Indian with so much in common that age has never been a problem for us. Of course it has been a problem for those around us, even strangers. I think that is mostly because of the skin color and not the age difference, since it is not that obvious, yet.

  11. sole Says:

    Interesting post Usha. I have been grappling over this thought lately and a perfect post from you asking for the same questions I've been thinking about. I think I am going to love reading the comments.

    I think it is a good idea to have at least 4-5 years difference. A girls mental and emotional maturity is much higher than a guys in my opinion, so if the man is older it would be better. The difference between me and my husband is 1.5 years (he is older), but people around me, my friends, sisters they all have diff of between 4-7 years and I find it works better that way. Who doesn't have arguements these days, everyone does, but I think with a larger age gap, there will be lesser - in my humble opinion, does anyone agree?

  12. starry eyed Says:

    I do agree to some extent that women are maturer emotionally at an earlier age. But there are millions of exceptions to every rule, so rules can cease to be valid!!!

    Hubby is almost 5 yrs older to me. And an arranged marriage. But many people call both of us 'young-looking'! It's in the mind and attitude, I think.

    One a side-note, when my in-laws were searching for a bahu for my devar, they found several who would be older than me, even 2 who had the same birthday as me, but were a COUPLE of HOURS older, and they were rejected for this reason. Just imagine!!!

  13. Yespi Says:

    This post so very well relates to the blog title: "Ageless bonding".Lovely post!

  14. R's Mom Says:

    Age gap doesnt really make a difference...My hubby is 3 years elder to me and we have had an arranged marriage...My parents have a gap of 8 years and you wont believe grandparents on my dad's side had a gap of 20 years!!! So basically proves to show that in our family we seem to be reducing the age gap generation after generation...Who knows my daughter may marry someone younger to her!! I dont really think it will make a difference...Though hubby and me keep fighting our maturity levels are the same :) and yaaa He and me look quite of the same age as well...Blame it on my pregnancy and subsequent motherhood ;)

  15. I first refused to marry my (now) husband because he is 6.5 years older than me. He said the same thing to his parents, he thought I'd be too young and immature :) But then my father called me up and said "I'm exactly 6.5 years older than your mother, do you think I look too old for her??" That brought things in perspective for me, my parents always seemed perfectly suited to each other. Well, I married him and after 9 years I can say I made the right choice :)My husband certainly doesn't treat me like I'm in need of protection!We are equals and that's that. I think that applies to all successful relationships, age notwithstanding.

  16. PNA Says:

    Ah! the age old question. I can say it hasn't changed, the groom's relatives still look for a young bride N the bride's for an older groom. But the difference as somebody else has commented has reduced t o 2-3 yrs.

    I was shocked beyond belief when a friend at 21 married her now husband who was 30.

    In case of reversing the age difference, our Indian cricketers are showing the way. Sachin n Agarkar...hope ppl learn something

  17. Anonymous Says:

    I am ten years younger to my wife and we have been married for 27 years now, and I wouldn't exchange her with any woman, younger or older. :)

  18. Kalpana Says:

    My husband is 1 year younger than me. Surprisingly my parents didnt have a problem with that. I keep asking my hubby once in a while about how he feels about this age thingy, and we end up having a good laugh over it. After living together for a considerable period of time, AGE simply doesn't matter, atleast to me. What matters is the love and respect you have for each other. I know it sounds cliched but thats the ultimate truth.

  19. Garima Says:

    I dont see the age difference so much now in my generations. Most of our freinds have had love marriages. They were in school together, in college, at work , in same batch etc. Bottom line, they were approximately the same age. Age difference is not so much considered by the bride and the groom, but i do know parents will consider it.
    I have heard aunts talk about a 3 year age difference before. Now a year is good enough.
    I think the age difference is not so much to do with the looks but more of the emotional maturity of the woman versus the man.
    Personally, as long as the compatibility exists between the two, age is a number!

  20. Sraboney Says:

    Age doesn't matter, compatibility matters...Men with much younger wives or girlfriends are considered studs and envied while women with younger partners are laughed upon...

  21. Anonymous Says:

    I think + or - five should not be an issue.And people are accepting the change.Also,someone told me that the reason that the girl is expected to be younger than the boy is that the girl attains her "emotional" maturity much earlier than that of the boy ..i.e a girl who is 25 will have the maturity of a 30 year old and if she is younger that balances the if this is true..then its up to the boy's ability to match up to the girl's maturity if he marries an elder person...i see only this as a catch!?

  22. Hip Grandma Says:

    I remember that at the time of my marriage a good number of propsals were rejected because the prospective grooms were less than 5years older than me.The explanation was that boys are less mature and the husband/wife equation would get balanced if the age difference was maintained. But having lived with my husband 8 years my senior I've learnt that men like to play 'the baby of the house' part when it suits them and become masters of the house at moment's notice :-))!! So I don't think that the age difference matters at all.What matters is whether the couple are willing to balance the equation and contribute as equals in the partnership.

  23. hillgrandmom Says:

    I don't think really matters because I, like @just like that, feel that maturity has nothing to do with age. So what difference would it make, who is older, as long as both people in the marriage/relationship are comfortable with each other's maturity level.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    My husband is 14 years older to me and we have a perfectly happy life but there are times when i wish i had a younger husband for the simple reason that i could have been 'allowed'to act my age because iam always expected to match his maturity gets tiring sometimes and i realise that its just not me , BTW we had a love marriage!

  25. WhatsInAName Says:

    I am 8 years younger to hubby and I know that I am happy.
    But yeah there are times, when I feel that he would have understood a particular situation better had he been younger.
    I guess its all about matching wavelength - long or short :D

  26. Mama - Mia Says:

    i guess all the reasons that you gave did hold true then. they might hold true even today, but the importance of those reasons has diminished.

    i mean when i married at 26, yes my opinions were pretty much firm and so was my way of life. but then again, at least in urban families today, you are not expected to toe the line just because you are the bahu.

    M and me have a difference of 3 years. he is older than me. and i really have not imagined whether it would have been different if he was younger!

    ofcos he IS younger looking. one of the reasons my mom had a problem with us getting married was that i will always look oler. but then i didnt care and she realized it was a bleddy flimsy reason! hehe!

    that said you do see couples where the woman is much older breaking more easily than where the man is older. but i dunno if its just the age that matters.

    i guess as long as the compatibility is there, life is good! :)


  27. maami Says:

    Age is just a number is that not what wise folks say?

  28. Anonymous Says:

    In Rajasthan and in interiors of Karnataka I have seen young boys married to older women often even ten years their senior.
    Long ago, I read in an article in 'India Today', about a terminally ill 10 year old in Rajasthan who required constant care. The kid was married off to a responsible woman in her early twenties. Marriages for such convenient reasons were common, and perhaps still are.

    So I think the idea of a younger bride was, like you rightly pointed out, to make sure she adjusts (moulds) well to the new family, bears many children, is able to work hard and is able to take care of her Lord in his old age. I am not even getting into how fair such expectations were, and if this was a good idea at all from the girl's point of view, but thankfully this is changing.
    Anshwarya Rai is also married to Abhishek Bachchan, two years her junior.

  29. Jane Turley Says:

    Here's a different twist...Women generally live longer than men. I think I read some time ago it was 73 for men and 78 for women although stats could have changed by now. (Those might be UK stats I can't remember now.) My mother was 9 years younger than my father I always recall her saying after he died "It seemed likely he would die before me but I never thought it would be this soon. It can be long old age on your own."

    I believe it's true about men maturing later but biologically it makes sense to have a younger husband. So maybe us girls should have toyboys?! My hubby is 2 years older but I'm willing to divorce and try out a younger model:)))

    (Just for science you understand Usha!)

  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

  31. I used to belong to the school of thought that the man has to be atleast five years older as most men I met of the same age were ridiculously immatured. In the recent past I have realised comptability and maturity has to do with the individual and not with age. My life presently is revolving around figuring out whether someone younger to me but suitable from all other perspective should be a life partner. My brother urged me to consider the age factor. I am unable to comprehend what I should consider. Any suggestions?

    p.s. yet another well articulated thought. Your DIL is going to be one luck person to have privilege of first hand shot at all the wisdom *sighing with jealousy*

  32. Akila Says:

    @euphoric madness:

    Sorry the son is taken, and she has only one...(phew)

    Evil Glee! Smirk!!!

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  34. Anonymous Says:

    Loved this post... just re read it.