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Can an older woman marry a younger man in Pakistan?

Published: August 31, 2014

While those considerations are not entirely unfounded, they seem rather fickle when compared with more substantial things like chemistry, understanding and a shared vision. PHOTO: FILE

“I got a very nice proposal,” said a friend who was at a stage in life where she wanted to settle down in marriage.

“But there is an issue. I am 31. And he is 26. I am five years older. I really like him but my mom says that in another five years mein uski maa lagoon gi (I will look like his mother). I will have to say no,” she said with resigned acceptance.

But fate had other plans.

The “boy” liked the “woman” very seriously it seemed. He pursued her. Her heart relented. They got married and are now in the seventh year of their marriage. Her hair has begun to show scattered touches of salt and pepper and her husband recently asked what she would like to do on her 40th birthday so that he can start saving up. Remember, he is still just in his early 30s.

But it was not an easy ride for her. It is not an easy ride for anyone who wants to break any social stigma. The age difference issue is definitely almost a stigma. Most of us have an unsaid but set idea about how much the ideal age difference should be. But an attitude of categorically judging the prospect of partnership with someone years apart seems problematic to even the very broad-minded ones.

I had once asked a friend if the man she liked was someone we both knew; someone who was eight years older to her.

“Disgusting! How can you even ask me that?” was her response, her face showing she was genuinely disturbed at the idea.

When we like or choose someone as a life partner, what inevitably comes up is the social conditioning that we are subconsciously exposed to all our lives. Even people who are thought of as pragmatic and are led by their head, not heart, are influenced by a fantasy they nurse inside themselves. Conversations on family dining tables, Bollywood movies, observations, attending wedding ceremonies, things friends say…  it could be anything that carves an image in our head. We have already created a rough sketch of that person with a brief bio data in our heads.

But in isolated cases, the brave ones think outside the box and sometimes make exceptions, like the couple I mentioned. Sometimes these risks work out, otherwise not. With marriage one never knows. But it is important to realise that there is so much to a person that makes him or her “the” person, that in some areas one has to readjust one’s fantasies.

I will on purpose avoid the word ‘compromise’ because that word has a negative ring to it. Maybe you are making an informed decision that this person works for you. Maybe you had a taller person in mind… or a person from the same profession as you… or from a certain ethnicity. But then someone special comes along and challenges everything you believed in and you are even willing to take chances you never thought you would because it… well… it just feels right. And this could be true for both arranged or love marriages.

“Marry someone four years older than you beta” is what an aunty was caught saying to a 17-year-old. “That is ideal age difference. He would have already completed his education and would have a job by the time you complete your undergrad. And bachi, you have a tendency to gain weight, so never marry someone your own age.”

While those considerations are not entirely unfounded, they seem rather fickle when compared with more substantial things like chemistry, understanding and a shared vision.

It is also important to think and talk about this issue because in most cases, the brunt of the age difference is born by the woman. She feels guilty for no reason and the man whom she may be equal to or may be better than on many counts, becomes this hero because he gave the ultimate sacrifice of marrying “apnay se baray umar ki aurat” (a woman older than himself). If she is also divorced and widowed with children, then he is lauded for being azeem (great).

What actually matters in the end is what both of you are bringing to the table when it comes to the combination. We see perfect matches failing and we see the most unexpected relationships working out fabulously. Humans are beautiful and complex creatures. No one formula works for anyone.

The end hope is that two people planning to spend the rest of their lives together have a predominantly happy life. That they are attracted to each other, enjoy each other’s company, have a strong connection, have similar values in life, are supportive and respectful, and have figured out a way to lovingly work out their differences.

It is shallow and fickle to ignore these bigger factors and focus on things like age, physical features or ethnicity. Society needs to take a back seat and stop with the endless commentaries, as these put an unnecessary pressure on a relationship. If miyaan biwi raazi, then others don’t matter.

Can you live with each other’s imperfections?

People don’t change. Period.

We can only alter and change ourselves….alter our expectations. Adjust. Make space, give space and fit ourselves in the space we are given.

Yeah yeah….we have heard that a thousand times already.

Yet, humans will be humans. And what makes us human is that even the brightest of us have these convenient strains of naivety and stupidity when it comes to wishful thinking. Specially when it comes to intimate relationships.

“He will ‘change’ when we get married”. “She will no longer be manipulative when I give her enough love and security”. “She will adjust in my surroundings, with my family”. “His temper will cool down once we have children, specially if it’s a daughter”. “We will develop a mind-boggling soul-matish understanding”. “Chemistry will come…”. “Fidelity will be his new mantra”. “He will develop a love for books”. “He will leave smoking”. “We will laugh on each other’s jokes”. “She will be more emotionally available”. “He will be more communicative”. “She will become this awesome juggler….she will be pretty and thin and bright and work and manage home and learn to cook like my mom and be fun and adjust with my friends…..her passive aggressive streaks will go away…She will develop class….I will be a family man…..”.

The fairytale dreams go beyond the Karan Johar movie wedding…..married or not.

I am not implying that we don’t evolve….we don’t improve. We even may change.

But it is a mistake to assume, with happy idealism, that anyone’s inherent nature or qualities or the inherent combination of two people and what they bring out in each other will change. We may learn to adjust and “handle” situations better. But basics are basics. If you can live with those basics, also bearing in mind your own basics and how they will interact with her/his basics, go ahead. Then it’s worth it. If not, what one will be left with is resentment as the mouldy residue that eventually takes the spark out of relationships.

Disappointment. Disillusionment. Sadness.

And that horrid “C” word: Compromise.

You see, with the word “compromise” comes a sense of something being coerced….forced.

But if it is an informed decision you make of working on a relationship, and take ownership of this choice, you are not angry at that person for not meeting up to unrealistic standards.

It is important, then, to not say “I am living with a compromise”. Instead, say to yourself “It is my choice to work on this because this is worth it”.

Do people really ever change? I doubt.

They may improve….adjust….modify….morph. Two people may just learn to synergize beautifully, despite inherent differences.

But making a choice to be with someone long-term should be realistic – based on “What if this person doesn’t change at all? Can I live with the irritating habits or whatever puts me off?’ If not, best to be honest to one’s self and your significant other. But if the overall package is worth it, one must go for it.

holding_hands_tracks-1

Even if imperfect, some people and relationships are worth hanging onto and fighting for.

Why should we settles for less than perfect? Simply because perfection is for God alone.

The careful choice, then, is to know whether you can and want to live with the imperfections of this person or not.

Know the deal-breakers, all you bright people. And if they are not there, then make it work.

It’s very worth it in the end to have someone who validates you and believes in you, especially if this person knows your short-comings, and still loves you.

Only fools let that go.

“Hey, how old are you?” Is Age Just A Number?

The younger we are, the older we want to appear. And it is vice versa as we grow older. At the age of 12, one loves being considered 13. At the age of 37, it is wonderful to be seen as 32. At this stage in life, with my daughter Mashallah almost my height, I have gotten over wanting to be seen as older, or younger than what I truly am.

If one is lucky, a time comes when one becomes totally comfortable with announcing one’s age to the world. But a friend on the condition of anonymity shared, “The journey from being called baby to baji to aunty to khala by shop keepers has not been easy.” What’s more, it is not just the women who suffer from this hang up. It is also uncles and chachas. But yes, women suffer from age discrimination, and consequently, the “age defying” complex much more than men.

The age factor or the complex to appear younger is something that we are conditioned into. For evolutionary reasons, it makes sense that nature programmed men into gravitating towards younger women. But the cosmetic industry, plastic surgeons and botox proponents, all promise one thing and one thing alone…you can defy age, or at least appear to look younger. Add to it the unrelenting efforts of the advertisement industry and voila! We have humanity scrambling to appear younger than they are. But the insecurity about looking older already existed in society…sellers of the “cheat about your age” just used it to their optimum advantage.

We are made to believe that the prime of a person begins at twenty and ends at forty. Stories about showbiz people simply refusing to age beyond twenty-five are legendary. Up until NADRA came into picture, people would conveniently hide five to 10 years off their date of birth. You must know a few couples who will leave their 20 year old eldest at home and let the eight-year-old youngest child tag along everywhere so that people assume that they are a young couple.

Many are actually known to report identity cards missing and remove several years off their age. Grey hair is considered a sin, and any man who sports salt ‘n pepper hair, has to hear a lot of comments from old friends who say “what happened to you man?” as they smugly run their fingers through their oh-so-obviously dyed hair.

Why do women lie about their age? Or are they coming of age and gaining courage to say it out loud? Shai Venkataraman, a health reporter at NDTV India and a mom of two, says, “I am open about my age. Although in my profession women are getting younger and younger, I refuse to be fazed! I really don’t know why women would want to hide it. I also don’t think age difference between spouses matters. I have friends married to younger men and they are very happy. It’s finally about how you connect mentally.”

But what about the age difference between a couple? Hamid Saleem, 31, a marketing manager and a bachelor, says, “If she is attractive, makes intelligent conversation, adds value to my life, I have no problems with her being older. However there’s a problem if women have a been-there-done-that attitude. A man needs playfulness in his life. Men at 40 wanna act like they are in the 20s. If he doesn’t get the playfulness at home, he looks for it outside his home.”

Sarah Ather, an HR consultant and mother of three, feels comfortable sharing her true age, but understands why women generally hesitate sharing their true age. “Living in a patriarchal society and being women, we are bound by cultural traditions and mentality. Announcing your age has become taboo. On top of it, advertisement commercials lead us to believe that age is the factor determining how we are to act.” Athar has hit the nail on the head here, as even the choice of colours we wear and our personal attitude towards life is expected to change once we hit the middle ages.

Mahgul Fatima, an artist and a mother of three seems to have analysed this hang up to some extent. “I guess people hide their age as they usually think they look a lot younger than they actually are. We can usually hide the wrinkles and aging signs with makeup, but the candles on our birthday cake remind us of every passing year, so now everyone has stopped putting candles on birthday cakes! Fibbing about our age by a few years helps us feel younger …it’s all in our head.” Why do women prefer men older to them? Mahgul feels the reason is that “older men are more emotionally settled, mature and financially stable.”

An edited version of this article was published in Dawn’s Sunday Images in March 2011

Loving Your Man To Death?

The day starts by observing his mood. The night falls by making sure that he has a smug and satisfied look on his face. His bout of sneezing is more important than her osteoporosis. The daily menu revolves around his and the children’s likes and dislikes.

He is the centre of her universe. She circumambulates around him. And to keep him happy and satisfied, she will not only do what it takes but she will grossly overdo it. She makes herself the last priority, in every way. And, strangely, in all of this, she gets a sense of being wanted, and perverse pleasure when she says, “he can’t do without me.”

This is every other woman’s story. And this seems almost universal, albeit a bit more in certain parts of the world like ours. We live in a society where a woman making herself a priority almost translates into selfishness. Women let their goals and ambitions take a back seat and lose their sense of self. By ambition or goal, I do not necessarily mean being ruthlessly career-oriented. The goal could simply be weight loss, raising a targeted amount of money for a charity, reading a new book, or, more simply, to be happy. But when compared to HIS goals and ambitions, a woman’s seem inconsequential and secondary.

Are the men to be blamed for that? Not always, I believe, for we, the women, allow for this to happen. Men are not always patriarchal, selfish and chauvinistic. They have to be taught and reminded of both their rights and duties in a relationship, just like women. Then why do women allow this to happen, when they also simultaneously crib about it?

Psychotherapist Anees Fatima Hakeem, analysing this phenomenon from a psychological viewpoint, calls it “co-dependence.

It’s a blind spot for many women, even confident and successful ones. It happens when one partner feeds off the needs of the other. It’s really just a huge manipulation or game with payoffs for both partners. The payoff could be negative or positive.”

Sometimes, the payoff is the joy of self-pity we get out of being walked all over and over doing it. Or it simply becomes a habit. It is similar to how we sometimes keep peeling the skin of our lips or the sides of our nails. It’s cruel. It’s painful. But it becomes a habit.

“An example of standing on her head to please him could be that she spends hours making dinner but at the last minute he tells her that he is eating out with friends. The wife feels resentful and goes into her victim mode. Becoming a victim is a payoff for her in order to manage her anger and resentment. This could become a pattern for her,” says Hakeem, explaining how being a victim and indulging in self-pity becomes a habit.

What, then, ends up happening as a result of this behaviour? “The woman doesn’t know what her feelings are any more. She loses her ‘self’. She doesn’t know where ‘he’ ends and ‘she’ begins. You can notice a change in her choice of words. Instead of saying, ‘I like biryani’, she’ll say ‘it’s great to eat biryani’. Instead of saying, ‘I feel angry’, she’ll say ‘you make me feel angry’ or ‘I have PMS and that is why I am angry’. Worse yet, she’ll even stop being angry because she is too busy cooking, and will take a sleeping pill to handle her insomnia,” says Hakeem, sharing her observations about how, in the victim mode, we stop taking responsibility for our actions.

Naghmana Khan, an economist, feels that religious misinformation and cultural bias force women to overdo and go out of their way to the point of losing their self-esteem in the process. Men are kept on a high pedestal, which conditions women to start believing that their purpose of life is to please him. “Suppose her husband is stressed out about work. Wrongfully conditioned to believe that she is the antagonist, she bends over backwards to please him,” says Khan, pointing out that any and everything that may go wrong with the man, from his health to his career, is supposed to be the wife’s fault. A typical scenario, then, is when the mother-in-law finds out that the son has high cholesterol, and instead of talking to the son about how he can have a healthier lifestyle, she will inquire why the daughter-in-law is not taking care of his diet.

Educationist Afshan Zahoor Jahania feels that realistically “The woman has to be the one to compromise and make a house a home. The man can create a balance by appreciating and helping the woman do this, but he cannot do the balancing act as fairly as a woman does.” In Jahania’s opinion, the solution lies here: “The conservative lot has to identify limits of ‘giving’ and ‘compromising’ , whereas the modern educated liberal woman has to jog her memories and appreciate what her mother did to make the house a home.”

Zoha Anees, finance professional, shares how she used to “go out of my way. Then he chose to step away all together, and I didn’t follow. Now, I have learnt to keep myself happy with or without him. I am the centre of my universe, as are the people I love.”

In essence, someone will treat you the way you allow them and train them to treat you. If you play victim, the person in front of you will play the persecutor. The answer, then lies in balance. Love him, but not to death. Do what you have to do to keep your man happy, but not at the cost of stifling your own soul, or else the hidden resentment will come out in the form of a woman becoming exploitative and manipulating. Love him, but also love yourself. Therein lies the key to a happy partnership.

Published in Dawn: 

http://dawn.com/2012/05/27/analysis-loving-your-man-to-death/

Before marriage, she was a fun-read novel. Now, she’s a text book!

Before......

.....And After!

This blog is inspired by a quotation of my eldest aunt, Khala Jaan (may Allah grant her a high rank in Paradise).

Khala Jaan was an epitome in wisdom. Experience and innate wisdom were etched on her face. And so, her famous “quotes” were passed on in generations as family heirlooms.

And one of these famous quotes was: “Beta, mard ke liye shaadi se pehle aurat aik rangeen khoobsurat novel hoti hai jise woh ghour se, shouq se, baar baar parhna chaahta hai. Magar shaadi ke baad biwi textbook bun jaati hai. Roz parhna parhta hai.” (For a man, before marriage, the woman is like a colourful novel which he wants to read intently, passionately, repeatedly. But after marriage, she becomes a must-read textbook. He HAS to read it everyday.”

Now, we can disagree with this quote. And exceptions may always be there. But let’s give it a thought.

Girls, remember “that time”? (let’s go all dreamy-eyed!).

That time when he remembered EVERYTHING you said? When he even remembered your chaachi’s birthday and knew what your mom cooked best. When at the end of every phone call, he would say “acha paanch minute aur na” (ok let’s talk for 5 minutes more). When he found everything you said or did soooooooo interesting. When, to get a glimpse of you, he would easily give up a meeting with his CEO. When the “unlimited texts” package was used to the fullest. When it was important to know what shampoo you used and how you liked your eggs and which books you read and what clothes you wore that day. When on every second sentence you got responses like “how lovely”, “you’re awesome”, “tum kitni achi ho“. When you both couldn’t stop talking. When everyday, you both came up with new terms of endearment for each other. When he felt you were made for him. When the sense of connection was so strong that you thought of him (which was pretty much most of the time) and voila! He’d be there! When you ACTUALLY felt you were on cloud nine. When, as my friend and deputy editor of the first magazine I worked for (name withheld on request) used to say,”even going to your maamu’s house is ecstasy”.

Phir kya hua?

What happened next?

The same drill. You both dive into the scary “C” – Commitment!

Whether your parents do it for you (via the tea trolley rishta routine, or now the coffee on Zamzama routine). Or whether you did it yourself. Samaaj se lar jhagar ke. Convincing the cruel world that you were both soul mates, and fighting to be together.

So now, jumla huqooq mehfooz…..you are his. Sense of ownership sets in. Whether in a commitment, engagement, nikaah or full-fledge shaadi. Dreams come true. Imagination is realized. It is what you both always wanted. Khushiyaan. Khushiyaan. And MORE khushiyaan.

And then what happens? Well, girls, “that time” is over (wipe that dreamy-eyed, goofy look off your face. We’re talking reality check now!!).

The phone calls from office are lesser, your chaachi’s birthday no longer matters, you are “so emotional and impractical, baby. Grow up!”. The compliments are lesser. The conversations are predictable. Yet, you somehow still don’t find him so boring. But he? Well, he already knows everything there is to know about you. You are no longer on cloud nine. You are on ground sub-zero!

Now, don’t get it all wrong (as we women sometimes in our sweeping EMO moods do). It’s not like he doesn’t love you any more. He may in fact, actually, in his weird twisted way, love you more than ever. He can’t do without you now.

But the only thing we need to understand is……..(drums rolling)…….this is the animal kingdom!!

Till you were the hunted and he was the hunter, even if he had to dangle from trees to impress you, he’d do it.

Remember “You Tarzan, Me Jane?”

Remember the phrase “Thrill of the chase?”

That is how he is programmed. Once you are his, you ARE a text book. Not the novel.

But what we need to remember is that the textbook is indispensable. What you gain from the textbook is what the perks and joys of life eventually rely on. The really wise men are those who make the textbook feel like a novel, every day.

Giving the “guys” their due, the problem is not just theirs. We, the women, are also more pleasant and fun in the incipient phase of the relationship. We complain less, we are more fun, we bring out the best in him, we look good and walk good and talk good.

The problem, inherently, is complacency. When we start taking the “ownership” tag as a licence to become boring and become bored.

Relationships are high-maintenance items. They always, I repeat, ALWAYS require the input of creativity, of emotion, of communication, of expression. A single gesture. A smile. A holding of hands. A small gift. A call or text saying “I miss you” or “you’re the most important person in my life”. Taking an avid interest in each other’s work. Making each other feel “wanted”, “needed” and “desired”. It’s not an easy challenge. But it is so worth it in the end.

So all you textbooks out there, worry not. You are the REAL thing. The thing he can’t do without.

And guys, step up your game!!! In the end, faaida (benefit) will be yours. 🙂