Turning 30 is treated like the death sentence

I know that we are obsessed with youth, but turning 30 really doesn’t mean that it’s time to place the co‘n order. While you do leave the recklessness of your 20s behind, what you gain is a little wisdom (from the mistakes of said recklessness), and you are generally a tad more comfortably placed in your life. The job’s either closer to your dream gig, or pays big bucks. Some get married and have kids, if that’s on your checklist. Others, like me, finally find time, and resources, to indulge in their aspirations and bucket lists, and truly taste independence. The 30s do come with a sense of complacency.

If you have been in a long-term relationship, or have gotten married, you’ll know what I mean. We get so used to a certain, albeit comfortable routine, that we don’t find the need to step out of it. You leave a little bit of the struggle behind in the previous decade, and just want to stay in, curl up, or cuddle with. The 30s, sometimes, beg for some slowing down, and gathering moss. Add familial responsibilities, EMIs, and “when are you sharing the good news?” to that, and you have all the ingredients for “let’s just stay in and Netflix and chill — but the kosher kind, which involves binge-watching shit and eating shit — shall we?”

But while both men and women mostly go through this same life experience, society, and younger generations, look at them di€erently. And this is where it gets interesting. The 20s are attractive, dangerous, and risky. For teenagers, the 20s have an aspirational value. For those who are older, the 20s promise a second taste of their dangerous and risky past. For everybody, the IDGAF of the 20s is a drug they desperately want another hit of. But, we look at the 30s through di€erent looking glasses. On the attractiveness scale, 30-something men are at the bottom, while 30-something women are right at the top. In this country, by the time you are 30, in most cases, you are married. The 30-something married man is uninteresting. He has happily — or sometimes, out of habit — set into a domesticated routine. He might start balding, many do. He gains weight and is fine with it. He had experimented with his wardrobe in college, but now all he has to wear are formals, mostly. Why bother with losing that gut? Everybody around him has a gut — they call it the “prosperity paunch”. Family becomes priority. Friends and social life tends to take a back seat, or involves spouses.

He is always thinking about how to get a promotion, or an appraisal, or figure out a bigger house, better car, pre-school, financial planning, et cetera et cetera. The man is expected to figure all of this out. Even in our progressive metros, only a small percentage has learned to lead an equal-footing marriage. But, in most of India, the man is still, unfortunately, bringing home the bread.

Now, the interesting bit is, the woman is bringing home the bread too. But if we do a quick scan around us, if the family is single-earning, the earner, in most cases, will be the man. Because, in our country, “raising kids” is still the mother’s primary responsibility. So what happens when she has packed her husband off to work and her kids o€ to school? She might be working from home, earning equally big bucks, but for the collective imagination of the Indian male, Bhabhi is all alone at home, bored, thirsty, pining for some company. No other country sexualises the 30-something married housewife more than India. We must also astutely note that, while Bhabhi has a tantalising connotation, the term “Uncle”, often used to refer to an old, unattractive man, is derogatorily used to tease 30-something men. From deodorant ads to numerous slapstick comedies on TV, from films and web shows to porn, from Shrimaan Shrimati to Bhabiji Ghar Par Hain! to the cult classic Savita Bhabhi, the young married woman is a desirable fruit for the Indian man. What is the origin story of this obsession then? For starters, a bored woman, in the prime of her sexuality, alone at home, is fiction gold.

It is common knowledge — thanks to scientific research — that women hit their sexual desire peak during their 30s, while men start plateauing. That information helps to paint the picture of a horny woman, waiting at home all day just to canoodle with her husband at night. But he comes home tired, disinterested in sex, and really keen on watching that Man U-Arsenal match. He, dim-witted that he is, thinks that she is as satisfied with domesticity as he is, and forgets that while he has had social company for the whole day, she hasn’t. She might be looking forward to a weekend around the city, while he is craving for some sleeping in and couch time. This is not necessarily fiction, right? We are used to seeing wives around us who are stuck in this familiar grind. She does dress up in the evenings, cooks, waits for her husband to come home. She does watch her weight, afraid of gaining any, and joins the local gym with a few friends. She doesn’t want the man to stray because that would be disrespectful to her homemaking skills. They would all say that she “couldn’t keep her man at home”, that “he wandered because she let go of herself”, that she is to also share the blame of his infidelity. And, surprisingly, this is a reality — with minor tweaks — across socio-economic segments. Just because she has an MBA and consults for global companies from home, or rules boardrooms at the office, doesn’t mean that she will be exempted from taking responsibility for her man’s wandering.

So she puts in all the effort she can, which the husband’s might not notice, but all the other men around her do. Every neighbourhood, mohalla, and building complex will have a few Bhabhis everybody is constantly twittering about. Every smile of hers is dissected, every question is imagined to be an insinuation, an invitation, like she is daring you to cross the line. Younger men crush on her, fantasise, ogle. They believe that she knows that she is being watched, that she is enjoying it. Younger men believe that they have “evolved taste” when they fall for older women and not “girls” their own age. “Bhabhi is experienced”, they believe. “I just need one night with Bhabhi to show her a good time”, they dream. Their manhood will earn a badge of honour if it can satisfy an “experienced” woman. They have seen enough films, read enough crappy novels, and watched enough web shows and porn to believe that this is how it is. Older men discuss her in hushed whispers, like lost opportunities. Older women snarkily discuss her hemlines and blouse sleeve lengths. A country’s imagination has twisted many young women’s loneliness, frustration, and unfulfilled desire to fodder its horny fantasies.

As the woman steps into her 40s, the male fantasy transforms her into the predatorial cougar. She is to be stayed away from. While this is primarily an American or European imagery, especially if the woman is single or divorced — similar visualisations happen in India too. Single and divorced 40-somethings are called “man-eaters”. But interestingly these days, as men step into their 40s and own their saltand-pepper, they start becoming attractive opportunities all over again. Thanks to the “hot daddy” trend in pop culture, the older man — who is rich, successful, stylish, has good taste, well-travelled, and hits the gym — is seen as a desirable motif. I suspect John Slattery’s silver fox act as Roger Sterling in Mad Men kicked off this obsession. Suddenly, social media started swooning over fit and handsome over-thirty men. Closer home, we championed Madhavan, drooled over designers like Arjun Khanna and Nikhil Mehra, and saw the resurgence of the phenomenon that is Milind Soman. What is the allure of older men? Is it the same “experience” factor that draws young men to housewives? Is it the “he can make anything happen with a snap of his finger” like Mr. Big from Sex And The City? Is it their power, financial security, ability to splurge and indulge, and their attentive pampering? Their sexy nonchalance when they say “I’ve got it” while picking up the cheque after dinner — or when buying a penthouse? Or is it just, quite literally, daddy issues?

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