Cradle snatcher. Sugar daddy. Gold digger. There is no lack of terms to describe a romantic relationship between a young woman and a much older man. Unsurprisingly, nearly all of these terms are distastefully meant as insults. When Milind Soman began posting photographs of him and his girlfriend (who is a few decades younger than him) on Instagram, the comments section contained some snide and some openly hateful remarks about their age gap.
For a country where child marriage – and powerful older men abusing younger women – is considered normal, India is surprisingly hypocritical about a consensual romantic relationship between two adults with a large age gap. When two adults, no matter their ages, are in a loving, open and respectful relationship with each other, why is it so difficult for us to mind our own business and let them be?
I was in a relationship with a man who was nearly three decades older than me. I was, at the time, what you would call a ‘young adult’ – definitely legal, but eating Maggi for breakfast and living with my parents (I’m in my twenties now and pretty much the same). He was by far one of the most beautiful men I had ever seen in real life, though that wasn’t half the reason why I liked him. We met, felt an instant connection which transcended age and distance, corresponded for several months over the phone, and finally admitted how we felt about each other. He was kind, patient and incredibly respectful, and ours was one of the gentlest and loveliest relationships I have ever been in. Our friendship is still intact, years after our relationship ended, and even today, we don’t feel the age gap.
However, as happy as I was with my older man, there were several points of discomfort, none of which had to anything do with either of us – the two consenting adults involved with each other. The few close friends I had told about the relationship were glad that I was happy, but were understandably wary of the very ‘adult’ relationship their friend was in. They urged me to be careful, for too many older, wiser men have charmed and taken advantage of young naïve girls.
Other friends could not fathom what I could possibly see in a man as old as my father. And I could not understand what they could possibly see in their ‘young’ boyfriends – none of whom had even a modicum of emotional maturity or common sense. Most of my friends weren’t as subtle about their discomfort with my relationship. I was routinely treated to terms like ‘daddy issues’ and dating a ‘cradle snatcher’.
As for my parents, I couldn’t even dream of telling them. They weren’t okay with me being in any kind of romantic relationship, let alone one with someone closer to their age than mine.
However, in the midst of all this disapproval, there were a few friends who were genuinely excited and curious to know what it was like to be with someone so much older. For all of you out there who do have a lovely older man, you’ll know exactly how great it is.
It’s a widely known fact that women mature faster than men – and being with an older man feels like you’re finally with someone who is on the same emotional plane as you. Having already been through relationship drama when they were younger, older men tend to be more emotionally intelligent and secure. There’s no space for mind-games, that ‘when-will-he-text-me-back’ agony or petty jealousies. (They will pick up the phone and call – yes, call!) They know exactly when to offer advice and when to let you be. They are much better at communicating as they didn’t grow up in the era of Whatsapp and Snapchat – think more handwritten letters and less dog-filter selfies. Lastly, they are loving and considerate partners – both emotionally and physically – and they will set the bar very high for any younger men that follow.
I never felt infantilised, or that the dynamic between us was skewed because he was older. It was a relationship of two equals, where both of our emotions, concerns and opinions were important.
It’s time to destigmatise relationships which are ‘different’ from the norm. Whether two (or more!) individuals are of the same sex, come from different social backgrounds or have a large age gap should not matter – as long as the relationship is healthy and consensual. Too many ‘normal’ relationships and marriages are toxic and abusive, both emotionally and physically, and no one bats an eyelid at those. Root for love, root for respect, root for consent and, most of all, root for minding your own business.