Dating apps for youngsters these days have made it easy for them to find love. But what about their parents who may be divorced or widowed? Or even those senior citizens who never married but now crave companionship? Loneliness is an ailment that afflicts both the young and the old, but while the young have the help of multiple sources like social media, dating apps, etc, to find love, it’s the senior citizens who struggle to find happiness, not knowing where to look for it. Retirement or children who are busy in their own lives can push them further into isolation. For many, the concept of marriage or remarriage in their fifties or sixties is an alien concept owing to various societal pressures.
But there’s a wind of change that’s blowing now, with many non-profit organisations and private matrimonial services across the country coming up with a solution for these lonely hearts.
NM Rajeshwari, a retired teacher, was a single parent to her children for 32 years. And that’s when she realised how tough it gets. She also came across other single people while working as a teacher in Andhra Pradesh and saw how singledom made life difficult for them. Some were grappling financially, while others faced intense loneliness every day. Things became even tougher for her after she retired. "After retirement, I started feeling lonely. I never felt lonely while working," she says. And this prompted her to start Thodu Needa in 2010, a government-registered NGO, which helps senior citizens find love. "Earlier, there was a joint family system where you had grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and their children. There was both emotional and financial support. Now, with a nuclear family set-up, there is no one to take care of you in your old age… no one to tend to your emotional needs. Also, after 60 years of age, you have trouble doing your own work," says Rajeshwari.
Till date, Thodu Needa has seen more than 200 success stories (of these 10-15 couples live in Hyderabad alone). One of these is that of Rajeshwari’s herself. Her husband Damodhar Rao, a 65-year-old retired bank manager, had joined Thodu Needa looking for a "daring and sincere woman" who could also look after his education trust. They met and hit it off. Rao proposed after a year of knowing her and, in 2012, Rajeshwari, then 62 years old, got married to him.
Then there is Secondwedlock.com, a matrimonial portal for second marriages, offering its services to widows, widowers and divorcees till the age of 75 years. There are three types of membership-gold, silver and bronze. Depending on the type you subscribe to, you can directly contact members by phone or email, message them and view their contact details.
There are also places organising swayamvars, or matchmaking events, for senior citizens now. Ahmedabad-based Anubhand Foundation (also known as Vina Mulya Amulya Sewa), for one, has held many matchmaking events across India for people between the ages of 50 and 60 years. "After your 50s and 60s, you feel lonely… and your children don’t have time for you. So I came up with this platform for single senior citizens as a solution to their loneliness," says 70-year-old Natwarlal Govindbhai Patel, a happily married father of two and grandfather of three, who has facilitated 142 marriages through his NGO.
So what made him start Anubhand Foundation? The 2001 Bhuj earthquake, he replies. Patel, who retired from the post of superintendent from the ministry of planning department in 2009, was deployed in the Kutch district of Gujarat during the disastrous earthquake in which he lost many colleagues. Patel survived because it was a holiday and he had gone home to Ahmedabad. He came back and saw how the earthquake took away many loved ones from their families and how the lives of survivors were ruined after they lost their partners. That was when he was inspired to do something for them. "I started working on this mission in 2002," says Patel, who has till date conducted 56 swayamvars across the country free of cost without any caste or religious discriminations.
It was at one of these that Rajendrabhai, a former LIC officer in Gujarat, met his current wife. Rajendrabhai’s wife, who is originally from Goa, had come to Patel looking for a husband. He put up an advertisement in a newspaper to which around 50 people applied. Rajendrabhai came too and after a three-hour-long swayamvar ceremony, they got married. Today, they are happily married and live in Rajkot.
Such organisations flourish across the country. Take, for instance, Vasantham Remarriage Services in Chennai. The remarriage service platform encourages senior citizens to meet people they like through their service in restaurants or temples, says Vijayakshmi Gunasekaran, who is part of the administration staff at Vasantham Remarriage Services and selects profiles for matchmaking, besides handling communications. If they wish, Gunasekaran says, they can also meet potential partners inside the premises of Vasantham. While the services are not free, the economically weaker sections of society can avail them at no cost. The background check is done by Vasantham itself-if any divorced person wants to avail their services, they need to show a divorce/awaiting divorce certificate to move forward.
Not just NGOs and non-profits, these days old-age homes, too, are providing senior citizens a platform and opportunity to find companions. Thikana Shimla, an old-age home outside Kolkata, has been helping seniors-from 60- to 80-year-olds-find companionship since 2016 through meetups. They even have sons and daughters of single aged parents calling them, looking for companions for their parents, reveals Amitava De Sarkar, founder, Thikana Shimla.
Interestingly, they focus primarily on the live-in dynamic instead of marriage as they have noticed that many times issues related to property, etc, crop up after such marriages. In order to avoid the legal hassle of divorce at that age, Thikana Shimla encourages senior citizens to get into live-in relationships if they click with someone.
Kathryn Kylee, a 62-year-old American woman who was previously married, came to India, and after living in Gujarat for some time, found Bengaluru to be more cosmopolitan and decided to move there. It was there that she met her second husband John Mathews, a faculty member of Srishti Art School. Kylee, who was earlier not open to the idea of remarrying, gave in when she and Mathews hit it off. The recipe for success in their marriage is both leading individual lives, she says. "I am a financially set person. And every year, I am away in Europe for several months. In Bengaluru, I am busy with my social work," says Kylee, adding that both are communicative with each other and give each other ample space.
Ann Dias’s story is a little different. Dias, who lost her first husband a few years back, met her current husband Florence Noronha in 2016 when he came to offer condolences at her husband’s funeral. They had known each other vaguely since 2006 when Noronha’s wife died and Dias was the food caterer for her funeral. With time, they grew closer and one day Noronha proposed. Dias was, however, hesitant to accept as her husband had died very recently. She was also sceptical about her children and teenage grandchildren accepting her second marriage. "I wasn’t refusing, but at that time my hands were tied," she says. But then her 30-year-old son Raul convinced her to take the plunge, saying he understood her craving for companionship after his father’s death. "My mom has always given me freedom… I just reciprocated that. I relied on my instincts and thought that Florence is the perfect cure for my mother’s loneliness," says Raul.
Soon, Dias’s daughter Sarita, too, came around. Dias courted Noronha for one year so that they could understand each other better. "No one ever said anything bad about him," she says, adding that when she mentioned to her then would-be husband that she would still be running her business, he was very accepting of it. "I still have my food business where I take a lot of orders. My husband comes with me now to buy meat and chicken," she says.
Each year, Dias and Noronha take some time off to get away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai and visit foreign places together, which, they say, has strengthened their bond. Also, like Kylee, their marriage is based on honesty and communication. "We are very open with each other and there is absolutely nothing hidden between us," says Noronha.
The happiest with their union is, however, Raul. "I feel like I have been blessed with three parents… Florence is another manifestation of a parental figure," says Raul, adding that his mother is still physically (literally four buildings away) and emotionally close to him. His only concern, he says, was that his mother's attachment towards him would lessen, but that's not the case, as Dias still takes care of his house and food, visiting him every day to run the business from his house.
Sixty-eight-year-old Purnendu Mitra, who is 15 years older than his second wife Madhabi Sil, also praises his two stepdaughters who treat him like their own father. Mitra, who lost his first wife to electric shock and has had other struggles, including a separation from his son, says the girls take good care of him. Not only that, he is also very content with his second marriage because Sil takes good care of his health. For Sil, the marriage is perfect because she always wanted a "gentleman". "I am grateful to God for her," says Mitra, adding that the very first time he met her, he was taken in by her warmth. Despite having never met him before, Sil went ahead and made rice and bata posto for him to soothe his stomach problems that he was having from the day before. "That was the moment when I realised that if she comes in my life, she wouldn’t abandon me if my health fails," says Mitra.
This second marriage has been a blessing for Mitra, he says, since after his first wife's death, he had to face a lot of struggle while bringing up his son, who later separated from him due to fundamental differences and even got married without his father's knowledge, leaving Mitra even more lonely. However, they have since reunited and his son was even present during the registry marriage of Mitra with Sil. Today, they are close, especially after the birth of Mitra's grandson.
Senior citizens seeking love to escape their loneliness comes with its own set of challenges. Children and family not being accepting is one of them, especially in a conservative society like India. It’s not surprising then that not many women come forward to actively seek companionship. According to Patel of Anubhand Foundation, female senior citizens still seem to be in their shells. Of the 12,000 biodatas that he has, only 1,000 are that of women. "Not even 10% of senior females look out for another marriage because of societal pressure," says Patel. He also narrates the story of the doomed remarriage of a 70-year-old man with a 60-year-old woman, where the man demanded physical intimacy every day. When the woman refused, he ended up beating her. So these days, Patel asks about such expectations before getting people married. Then there are issues pertaining to finances, property, etc, which have caused some of these marriages to end in divorce, he says.
For 62-year-old American Kylee, though, the only issue initially in her marriage to Mathews was cultural differences, while for Dias, it was getting the approval of her children and grandchildren. While Kylee adjusted to the differences, Dias's family, too, came around eventually.
Thodu Needa’s Rajeshwari, however, had her aged mother to think of and she was straightforward with her husband, telling him that she couldn't leave her mother and come live with him. "He understood my predicament and said that I could continue to live with my mother, but in order to make it convenient for us to meet often, he asked me to come and stay in a rented place near his house… so that we could go for morning walks, visit a restaurant and go to movies together," she says.
After one year of living like this, Rajeshwari’s son took his ailing grandmother to live with him, so that his mother could live with Rao without any worry. "I had ample support from both our families. My son even took my mother with him during the second year of our marriage, so that I could go and stay with my husband," she says, adding that she accepted Rao’s children as her own and they treat each other like friends.