Avantika Mohan, the girl I’m married to, is just five months elder to me, and yet I can empathise to quite an extent with the French president Emmanuel Macron who’s married to Brigitte Macron, 24 years his senior. I can imagine the questions that he must have faced (although I can’t imagine the pointedness of them given the massive age difference), and still faces, about this relationship. We, as Indian men, have almost an inviolable thumb rule of getting our marriages ‘arranged’ to younger women when choosing a woman to marry. I would wager that only a percentage (tending to zero!) of parents or boys look for a girl more than five years elder (on over two years!) to the groom in question.
Even in love marriages, if the difference is less we try to gloss over it, steer past conversations of age, or even lie, and sooner or later it blows over. But if the difference is over five years, all hell breaks loose. They could be a power couple solving climate change, checking the integrity of EVMs or finding a cure for cancer but they will never live down their age difference. It becomes the couple’s defining characteristic. Some Fufa or Bua will always keep reminding people of it!
If it’s a love marriage, the girl is painted as a seductress, a degenerate, the entire relationship is painted in a dark shade of lust. If it’s an arranged marriage, it would be assumed something’s wrong with the boy. When you switch genders, everything changes.
If the boy is older by even a decade, we let it pass, give him the benefit of the doubt, and in some cases even secretly laud him.
Regrettably, a lot of girls aren’t given a chance to build a career for themselves, and as a consequence, the girls are made to get married sooner to older men who can take care of them financially since they have been robbed of doing that themselves. Perverse and unfortunate as it might be, at least it’s a logic that applies. But the situation of marrying younger women doesn’t change even in the sections of the society where girls are more empowered. We are told it’s because girls mature faster and boys don’t. I remember hearing it from my parents, my relatives, and almost every other adult who has talked to me about the marriageable ages. It seemed alright to me, it made sense. Back in school, more boys than girls were rowdy, they were the troublemakers. Most girls were quiet and minded their own business.
But now I know it’s horseshit.
Girls don’t mature faster, and boys don’t remain brash and reckless for longer. Well, they might think they do, but it’s not because they are hardwired that way. It has everything to do with how we differently treat boys and girls. Boys are pampered, they rowdiness renamed naughtiness, even seen as a sign of intelligence, while girls are taught to be quieter, act dignified, and be lady-like for whatever that means. Little boys get away with everything. They aren’t corrected as harshly as girls. We let our boys be stupid, tread over thin lines for a longer time. A luxury we don’t afford our girls. We let our boys wreak havoc while we teach our girls to navigate around that havoc, meander and mould themselves according to the boys around them. We let our boys be unruly, loud, raucous, and we make our girls play nice, be coy, to laugh gently. From a really young age, the girls are prepped to be the upholder of the honor, the etiquette and whatnot of the parent family, their growing up years like a really long but effective finishing school. While boys learn to be just themselves, annoying, and yet the apple of everyone’s eyes.
No wonder they grow up differently.
That’s probably not the only reason why boys and their parents look for younger girls. It could also be the insecurity that could come with marrying someone elder and by effect and probability more successful than the men. Also, there’s no running away from the fact that the girls aren’t allowed to age. A man ageing well is celebrated, and when he gets married to someone younger, we don’t bat an eyelid. Women, on the other hand, are almost frowned upon, almost judged to have held on to a certain sense of vanity.
In other news, Melania Trump is 24 years younger than her husband, and we don’t wince at all. We don’t think of Trump as a seducer, or a degenerate (debatable!), or even morally incorrect (debatable again!). Maybe I picked the wrong example, but you get my point. Had Trump would have been a woman with a man 24 years younger wrapped around her arm, we would have been much harsher.