Culture

Three Indian women attempt to navigate the highs and lows of being 40 and single

They tell ELLE about the challenges of dating when you’re “over the hill”

If you’re a single woman approaching 40, it’s likely you’ve had the aunty brigade, hot on your heels, pressing you for your marriage plans, and nosy neighbours scrutinising your private life. Not to mention, frequent admonishments from your weary mum who’s keeping a careful register of everyone who got married before you.

You shrug. It isn’t like you’re not putting yourself out there. You go on blind dates, you try meeting people online, you relent and let dogged friends and family set you up. But dating, as an older woman, is a virtual minefield, and the results can more often range from hilarious to plain disastrous. Like the guy who couldn’t stop talking about his mother, or the lovely woman who turned out to be a raging bigot. And while this provides fodder for many a girls’ night—maybe you’ll even write a book about it someday—there is that niggle. Is this what it’s going to be like, then? You can admit you’re more set in your ways, too—no longer as impulsive, as forthcoming or as forgiving. But then, doesn’t the pursuit of romance call for a little foolishness, a little bravado?

So, should you throw in your cards or keep playing your hand till you win? Never mind Mister/Miss Right, only Right-this-minute? Doesn’t love come to those who wait?

Three women answer these burning questions and tell us their stories of looking for love on the cusp of the big four-oh.

What women want

woman 1

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I haven’t dated men since my last serious relationship, over a decade ago. And three years back, I came out as bisexual. Growing up, I was awkward and shy, which often hampered my dating attempts with men. Now, I also have to deal with approaching women. After months of deliberation (and heckling from my friends), I dived into Tinder and matched with a few girls. I met someone, and we dated for about a year, but it didn’t work out, and now I’m ready for round two. My preference is currently set to ‘only women’, but more than finding women like me, I’m instead being hit up by straight girls wanting friends—some have even asked me for book recommendations—and weirdly enough, a multitude of men regularly pop up on the app too. Where are all the women who actually want women—emotionally, intellectually, sexually? Here I am, a bisexual single woman approaching 40 who’s fast discovering she’s less and less into men and, instead of going out to dinner, I’m playing librarian and binge-watching The L Word. Though I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much. Tinder has been good, despite a few hiccups. It’s helped me understand and differentiate between what I want and what I don’t. It leaves me hopeful for the future—my ideal woman could be a swipe away.

About a boy

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I’ve been single for eight years. And though I’ve found friends and even lovers, I haven’t found a partner. Identifying as queer (and Indian), I find straightforward gender roles and male privilege quite troublesome—the complimenting of masculinity, the polishing of egos. Heck, even the liberal, educated and progressive men I’ve met surprised me on this front, and not in a good way. It sometimes feels as if my queerness makes me an unusual fusion dish for them to sample once. Incidentally, my teenaged son is quite aware (and glad) that his mother is ‘not like other mothers’. I still remember when he asked me how Tinder works, and proceeded to spend the afternoon swiping left on an entire world of people not good enough, not queer enough, not interesting enough, for his mum. I’m glad that his bar for ‘normal’ is anything but. Though if a teenager can grasp it, I’m sure someone out there can too. 

Mum’s the word

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As a teenager, I knew I would marry sooner than later. It was understood. It happened to everyone. Then in one year, my younger sister got married, my father passed away and my youngest sister, too, tied the knot. Before I knew it, I turned 28, then 32, then 37, and I was nowhere close to marital bliss. Now, after many mind-numbing meetings courtesy matrimonial sites, I have realised that Indian men haven’t changed much over the years. They like their girlfriends to be hot, their wives to be docile, and their homes to be taken care of. Not only do they lack the courage to talk to girls, they don’t know how to either. With the surge in dating apps, I thought I might have a better chance there. But instead of possible partners, I discovered married men looking for fun on the side. Thankfully, not every case was whacked out. I met two nice guys and thought things were on the right track. Unfortunately, the former told me that his guru said our horoscopes didn’t match, while the latter said he liked me but that his mother would ultimately decide. The toughest part is finding the strength to put yourself out there repeatedly. But it’s important to try and stay positive. There was a time when I was ready to compromise for marriage, but I won’t anymore. With the ‘right marriage age’ behind me, I have nothing to lose and will continue my pursuit for happiness.

Gender identities you need to know: