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.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets on @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Kareem Khan,

    Not worth commenting Recommend

  • Rebel

    There is nothing wrong with an older lady marrying a young bloke…. or at least I don’t see any problem.
    When Khadeeja married Mohammed (SA), she was almost twice of his age.
    Recommend

  • Sohni Ali

    Have been happily married for the last 20+ years to a only child who is 5 yrs my junior. Many of my female family members are married to younger men. Don’t see a issue here. It is a cultural thing I would presume.Recommend

  • ostracise

    i totally agree good one farahnaz…Recommend

  • BlackJack

    A rather strange piece. In the case of arranged marriages in India, typically there is a ‘missed the bus’ kind of age for both men and women, where they are seen to have lost eligibility to participate within the larger pool of available mates in their 20s that are acceptable to your family, and now need to ‘settle’ – could be in terms of the age of your potential partner, appearance, education, economic status etc (harsh but true). Men who marry older women or even those of the same age usually do so for love and then don’t care about the age factor or anything much else; women too marry older or younger men for love, and again, I don’t think that the advice of some mausi/ mami/ bua/ tai would really be of any relevance. Maybe it is cultural with you guys, since there is some historical precedent.Recommend

  • Zubair

    Our beloved Prophet Muhammad showed us the way by marrying ladies older and widowed. End of story :)Recommend

  • Imran Rajjad

    well the mom got it spot on..life is not a hollywood love story and apparently she figured out that the guy is some loser who has no idea how to chose a life partner. Some career oriented (and thrilled by the idea of being independent) women when in their best age miss out on the nice guys and thus when the decline starts they have to settle for the left over. Ironic but true.Recommend

  • izuber

    A great topic and an inspiring article, each time I read on this topic it takes me to our beloved Prophet PBUH & his first Bi Bi Khadijah and their exemplary & successful life together in matrimonial with a large age difference, SubhanAllahRecommend

  • Moiz Omar

    If both are adults (at least 18 or 19 years) of age and are not closely related, then they should be able to marry.Recommend

  • Tarbooz

    It is even more tragic and sad when very educated and supposedly world-weary parents toe the same line.Recommend

  • Leila Rage

    The question should really be “Why is it okay for old men to marry girls young enough to be their granddaughters?”Recommend

  • Waheed Islam

    Always please refer to our prophet (pbuh) when in doubt with questions about life. We are Muslims, are we not? The message is simply that man can marry many woman in many situations. Age does not matter. If he so desires to marry he can. No problem. I am proud to be a Muslim man who has freedom from narrow biases.Recommend

  • Cosmo

    “Na umra ki seema ho, na zanm ka ho bandhan.
    Jab, pyaar kare koi, tou deke kewal mann.”
    Not my words but quite well said. Off course, baring the underage marriages!
    I dont understand whats the big deal with age??Recommend

  • Ros

    Pakistan’s society is very narrow minded, close minded. We follow only those rules that are in favour of ourselves and reject all those that are not in favour of us.

    Also, we want to follow Islam strictly in every way but when it comes to marrying older woman, we instantly change our perceptions, ideas to satisfy and fulfil our own favours. Western world is following this norm with complete normality. Islam has taught us to marry 15 years older woman many years back but we are still not ready to accept it in fact we have huge reasoning against this idea.. ALAS we are Big Hypocrites.Recommend

  • http://facebook.com/DiscoMaulvi Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

    Funny thing is we scream out ‘follow the Prophet (SAW)’ in a lot of things but forget that he married a woman many years his senior and it was a marriage unlike any other. In fact years after the death of Khadija (RA), the subsequent wives of the Prophet (SAW) used to get jealous of her because of the love in his heart for her.

    Time to dispel these notions of age! Find the best match based on character not on age.Recommend

  • Leela

    What is the big deal? The prophet’s first wife was a woman much older than him. His last wife was way younger than him. So all differences of age are ok! Your aunty probably needs to brush up her religiuos learning.Recommend

  • Baba Sahib

    Missy, a 5 year difference is not that significant. I am not sure if the two species age differently but, under the current social style women tend to hold on to their faculties better than men. How often have you seen an elderly couple on the road with the woman driving. How about a 40 year old man marrying a 6 year old baby. Now that insanity!Recommend

  • Prashant

    ““Marry someone four years older than you beta” is what an aunty was quote saying to a 17-year-old. ”

    Just because the Aunty fell in love with a man four years older than her, does that mean every women need to fall in love with men who are four years older?

    Would someone please ask this Aunty to watch the movie Lolita?Recommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    Call me old fashioned / conservative / traditional … I prefer a 3 year diff between the boy and the girl .. Err I mean … The girl younger by 3 years to the boy . The speed of maturity of a boy’s brain is slower than that of a girl .Recommend

  • SHS

    Most women in PK who marry do want to have a family and recognize the limitations that biology confers. And that is usually one of the (main) considerations driving the decision when (and who) to marry. Omitting the obvious in the discussion just doesn’t capture one of the core issues when it comes to marriage in a Pakistani cultural context.Recommend

  • raza

    my view is if they can enjoy their marraige when either one is stepping into old age, they should do it. another option is second marriage.Recommend

  • SH

    Thank you for addressing this. When it comes to weddings, the society gives most importance to features that shouldn’t be the basis of your decisions like age, race, ethnicity etc. What matters the most is if the two individuals connect with each other. Gone are the days when people were willing to compromise to any extent to make a marriage work. It’s all about mutual understanding now and this understanding can develop between any two individuals regardless of their age. Recommend

  • zoro

    Madam you have described a very touchy social subject… I salute the way you have put up the op-ed.. very nicely laid social problem / solution.. forward thinking as i would call it ..
    Please keep up the good work..
    (and believe me I am an Indian)Recommend

  • Zeenia

    Im married to a man three years younger than me and it has worked out fabulously for us MashaAllah.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Aly, this is the topic of the blog:

    “Can an older woman marry a younger man in Pakistan?”

    Are all Pakistanis Muslims or all Pakistanis expected to follow the teachings of Islam and prophet Mohammed?

    No disrespect to either your faith or the prophet himself.Recommend

  • Parvez

    There is one motivator that you have not explored especially when the age gap gets really big and it works for young girl marrying old man and vice versa and that is ……..money.Recommend

  • Sane

    What a topic and what a burning subject. This was awaited since long. Just a waste of time.Recommend

  • sheikh

    I think it’s alright, but personally I would go for a girl younger then me, though not more than 7-8 years younger -my reason is that women tend to age faster than men.Recommend

  • Lefa

    17 year olds are biologically adults, and age of consent in most developed countries is like 16 and in some as low as 14 and 15.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Have a happy married life Zeenia :)Recommend

  • Gulbahadur Magsi.

    It is always money for women. The nest syndrome. will he make
    enough to support the kids?Recommend

  • Queen

    Even though we claim that we follow Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in everything but when it comes to practical implementation of his teachings, we tend to forget what he has preached and practiced. If you ask a common ‘boy’ out on the street, he will prefer to marry a girl younger than him. It takes lot of courage to break barrier sin our society and age gap in marriage is one such thing.Recommend

  • mehka

    it’s not a big deal!! my Uncle married a girl and she’s now my aunty.
    Recommend

  • Judas

    Its scientifically proven that as a woman ages, her chance of getting a baby with a defect increases, that is why its in the nature of men to be more attracted to younger women.Recommend

  • Shoaib

    Nice topic to discuss upon. this will be my dinner table topic for few days.Recommend

  • aleeL

    It’s not “her aunty” saying, Leela. She is pointing to a society, not an individual.Recommend

  • S

    The maturity excuse is ridiculous. It is very obvious. Just like in every other situation, it is aimed that the man will dominate. Being older makes that easier to achieve. Also younger girls can be moulded into whatever the husband feels like. Simple.Recommend

  • s

    That false maturity generalization is a myth used to cover up for the real reason husbands are expected to be older – just like in all other situations, the man is hoped to dominate the woman. Being older than her makes that easier, and younger girls are easier to mould into whatever the man feels like. The greater the age difference, the greater the subordination possible.Recommend

  • Imran Ul Haque

    Since most of us take women as granted, and the susral sees their bahus as nokrani and kaam wali so it won’t surprise me that the thinking behind marrying a younger woman than your age is that she can serve you well and won’t question in front of you.
    *Not my thinking though*Recommend

  • s
  • Man

    I’ll agree with you. Hypocrisy prevailed every where , we choose as per our personal profits.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Second marriage for whom? The man or the women?Recommend

  • Parvez

    O ! that was a bit strong………..my intention was to point out the ‘ sugar daddy ‘ or ‘ wealthy old widow ‘ and the aspect that money plays in such cases.Recommend

  • observer

    It is good that you have no “narrow biases”. I am sure you will be a very happy man when your wife, sisters or mother decide to marry four men.Recommend

  • Jerry

    At a first glance, this article reminded me the story of my life. I am a banker, living in Karachi, belongs to a Muslim family.and I was not allowed to marry my love because she is just 18 months older than me. After that I have declined every proposal that was pointed by everyone around me. I am still living my life as a bachelor and so is she. My point here is to make everyone realize that age difference does not matter more than the understanding and a true relationship bond between a couple otherwise you may ruin the life of two persons with their families too.Recommend

  • Guest

    You should just take a stand and make a case that we are Muslims and Islamically there is absolutely nothing wrong with it! We need to be strong enough in ourselves to not let ‘jahil’ irrational stigmas destroy our lives. Islam is what matters and Prophet Muhammad and Khadija’s marriage was exemplary. We can’t just talk and say we follow, we need to show it. If only reason is Age, then as a responsible adult, you need to make this happen in a mature way within Islamic realms.
    I am sorry if it offends in anywayRecommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    Sorry I don’t agree with you. Give SOME credit to our ancestors who made this ‘rule’. I don’t see any need to be so negative / judgemental and critical in everything .Recommend

  • Dante

    Just like you are arguing that it’s okay for a younger man to marry an older woman, it’s also okay for an older man to marry a younger woman (as long as she’s not too young!).

    The argument works both ways. You cannot just blame the society for the man wanting to marry a younger woman. If that’s what their desire it, so be it.Recommend

  • Dante

    Men in western civilizations are also generally older than their wives. Doesn’t mean they do it to dominate their women.

    Recommend

  • Dante

    We have a CULTURE of our own. It has nothing to do with marrying a woman 15 years older. And we are proud of our own culture. Men want to marry women younger than themselves. Their families want the same, and what more, even the women want to marry men that are older than themselves, and would shun away those younger or even the same age!

    Marriage is a personal matter. Let people do what they want to do.

    Where in the western world have you seen a lot of men marrying women 15 years older than themselves? It’s NOT a norm in western world.Recommend

  • Jerry

    I have read all comments and understand and appreciate your response too. But you cannot see the real happenings and circumstances around me unless you can put yourself in my shoes.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Couldn’t be less true. At least not here in the US. I don’t know maybe things are more different than I realize in Pakistan. I have several examples in my own family of women who waited til 30 or more to marry and found very stable partners of equal age, or sometimes a bit younger. Both were independent and well settled which eliminated many problems that naturally come with young couples who are dependent on others. This bogus idea is the very reason many young girls are rushed into marriage and expected to forego their own independence or dreams.

    Cheers.Recommend

  • Nobody

    I don’t know many girls who WANT to marry an older man; often they are brainwashed into thinking that is the better option for them. I’ve also met guys who are not interested in younger girls but rather a woman near their age so there isn’t a big experience gap but the guy’s family somehow thinks they know better. Problem isn’t age difference as much as it is the family of respective girl and guy butting in and offering what they think is best.
    Cheers.Recommend

  • Nobody

    I concur.Recommend

  • Nobody

    With respect to your opinion, that’s another favorite excuse – ‘marry when you’re young so your eggs don’t shrivel up and die’ What nonsense. Women have babies well into their 40′s and ‘young’ is not restricted to 22 and under. I’m grateful to be away fro an environment that would deem me a spinster at my age – not that I’d care. -_-
    Cheers!Recommend

  • Nobody

    No factual proof or evidence of that whatsoever. And no offense, but desi men don’t look all that hot as they age either, which can be as early as 35 if they don’t maintain themselves properly. Aging also has a genetic component and does not favor either gender. I’ve seen loads of couples where men age faster than women and vice versa. The ‘women age faster’ is yet another excuse used by men and women of our antiquated culture. Biologically neither ages faster than the other based only on gender. Look at a woman for more than her looks, her youth and how many babies she can give you. Cheers!Recommend

  • Nobody

    It’s also scientifically proven (as of late) that a man’s age has an impact on the health of the baby, but I doubt that will change the minds of Pakistanis. Logic and science only apply when they’re tilted in favor of men in Pakistan. ;) Cheers.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Sorry to hear that. I can’t imagine that, but I hope you don’t give your resolve. As an adult you (and your lady love) both have a right to marry one another. Sometimes the reasons given by people who are supposedly suited to make better decisions and simply ridiculous. Best of luck and hope you both get what you want. Cheers.Recommend

  • Prashant

    “We can’t just talk and say we follow, we need to show it”

    The man seems to have the lost the love of his life and you want him to prove his religious credentials? Take a break.Recommend

  • Prashant

    “We can’t just talk and say we follow, we need to show it”

    The man seems to have the lost the love of his life and you want him to prove his religious credentials? Take a break.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Do they even complete their high school education by then or do you think, education is the sole right of a male child?

    Biologically adults, Is that all you need to get into a relationship for the rest of your life?Recommend

  • M a

    Everything is fare in love n warRecommend

  • ooz

    Loag kya kahein gy is an ambigious term to ruin others life -_- … people will like to criticize and ruin other people life … they will never be happy … and their happiness should be none of our concern… we should only seek whats best for usRecommend

  • yes man

    Jerry, I can understand the problem to some extent.
    Recommend

  • yes man

    I see the figures of 40 and 6. I know what are you referring to. Recommend

  • Jerry

    Thanks for the best wishes. We may not get here what we want, but in heavens definitely we wil. Insha Allah.Recommend

  • http://facebook.com/DiscoMaulvi Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

    Dear Prashant

    All Pakistani Muslims are expected to follow the teachings of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) —

    All Pakistanis don’t have to but then according to stats that would be under 5%. Hence, my comment covered the majority.

    No offense taken. Discussion is a necessary step towards understanding each others’ view point.

    My apologies for a delayed reply but my Disqus notifications were off.

    Best RegardsRecommend

  • izuber

    Just about everything that took place in the life of our beloved Prophet PBUH was meant to set a precedent as a convention for our practices but there are many less than literates amongst us who would come around with home-made stories asserting negatively.
    Once again there is nothing wrong with either spouse being younger or older while some traditionalists will continue to rant beating their drums.
    It was about 2 years before I got married that I performed Haj and it was one of my dua that Allah SWT bless me with a partner who is chaste, abiding and adhering to deen while I had no one in mind at the time, when there came the time to get married my proposed one was about a year and half elder to me, I had no hesitation while I was influenced by those holding the powers to decide and negotiate on my behalf, I was determined and it took place after some hesitation by mediators since they were told that it will happen with or without them based on the principles of our deen that vests the final decision in those who intend to get married, while we remain happily married with mutual respect regard and love for each other, AlhamdulillahRecommend

  • izuber

    Prashant, Yes it can happen and it did happen and continues to happen other than exceptional ones who have innovated their faith based on non-existent values of religion, I am from Pakistan and it happened fro meRecommend

  • izuber

    Supriya, I tend to agree with you as an observation in most cases at a given age most girls are more mature and in a decision making position with good determination.
    Also in “most but not all cases” men prefer a partner who would be silly & playful, though not across the board all men, similarly girls also wish to have a partner with tolerance and maturity to bear the burden of her silliness, and would admire & support it, but this does not hold true in all cases.

    Which is why the tradition or the convention came into being suggesting that the girl be somewhat younger than the boy, it has nothing to do with the religious conventions and is only a man made tradition that parents insist on otherwise a mutual relationship without consideration of age difference either way is just as good and should be honored where two have found each other acceptable as life partnersRecommend

  • Ibrahim Khan

    AOA…… actually I am a bit nervous ..I also like women older than me and am 27 yrs of age now……I don’t know how to avoid this feeling that I have for older women like 35 to 40…..honestly I m planning to marry an older lady…..coz this is what will make me happy….why should I care that what people will think…….
    I know mostly people will like to marry a smart and a girl much younger than them……but when it comes to me….I like mature chubby (fat) lady of age 35 to 40….so its my personal choice ……I don’t like girls younger than me…..
    When I talked about it with my friends ….some of them said…you just like aunties
    I don’t know why I am like this….but my heart always says go for mature lady…..
    And last thing is that when it is not sin to marry an older woman…..why should I care what people will think of me…….yes I like aunty…..I find an aunty more attractive than a 20 year old girl. …Recommend

  • Mas Salleh

    but then I thought men die faster than women?Recommend

  • ali

    I’m married to a girl who is 7 year older to me. and i madly love her.
    i faced all those taboos but I never changed my mind.
    Love has no conditions!

    Recommend