Parental Guidance: I have heard from some parents that their children love reading Womaning. As much as that makes my heart somersault with joy, I should warn parents that the posts of February 2022 deal with the subjects of love and sex and have strong language. So parents, please pre-scan these posts, and do your thing. ❤️
I remained single way past a respectable Punjabi girl’s societally approved shelf life.
I remember when my single-ness reached such a point of agony for all and sundry that I started actively avoiding so-called polite society. I would try to be out of town for weddings, festivals, big family shindigs - because there was simply no room containing my extended family that I could walk out of without some serious interrogation about the singular catastrophe that was my love life.
“You are such a beautiful girl. You just need to lose some weight, and there is no reason a man would not want to marry you.”
“Are you scaring them away with all your intellectual talk?”
“You need to lower your standards.”
“This is why I always told your mother not to let you go for that MBA.”
These are all versions of marital advice I have heard at some point or the other. And I was married by the age of 30. So, I could only imagine what it was like to be single in your late 30s, 40s, and beyond.
Until this month, that is.
For Part 3 of the Month of Love, I spoke to a number of women who are dating… “haww… at this age also?”
Interestingly, it isn’t all bad news.
Yes, this piece will have a lot of stories that highlight the kind one might expect – ageism, fetishization, and other gender biases faced by a woman dating over 40.
But here is what I did not see coming when I started interviewing these women – once society, so to say, “gives up” on you finding love, and once you attain the maturity to stop caring about societal expectations – things actually start looking up.
“You won’t believe what just happened.”
I want to start this piece with a friend who is dating at 50. Let us call her Kriti.
All week, I pestered Kriti to rack her brains for a story I could use: “Surely, you have met your fair share of pricks on these apps? Are you really telling me you have not dated a single guy so far who commented on your age?”
“I know plenty of such guys exist, but somehow I have never crossed paths with any yet. I guess I have just been lucky”, she maintained.
And then, last night, sharp at midnight, Kriti pinged me:
“You won’t believe what just happened.”
Having cast aside all hopes of getting a story from her for this issue, I thought this was a general chat about something else.
And then she typed:
“I have been chatting with a guy for a few weeks on an app. And earlier today, he texted me: ‘I really like you because you are so mature and elderly.’ He literally used that word: Elderly! Here is the kicker - I am 50, and he is 49!”
Kriti and I giggled for 10mins straight after this because it was clear that fate had sent this lovely man into my friend’s life just for ‘Womaning in India purposes’.
The world may be full of pricks, but at least there is still someone up there who wants me to keep writing funny stories about it.
“Maybe you can fund my app”
Sadhna was on the dating app, Bumble, when she met a man who she liked. They hit it off and the conversations were flowing smoothly.
“He was an entrepreneur and seemed quite interesting to talk to. When we were talking about our history of relationships, I was clear – as I always am with any man I date – that I have been married before and have no intention of doing it again.”
As their chats progressed, they decided to meet up.
“The date was going well until he started talking about my past. He said, ‘It is great that you are divorced. You must have plenty of money from the alimony. Maybe we can get into business together and you can fund my app!’ I could not believe what he just said to me. He was not even joking. I said ‘I think I need to pay for your drinks and leave’. I did that and, once I reached home, I sent him a polite text that I was not interested in chatting anymore.”
A few days later, the man came online on the app again.
“He must have seen me online as well. He immediately sent me a nasty message, calling me ‘a snooty bitch’.”
So much for investor relations.
“You Indians work on your own Indian Stretchable Time”
Sneha had been divorced for a few years when she started dating again.
“A unique category you meet at this age is high-society businessmen who are not really looking for a life partner, but arm candy for their high-society parties. They have spent their entire youth climbing the corporate ladder (no judgment). But now they realize that a wife is a necessity to get into some social circles. It is one of the worst reasons to get married and I learnt about it the hard way.”
Sneha matched with Ankit on a dating app. He was an NRI, visiting India for just a few weeks, and was eager to meet quickly.
“He had studied at Harvard. He was well-travelled, had a great job in the US. I went to the date, expecting a great conversation at least. Instead, I felt like I had walked into a job interview. He treated me like a child the whole time. He ordered food for me. I eat slowly so he impatiently told me to eat faster. At one point he literally got up to go to the loo and ordered, ‘Your food should be finished by the time I get back’. I was equal parts shocked and amused at getting such instructions on a date!”
There were more job requirements that Ankit wanted to test Sneha on.
“He actually asked me my GRE score. Then he posed questions like, ‘Do you read non-fiction books? What books have you read?’ It soon became clear to me that he had a certain life ‘as an American investment banker’ and he expected me to mould myself to fit perfectly into it.”
“The funny thing was that this ‘American investment banker’ actually hailed from a village near Lucknow, and also told me that I will ‘have to do ghoonghat (wear a veil)’ around his parents.”
Sneha got out of the job interview with Ankit&Co as fast as politely possible.
“When I got back, I texted him that this relationship would not work out for me. He sent me back a long angry rant about how I was irresponsible and had ‘wasted his time’. He wrote, ‘You Indians work on your own Indian Stretchable Time’. I found this hilarious, especially coming from the man who was looking for a wife to wear a ghoonghat in his village, and drink red wine at his California parties.”
When Harita moved to India from the US after her divorce, any hopes she had of finding another partner were dashed by the rules her family placed on her dating life.
“In India, people see divorced women over 40 as ‘used goods’. I was told that I better hope that there is a divorced man out there who will date me. Men at the same age and stage of life are never subjected to such restrictions. They can easily hope to find a young, single partner. I have nothing against men of my age. But I find it hypocritical that women’s dating pool is considered to be constantly shrinking as they age, while men are not subjected to the same limitations at all.”
When Harita started dating again, she got a lot of unsolicited advice from friends and family on how to ‘handle’ her history.
“I was told that I should underplay the fact that I have had partners in the past. Some would even say ‘You don't need to tell people you're divorced’. Of course, I didn’t listen to any of it and would lead with my truth. I often came across men who would not be as honest, of course.
I once matched with a guy and we began talking. Later, I found his pic with a woman online, who was clearly his wife. When I confronted him, he said, ‘She is my future ex-wife’. What a line! A pathetic attempt to disguise the fact that you are a lying cheating pig!”
“Boodhi ghodi laal lagaam”
I spoke to Geeta ji, who is dating well into her 60s.
“In India, if a woman loses her husband – by death or divorce – she might be encouraged to remarry, but only upto a certain age. If it happens to you post-50, you are expected to stop living a life and take up pooja-paathh (turn to religion) like a nice old lady. If, God forbid, you express a desire to date, your own kids will shame you into submission to the accepted route. They will say it is shameful for a woman your age to even consider such thoughts. As if a woman’s zest for life should end with her marriage.”
Geeta enjoys all parts of her life – but there is a reason why.
“I go to religious events and parties with equal enthusiasm. But I am able to do this only because I live in US. If I had been living in India, I would have been called ‘boodhhi ghodi laal lagaam’ (closest English translation on the internet: ‘mutton dressed up as lamb’) for wanting to live a full life, and for seeking romantic love at this age.”
“Men’s history is a conquest, women’s history is a shame”
Another natural component of dating later in life is that everyone comes with a romantic past. Sanyukta told me about how her history became a hurdle in her marriage.
“When I got married, I was in my late 30s. By then, I obviously had a past. I was honest and upfront about it to my future husband. He knew everything about every man I had been with before we met. One of my exes was now a close friend, and was invited to our wedding. My future-husband threw such a massive fit over this, that we actually ended up calling off the wedding. That should have been a big red flag and I should have heeded it.”
But they made up and set another date for the wedding (minus the ex).
“It continued to be an issue even after we got married. He was obsessed with my previous relationships. When we had sex, he would tell me, ‘You’re too loose’. It was a way of saying that ‘all my exes’ - I had had very few serious relationships, but in his mind, any number was a large number - had made me an unfit wife for him. We were married for one year. All through, he kept shaming me about my past. Ultimately, he turned abusive. I ended it then, but I should have seen it coming.”
“For men, having a history is a conquest that earns them bragging rights. For women, having a history is a matter of shame.”
The fetishization of divorced women
While some men cannot stomach the fact that their partner has a past, there are others who see single women over 40 as various versions of a sexual fantasy.
Anshika spoke to me about how divorced women are fetishized by married men.
“As soon as a woman gets divorced, she will often notice an increased interest from married men. They may be friends you have known for years, but they will suddenly start calling you more, texting late night, even showing up at your house. I think many married men have a fantasy of having no-strings-attached sex outside their marriage and they think that a divorced woman is a perfect gateway to that. I am sorry but I am not interested in becoming anyone’s hall pass!”
She has also noticed a difference in how men approach older women on dating apps.
“A man once matched with me on an app and immediately told me that he liked that I was older because ‘older women are more experienced in bed’. We did not even know each other’s full names yet, but he somehow felt like such a comment would be acceptable to me. At times, the very first message a guy sends is ‘Where do you live? Are you alone right now?’ They seem to think of divorced women as sex on a stick. It is disgusting.”
“Can you serve my food like my mom does?”
The other thing men are looking for – beyond a woman’s prowess in the bedroom – is her abilities in the dining room. Sheena has been dating for over a decade now. As an independent woman, she knows her likes and dislikes and believes in open and clear communication.
“One thing that puts men off a lot is if you are super independent as a woman. It is ok for a guy to be busy at work and to message you after 2 hours. But if a woman does the same, you are told that you are ‘not prioritizing the relationship’ enough. 99% feedback I have received from dates that did not work out has been ‘You are too straightforward, you need to be more amenable’. By which, they mean you need to be their vision of a domesticated woman who cooks for them and cleans after them.”
Sheena recollects one such date.
“I went on a date with this man who wanted to place the order for me. He decided what pasta I will eat, and what wine I should pair it with. I gently told him that I was not a fan of X variety of pasta and would prefer Y. And I did not feel like drinking wine on this particular day. He was visibly taken aback by me saying this. He made some remark like ‘Oh, you're very sure of yourself’. His words were a compliment, but his tone was a criticism.”
When the food arrived, he had further expectations from Sheena.
“He said, ‘Can you serve my food?’ I asked if he was feeling okay, and he said, ‘No its just that my mom serves my food and I like it that way’. Men looking for their romantic partner to be their mom is a uniquely Indian problem. Obviously, this date was not working for me. But the irony is that he rejected me before I could do it. Said I was ‘too strong’ for him. The first thing that I agreed with him about!”
The “Uncle Transition Point”
Amyra is in her 40s and prefers to exclusively date younger men.
“I find most men of my age and older to be at what I like to call the ‘Uncle Transition Point’. They have grown up with these antiquated expectations of gender roles, and think that equality is some new-fangled nonsense that they need not bother with. When they were in their 20s and their 30s, there was no interrogation of their male privilege or entitlement. So now they refuse to even entertain the notion that there is a scope for improvement in their outlook.”
“I know this is politically incorrect to say out loud, but this is why I prefer younger men. They are legitimately exposed to a lot more of these conversations. For the same reason, I would rather date a single man than a divorced man – the single men have been out there, meeting the women of today. The divorced men have only been in one relationship for a decade or more, so they expect every woman to be a subservient wife to them.”
The reverse strategy also checks out though
Interestingly, not all women agree with Amyra’s filters. Sanyukta says that, on the contrary, she actually prefers dating divorced men to single men in her age group.
“I think a marriage – even a failed one – is a learning experience for both parties. I find men who have co-habited with another woman to be far more sympathetic and mature in handling relationship dynamics. Single men over 40 are often too set in their ways and have little to no stamina left for the give-and-take that a relationship demands.”
Of course, there are divorced men, and there are divorced men.
“I think the advantage of our age is that people have fallen into extremes by now. So you will find people over 40 who are extremely sorted, mature, and balanced. And you will find people who are complete wrecks in all these aspects. This happens to both genders. And it is good in both cases because it makes the potential in a relationship obvious fairly quickly.
So, sometimes I will match with a divorced guy who has learnt from his failed relationship, grown from the trauma, and is a wonderful, balanced person today. At other times, I will meet a divorced man who spends half our date cribbing about his ex-wife and all her flaws and faults. I have no patience for such men and their emotional baggage, so I move on pretty quickly from these situations.”
Oh, how the tables have turned!
A unique pattern that I did not foresee but was revealed to me through a number of these conversations was how the tables of dating can get turned when you are dating after 40.
In our 20s, women are culturally conditioned to chase after marriage, and men are conditioned to run away from it.
Remember "You just need to lose some weight, and there is no reason a man would not want to marry you”?
Notice how “there is no reason a man would not want to marry you” is fed to young women as a ray of hope?
Most functional relationships in our 20s (including some of my own) ended because the woman wanted a wedding date, while the man wanted a bike trip to Ladakh with his buddies. “Commitment-phobic’ is a term almost exclusively used for men in their 20s and early 30s.
The irony - which any married people who are honest enough will admit - is that marriage works out far better for the man than the woman.
Fortunately, you don’t need to look for honest couples to verify that. Study after study has found that married men live happier and longer lives than unmarried men. But single women live happier and longer lives than married women.
If you look at the science, it seems obvious who benefits more from a marriage.
Except, no one tells this to young and single women and men. And so, you have an army of 20-something women chasing after an army of 20-something men with a varmala and a marriage certificate.
When actually, there is scientific evidence that the traffic should be flowing in the opposite direction.
Enter: Dating in your 40s and above.
By this age, many of these men and women have actually experienced a marriage. Even if it was a marriage that ultimately ended, both parties now have far more realistic expectations of what marriage does for them.
Here is where it gets fun.
“It does not matter how good it seems from the outside – most marriages are exploitative for women. To make a marriage work, women are expected to give up their parents, their childhood home, their lifestyle, their comfort, their freedom, their choices.
If there are kids involved, the mom is expected to turn her life upside down to take on most of the caregiving burden, while the dad gets to go on with his life – personally and professionally – as if nothing changed at all.
A mom sacrifices her body, her sleep, her sanity, her career, her friendships, her whole life – and still gets criticism and judgment from everyone around her. A dad is seen carrying a child for five minutes and everyone stands up to crown him Father of the Year.”
Divorced women (and men!) know these best-kept secrets of marriage.
“So when you date in your 40s, you will find a number of women who are just looking for a good time. And a significantly larger proportion of men looking to get married again.
Divorced women in their 40s – like me – have already seen the shit that marriage puts a woman through. We have no reason to go back into that shit again.
Divorced men, on the other hand, have seen the benefits that a marriage accrues to their life, so they are desperate to find their next wife. I begin all my dates clarifying that I am not looking for anything serious. And yet, most of the men I get along with ultimately propose marriage to me. It is really funny, how the tables have turned now!”
This was a sentiment almost all the women I interviewed echoed.
“I am 40 and I recently matched with a 55-year-old man who almost immediately demanded that I marry him. I told him to move on. I am not interested in becoming the emotional pillow for a man 15 years older than me, just because he is afraid that he is going to die alone.”
“Older women - especially the ones who are divorced - are not looking to ‘settle down’. At our age, men are the ones constantly chasing women to commit.
And the women are saying, ‘No, I've had too much. I'm enjoying my freedom too much. I've had a marriage, and it sucked all the joy out of my life. Why would I want to put myself into the same situation again, especially when I am finally beginning to enjoy my life again?’
Women who are financially independent really don’t need anything a husband has to offer. So the gender dynamic of relationships is completely changing.”
“In fact, I see quite a few younger women also realizing that they do not need to be married for their life to be complete. I am aware that we are still a small minority of relatively privileged women. But I think, with time, more and more younger women will start giving pushback to this notion of marriage being a necessity in a woman’s life. They will not end up marrying for the sake of it, or maybe at all. And even if they do, they will definitely not put up with as much nonsense as the women of our generation did. Women are now realizing that maybe a husband is not exactly a must-have accessory.”
Anshika summarized the dating strategy of most women who are over 40 best:
“No tolerance for bullshit. no patience for nonsense.”
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This is a fabulous write up! I am 40, divorced and a single mum and about 8 mo ago i joined Bumble...I was more looking at exclusivity and not a marriage... But 8 mo down the line I realized that online dating is surely not for me so I chose to quit... Feel definitely lighter after quitting.
Very engaging...couldn't stop reading until the end. Absolutely love the way you enrich your articles with stories - they're deeply insightful
Keep up the good work! :-)