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Should you mind the ‘age-gap’ in relationships?

On age-gap relationships, from those who have failed and succeeded at them

File photo of Aditya Roy Kapur and Ananya Panday at the Lakme Fashion Week x FDCI in Mumbai. The actors are rumoured to be dating.
File photo of Aditya Roy Kapur and Ananya Panday at the Lakme Fashion Week x FDCI in Mumbai. The actors are rumoured to be dating. (AFP)

The best compliment I have ever received is a friend telling me that I was the least judgmental person she’d ever met. For years, I carried the praise with a chip on my shoulder, right until recently, when it was knocked down at a dinner, when we were discussing the dating life of Ananya Panday.

For the uninitiated, the young actress made news recently for having snagged everyone’s favourite bachelor, Aditya Roy Kapur. While the girls at the dinner were mad that he’s now taken, I was mad that no one cared that they are fourteen years apart in age! Fourteen! Dating relatively older guys as a teen has left me with enough scar tissue that if you crank the age gap up to a double digit, I hear sirens blaring. But at that dinner table, no one shared my worry.

My friend’s compliment came knocking back: was I being too judgmental about this? And so, to revisit my opinions on relationships with a large age-gap, I sought experiences—good and bad—from those who had been through them.

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Undeniably, dating someone with a significant age difference comes with resistance—from within oneself or from society. Sometimes, this resistance only settles in after the fact. Priya Khokhar, 24-year-old copywriter based in Gurugram, recalls the age-gap not being an active concern when she was dating someone eight years older at eighteen. “I couldn’t comprehend the complications. I didn’t think that far ahead. Looking back now, I see a lot of red flags.”

Others, like O, 23, researcher-student, (who did not wish to be named) are unperturbed about the public perception because they’re clear on what they want. “I am attracted to older men and the taboo doesn’t bother me. I can go out confidently with a salt-pepper haired man,” she tells me, elaborating how she enjoys the relative maturity an older partner brings to the relationship.

Despite my untimely brush with them, relationships with significant age gaps don’t always mean poor relationship outcomes. Unless you’re Leonardo DiCaprio and chronically dump women when they turn twenty-five, age-gap couples in limited researchstudies, such as ‘Commitment in Age-Gap Heterosexual Romantic Relationships’ published in 2008 by Psychology of Women,have reported higher relationship satisfaction levels than those in a couple who are closer in age to each other.

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But while every successful relationship involves either partner assuming a particular role, in age-gap-relationships, the roles are set right off the bat. For Aishwarya Ramasamy, 25, who enjoyed being around older friends and colleagues, the seven-year age gap in her recent matrimonial set-up wasn’t a deterrent—until the relationship started impacting her sense of self. “They would complement me by saying “Oh, you’re really emotionally mature and smart for your age” and I would never know if they thought I’m actually smart or just smart enough.”

That her partner naturally assumed the role of the more enlightened one didn’t sit right. “I get that the older person is pressured into behaving in a way to make the younger person look up to them,” she says. “I have younger brothers too. But when you apply that dynamic between partners, it can change how you treat each other. While debating politics, for example, they would totally disregard my opinions, saying things like ‘with age, you will know more.’”

In line with this, A, 25-year-old writer-translator, (who wished to stay anonymous) tells me that in her experience of having dated someone fifteen years older, the final decisions would always be of the older partner’s. “They would often use their age as a reason to justify why they knew better. Eventually, I got into a loop of seeking their nod, which gave them more power.” Khokhar, too, recalls feeling infantilised. “Even the arguments that I did ‘win,’ it felt more like the way you would let a child win a race against you.”

I, too, would hesitate to get into the age-gap lane again. Feeling like a true equal to my partner is an inalienable marker for my personal satisfaction in love—one I believe would be hard to achieve if they were so many (biological) steps ahead of me.

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Khokhar, too would not do it again, though for a different reason. She notes how different two people’s definition of ‘fun’ can be at different ages. “When I experienced things that were new and exciting, he had already been there, done that,” she says. “He would humour me, but I could see that it wasn't as fun for him.”

Not everyone shares these views. Nikhil, 35, a filmmaker based in Mumbai, had a realisation after getting into a relationship with a large age-gap. Initially only used to dating people a year or two apart, he was understandably unnerved by the ten-year difference with his now-partner. “I initially resisted but quickly realised that having common interests and experiences can be secondary if we share the same goals in life.”

For him, openly accepting the problems that confronted their relationship helped smooth out any potential power play. “It’s easy to slip into a parent-child dynamic in any relationship, but with this one the cards were stacked against us. Even before getting into the relationship, I took the liberty to decide I will never tell her what to do.”

Al Pacino, 82, with his 29-year-old girlfriend Noor Alfallah.
Al Pacino, 82, with his 29-year-old girlfriend Noor Alfallah. (HT_PRINT)

And despite her experience A, isn’t jaded. “The age difference might not matter when we have similar values, mutual love and self-respect,” she says.

Shivam Vahia, 25-year-old from Mumbai working in digital media, dating someone seven years older, enjoys the duality. “It's great because the younger one is adding zeal, while the older is adding maturity,” he notes, adding that his age-gap relationship, since he is younger, “has helped a lot with personal growth.”

Before that one dinner-table-debate left me wanting to seek out other peoples’ views, I was strongly against age-gap relationships. After these various conversations though, I am slightly confused.

Still, I have arrived at this conclusion: relationship success has probably less to do with age and more to do with how responsibly we act with the differences we share with our partner, how transparently we communicate their impact on us and on the relationship, and the accountability we take to make sure the impact is positive.

That being said, no one’s going to convince me that the recent news of Al Pacino, 83, dating (and recently having a child with!) the 29-year-old Noor Alfallah, is not weird.

Delhi-based Nona Uppal writes on love and relationships. She is on Instagram @nonauppal

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