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Women are expected to marry at a certain age. But a second marriage after a divorce or widowhood? What about a late marriage for an older woman?
For a country that is obsessed with marriage, India still remains sceptical about the idea of older women finding love, or even wanting to go in for a second marriage, or marry for the first time.
Perhaps, it is because marriage is just looked at as a means to having sex legally and having children to propagate the bloodline. This, and the putting of mothers on a pedestal mean the idea of women wanting to marry or remarry late becomes an anathema to family and society.
For this project, we initially wanted to look at women who found love or married at the age of fifty or above. However, I couldn’t find anyone in my extended network fulfilling this criterion and it made me wonder…
~ Does this mean that there aren’t many women who marry into their late years?
~ Or even if they do, perhaps, maybe they aren’t comfortable to come forward and share their stories?
~ Does this imply that there’s still some kind of stigma attached to such relationships involving a second marriage?
~ However, does the fact that I found women who were only slightly younger mean that perhaps mindsets are changing gradually, in the right direction?
Here are the stories of three women who opted for a second marriage well into their forties. Let us see how their children, family members, and the community reacted to their finding love and tying the knot late in life.
Manisha Ahlawat, 45, Entrepreneur and Farming Enthusiast
Manisha’s first marriage took place when she was only 20 and by the time she was 23, she had two children. She got divorced at 30, and she remarried last year at 45.
Manisha comes from Meerut, a conservative town. Divorce was a big deal for her family and community, and she had a difficult time facing them. They’d question her reasons for divorce because according to them, her husband was a good man who didn’t beat her up or have a drinking problem. Manisha was labelled as stubborn and difficult. She was considered a loose woman who was sleeping around with random men.
For 4-5 years, Manisha distanced herself from her family and community. But slowly people started accepting her as a single mother and their acceptance grew after her ex-husband remarried.
Manisha says that initially she was vehemently against remarriage. She dated men and she was financially independent. It was only after her children left for college in the U.S. in 2016 and she was left all by herself that she started feeling lonely; she didn’t even feel like dating anymore. “A lot of single mothers don’t speak about this empty nest syndrome and how it breaks you,” she adds.
Manisha never felt like a victim. Since she lived in the U.S. for 9 years post her first marriage, she was more in sync with the American value system. “I grew up in a much more liberal environment, completed my higher studies there, and that led to a different thinking process.” She doubts she’d have this level of clarity and strength had she lived in India after her first marriage. “It’s super difficult for single mothers in India,” she says, “Men treat you like you’re available and the women think you’ll steal their husbands.”
When she started dating after her divorce, people talked behind her back. She thinks that except in some urban pockets, there’s still no freedom for women in most parts of India to live the way they wish to.
Manisha’s extended family didn’t even know for many years that she was divorced because her parents kept it a secret. Manisha started getting vocal after a few years.
“People should start accepting that a divorce can be a happy occasion for a woman, and that she is capable of earning and supporting herself.” Even when she was trying to take a loan for her business, the bank manager questioned her, “Why do you need loan to start a business? You seem to be from a good family.”
“Even the younger generation are so conditioned in patriarchy, that despite their education they’d only talk about the kind of husbands they’d like to marry,” Manisha says about her relatives, but she still thinks that things are changing, and through her life and her actions, she has been able to inspire some of her young female relatives.
Manisha knew her current husband, Ajay, for many years as a professional. Their professional relationship helped them ease into a more personal one. The thing that she values most in her husband is that she can be herself with him. She says that he isn’t like the “typical Indian man”.
Her parents were okay with her marriage because her children had moved out and her ex had also remarried. But it was never about her happiness for them. Now her mother considers her to be truly “successful” even though she was anyway successful before her remarriage. Her extended family also approves of her decision now because her husband is financially well off and according to them, she’d moved up the ladder. She admits with a tinge of sadness that her achievements as an individual have always been disregarded by her family.
Her children on the other hand were completely supportive of her decision. Her son was a bit uncomfortable with his single mother in the beginning, about the way she dressed in casuals for PTMs, how she was not at home serving food after he returned from school. He’d demand for expensive items and complain of her not paying attention to him. But her daughter has always been supportive and would also try explaining to her brother how their mother was working hard. At 16, her son went through a complete change in mindset and became her biggest champion.
Manisha says, “For women, anything you do, other women feel inspired. You become a role model through your actions. I didn’t have any role model while growing up. If you’re doing something radical, talk about it. Send out a message. People notice. You don’t know who you’re inspiring.”
When she remarried, Manisha had a small wedding that was presided over by women priests. She didn’t take part in traditional misogynistic rituals like kanyadan, mangalsutra and sindur. She wanted to send a message through her wedding, as well.
Manisha and Ajay have two children each from their previous marriages. They don’t want any more children. Manisha acknowledges that despite her struggles as a single mother, her education, her American influence, and her privileges helped her immensely.
*Neha, 52, Works for Diplomatic Mission in Delhi
Neha went in for her second marriage at 48, and has been married for over five years now. For her husband, in his 50’s, it was his first marriage. Both the families knew each other for many years. After Neha’s divorce was through, her husband proposed to her and she was positive as they were good friends.
Neha comes from a large Sikh family and her husband is a Christian. The cultural differences were huge. Her husband spoke to her parents and her son; the familiarity factor helped in their case. Her son was doing his Engineering at that point and he was happy with the union. He felt that it was a great decision for his mother to marry someone they all knew.
Neha and her husband visited a marriage counsellor before taking the plunge. They wanted to talk at length with a professional about the changes required to create a new family unit with a grown son, at this late stage.
Even though she had no problems from either of their families, Neha’s friends’ reactions after her remarriage was of disbelief. Many were happy but cynical on getting this news. Since she was well-settled in life, they could not understand the point of her getting out of her comfort zone and starting a relationship where one might need to adjust anew. But Neha says that she comes from a family with lots of happy marriages and she wanted something like that for herself. She was ready to take a chance. According to her, every marriage requires work and she was willing to put in that work. “I think marriage is a happy institution if we have a common set of values and create a platform for dialogue,” she says.
Neha says that women need to overcome the fear that they cannot move on. “At times, women are not willing to let go. They don’t want to get a divorce and instead, choose to remain stuck in an unhappy marriage of irreparable incompatibilities.” According to her, sometimes women might need to give up on emotions such as anger, greed, insecurity, and fear and be willing to move forwards with faith and trust in the goodness of life.
Neha and her ex-husband were living separately for some time before the divorce. She could’ve easily carried on that way, but she wanted to move on, and set an example for her child that honesty is important in relationships. She believes that if women have the option to leave, then they must not stay on for the sake of the children because that sets a bad example for the children, as well. “Also, if you haven’t found happiness with your husband, let him go, maybe, someone else will love him better. Give yourself and him a chance to move on,” she says.
She also thinks that it is crucial for the girl’s parents and her family to extend support to her if she wants to take a decision to leave her marriage. “Why do parents feel they cannot support their daughters after their marriage?” Neha expresses that she was fortunate to have a supportive family around. This, along with her Buddhist practice and meditation, helped her in developing her inner strength. Neha and her husband are happy, and they believe that marriage is a constant work in progress with love and mutual respect as the pillars.
(* Name changed as per request)
Archana Soin, 49, Executive and Life Coach
Archana was born and brought up in an academically oriented family in Punjab. Archana met her ex-husband at her MBA college. Despite their cultural and other differences, they decided to tie the knot when Archana was 24. Her husband came from a Sikh family and an army background. His family made Archana feel inferior due to her dusky complexion and because she belonged to a North Indian business class family. Archana’s father had passed way around the time of her marriage.
Archana first found out about her husband’s affair when she was pregnant. After she confronted him, he promised to never repeat the same thing. Her daughter was born when she was 26. At two, her daughter was diagnosed with a rare nephrotic disorder. Archana had taken a break of two years post her child’s birth. She didn’t take a break from her work post 2003.
When Archana moved to Gurgaon with her husband and daughter, outwardly they looked like a successful family, but Archana was not happy with her husband’s steady stream of affairs.
In 2010, Archana filed for a divorce after fifteen years of marriage. Her husband wasn’t willing at first, but later he conceded. After her divorce, Archana took an apartment in the same building complex. She and her husband separated on amicable terms, they even attended their daughter’s school functions and PTMs together.
Archana met her current husband at her workplace. He is eight and a half years younger than her. In 2015, when her daughter turned eighteen and was moving to Canada for further education, Archana and her husband decided to get married. They had a court marriage with only two other people present. One of the marriage witnesses for Archana was her daughter. Archana was 44 at that time. Her daughter was happy about her remarriage.
Last year, Archana and her husband had moved to Dubai. She’d finally left her job and is now a freelance executive and life coach. Archana says that leaving her first marriage—where she always felt like a victim and lost confidence in herself—was essential for her mental and emotional wellbeing. She and her ex-husband are still on good terms as coparents to their daughter.
Archana’s mother wanted her to stay put in her toxic first marriage because, according to her, once a woman gets married, she should continue living with her husband. Her mother was indifferent about her decision to remarry.
After her divorce, Archana focused on her daughter and her work. She didn’t have a close social circle and hence, there was no reaction from the larger community about her remarrying. She had already cut out relatives from her life who didn’t matter. She never received any financial or emotional support from anyone.
After her remarriage, she did receive support from her husband’s side of the family. Her current mother-in-law took a long time to accept their relationship, but once she did, things had been great ever since. Her in-laws are non-judgemental and accepting and even though they might have expected a child, they’ve come to terms with the fact that Archana and her husband don’t want children.
Archana feels that being financially empowered is what helped her immensely to make all the decisions in her life. She doesn’t regret anything from the past and believes that it is because of those experiences that she is who she is today. She believes that marriages should be based on love and companionship for them to succeed.
Image source: a still from the series Made in Heaven
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