By Barnath Chatterjee
Illustrations: Shawn D’Souza
I was 25 when we met, Mahima was 45. She had two young kids and was single. The kids knew I was dating their mother, it wasn’t a big deal for them. I suppose they were too young to find anything shocking, and I’m good with kids, so I was just their friend.
When my relationship began with Mahima, it was all about sex. We met through mutual work friends at a networking lunch in Delhi, I was working in journalism, and, at that time, she was working as a secondary school teacher. I flirted with her the way I flirted with, well, everyone back then, I was just a single guy in my 20s. I didn’t expect her to feel anything about me, though: she was a hot older woman, really smart and independent, highly opinionated and with so much lived experience, and I didn’t think I had any chance with her.
She invited me over for a drink one night a few months after we first met. I really thought it was going to be just that. I had a drink, and at some point noticed the sexual tension was just so thick between us. She kissed me, I kissed her back. I wasn’t expecting to sleep with her even then—I thought it would go the usual way, you know, we’d kiss, back off, circle around each other a bit, and maybe after four weeks really get into it. But after about a full minute, she looked at me and said, “Take my top off.”
We fucked like rabbits that night, from around 10.30 to 5 in the morning. At one point, when she was on top of me, she whispered in my ear, “Tell me how old you are,” and of course I did. At the time I remember thinking it was so weird. Later that night, she told me that she had been fantasising about me for a while. She said she’d been thinking of me the last few times she played with herself, and that sometimes she’d be talking to me about some completely different topic and would just find herself wet.
She told me that at that time she wasn’t really expecting a relationship like this, and certainly wasn’t looking for one. Now, she suddenly found herself with a younger guy she liked, had good conversations with, and who had the stamina to try out a lot of things she wanted. She told me once how it was nice being with a guy who was still raring to go even when she was tired, which was definitely something she wasn’t used to after her fairly desultory sex life over the last decade. We tried all kinds of different things that she initiated: masks and dressing up and role play, sex toys, kinky stuff.
It was different being with her because she was so sure of what she wanted and really knew her own body. The sex was great and it was less of a hit-and-miss. For me it was really interesting to experiment and try new things with a grown woman who knew her body. We’d experiment a lot, have sex outside: there were lots of things she seemed to want try out with me for the first time.
We didn’t talk that much about our age difference. It’s an awkward conversation to have with someone when you’re talking about how very old they are. On the other hand, she would keep reminding me how young I was through jokes or casual comments, but we didn’t really discuss it in a deeper way.
She had so much more going on in her life than other women I’d dated, and I found her naturally more interesting to be around. It affects every aspect of the relationship: the things you do, the way you hang out, the conversations you have, everything is just more interesting. With most other women I’ve been with, our priorities were more transitional, almost flippant and frivolous, but here I had a person with actual responsibilities. In this kind of situation, there’s less room for reckless stupidity in your professional life, in how you manage your time or handle your liquor.
Mahima was much more independent than other women I’ve dated, but also restricted by her other responsibilities, like her job and her two kids. This cut both ways: sometimes it would be frustrating, like she’d wake up at 6 am and leave, which would be a pain in the ass because there were some mornings where I’d just wanted to cuddle and stay in bed, wake up relaxed and have breakfast together, sweet things that would never happen. Trying to plan something in the evening would always clash with some class or something else. On the other hand, it was also great because it ensured that we maintained some sense of space. Otherwise you’re in each other’s face all the time; here there would be a guarantee that you’d be completely cut off from each other for some part of the day, so it made the time we spent together quite special.
My experience with Mahima changed what I look for in a girlfriend. I’m not going to date a girl who has nothing going on in her life. At one point it was cool to have these slob stoner girlfriends, but that’s something I’m definitely not into anymore. I’ve realized it’s just such a waste of time and space. Mahima used to have a very full day, from 5 am to 7.30 pm before she would come to me, and didn’t need me for every single thing in her life.
We’d do things together like watch movies or go for early morning walks, but we’d mostly hang out with her friends, not mine. I didn’t feel like my friends and she would get along, or have anything in common. My friends, especially at the time, were a bunch of stoners and debauchees, and I became like that when I was with them. We would drink too much, or all night, end up late to work and not be very productive. It was a lifestyle she disapproved of wholly, so it just seemed like it would be uncomfortable to hand out with my friends.
I didn’t mind hanging out with her friends, though, a lot of them were really interesting people who were focusing on their really interesting careers, like senior journalists, actors, screenwriters. But I did feel odd sometimes hanging out socially with some aunties and uncles and always being the significantly youngest person there. I also felt that they’d keep talking down to me: anything I said, they’d respond with some of their lived experiences, or tell me patronizingly how I would think differently ‘later’.
A lot of her friends, especially the single women or the women who’d been single for a long period, had their own experiences of being with younger men. It’s quite common, actually. So initially they would keep telling her, oh it’s just a phase, it’s just sex. But they grew to like me. From the way she was with her friends, I did get the feeling that she thought I was a catch.
In my mind, though, I was the lucky one, but still it made me feel nice. How often do you have someone who’s proud to show you off?
My friends didn’t know I was dating her. I felt her friends would be more accepting of our relationship because they’d had similar experiences, whereas to my friends it would be fairly alien, and they’d probably just fetishize it. I don’t know actually, but I just felt they wouldn’t be very supportive and their responses might be isolating.
I never told my parents officially that I was seeing her, and my colleagues didn’t know about us either. I felt again they wouldn’t get my relationship with her. I thought it would seem unprofessional, but I’m not sure if I would have hidden a relationship with a person my age from them. It used to frustrate her, not being able to be as open as she wanted. I think at her age and in her position, with her life so sorted, she didn’t need anyone else’s validation or approval, and so was less concerned about what people would think. I was still young, and felt insecure about doing this very openly.
I met her family too, her kids, her brother, aunts and uncles, her parents. I met her kids first because I ran into them when I dropped her home, and as they grew fonder of me, the kids would mention and talk about me, which got the rest of the family curious. Her parents weren’t particularly fond of me, though – I was so young and had a beard and was a journalist.
After about a year of dating, I began to draw back. That’s one thing I noticed about my experience of dating an older woman like Mahima: being so emotionally invested in someone at a later stage in their life made me keep thinking about my own life and future and where I was headed.
She had a future to think about, and was interested in one with me. But I absolutely wasn’t.
I wasn’t willing to be open because I didn’t think the relationship was serious enough to merit putting in this kind of work, and taking the risk of being misunderstood to preserve it. I kept feeling there wasn’t a real future with Mahima for many reasons, like her age and the kind of settled life she already led. I don’t know what exactly my parents would have said, but I don’t think they’d have been overjoyed.
At the time, I was thinking, my partner will soon be in her 50s, and I’m investing all this time in her, and what is it going to lead to? It might have been different if she’d been 10 years older than me and didn’t have kids. But she was 45 and had two kids – I felt she was firmly entrenched in a family and a lifestyle that I couldn’t see myself committing to at any point soon.
I also felt that it wouldn’t be too long until health became an issue, and a fear that I would soon have to move into the role of a caregiver rather than partner. I think resentment would have crept in: wouldn’t I feel that I was [wasting] the prime of my life, while she’d already gone all the way?
So when it came to thinking about the future, it cut both ways. On one hand, the relationship felt like a break from my real life, because it was liberating for me to know I didn’t have to think about this relationship two or three years from now, because I knew Mahima wasn’t the person I was going to start a family life with. But on the other hand, being around her also forced me to think of where exactly I was heading in life myself, and I kept having to face the finality of knowing my future wasn’t with her. Was I wasting my time?
Sometimes I would actually meet other interesting women my age, and when I met someone I liked, I always knew there was more of a future with them than with Mahima.
When I told her how I was feeling, she was pretty upset. She said things like, “You’re only 25, what do you care about a future? Just chill and enjoy life.” And: “When did you become such a conformist?”, which was a fair question I guess. She suggested that we see other people and also continue doing this, and I agreed, but somehow it wasn’t working out. At one point, she even suggested having a threesome to spice things up and keep things interesting, but I had to draw the line there.
We broke up, but ran into each other soon after, and started hooking up again. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and she’d occasionally message just checking in. One night we bumped into each other at a performance and we ended up sitting together and chatting. It was clear that whatever happened, both of us were still attracted to each other, but I mistook it for just sexual attraction and so in my head neither of us wanted anything serious.. She said, “Let it just be about sex,” but then it became apparent fairly quickly that it wasn’t just sex. It was clear to me that it needed to stop, and I broke it off again.
Dating Mahima shook me up and made me realize I needed to take more control of my life, and forced me to consider where I was heading. I did a lot of growing up with Mahima: she would look at me and say, “You’re doing xyz – like, say, mixing my personal and work lives too much – and I think it’s stupid. Here’s why it’s stupid, and here’s what I would do.” She wasn’t judgmental about stuff, she would just say these are things you need to watch out for, your work and your health, you’re an adult now and you can’t play around. It made me do a lot of prioritizing and reorganizing. It was stabilizing.
Mahima and I aren’t really close anymore. I’m still professionally acquainted with her because we work in the same industry now, so every now and then she sends people or work my way, but it’s very rare. I know that after me she tried dating a guy close to her own age, but she said she didn’t like the experience and came away feeling shitty, because she just wasn’t ready to date again.
After we broke up, I dated a few other people, and since I had something so recent to compare to, I realized I just couldn’t date people anymore who are a fun time but don’t bring anything new to your life, or don’t have enough going on in theirs.
I think if I met Mahima now, things may go a lot differently between us, because she’s still a really special person, and I’m a lot more sorted in my lifestyle and priorities. My whole life is less chaotic because I’ve grown up too.
A thoroughly disillusioned journalist, Barnath now spends his time badgering errant media houses for outstanding freelance payments, while drinking the cheapest coffee on the Khan Market menus.