The sound of my ticking

By Nirpal Dhaliwal, a former London Evening Standard columnist now working for a weekly newspaper in New Delhi (THE GUARDIAN, 08/07/08):

Beyond the age of 35, conception becomes increasingly difficult for men, according to a French study published yesterday. I am 34, which gives me a year left to sow my oats productively before they start mouldering in the sack. The news doesn’t surprise me. I’m now aware of my body in a way that I never was in my 20s. I know how much strength I have, how many hours of sleep I need and how many beers suit me; and I seldom test my limits. I can’t bear the thought of the intensive heart-thumping exercise I once put myself through, preferring a walk or some yoga. If my body doesn’t have the get-up-and-go it once did, it stands to reason that neither will my sperm.

Until last year I was married to a successful perfectionist 15 years my elder who I’d met aged 26. Back then I was adamant that I never wanted to be a father, and marrying a woman who said that she didn’t want children either was, I think, a way to protect myself from parenthood. The truth is, I was immature and didn’t want to grow up; had I become a dad then I would have made a complete mess of it. I still find older women attractive, but if I meet a sexy one now my response to them is tempered with the thought: “What if I decide I want a baby?”

I now find younger women – intelligent, light-hearted, easygoing twenty- and thirtysomethings – more appealing. That might be because I now know that those qualities make for good girlfriend material, and fun, affectionate sex, but they also point to a woman’s potential as a mother. I have friends who are parents, and I know how difficult parenthood is. It’s a project that can be catastrophically painful if undertaken with the wrong person.

I don’t think about being a dad much, but have unconsciously developed a preference for mumsy types over party girls. My sexual radar automatically alerts me to women with whom I could see myself raising children. I’m quite sure that it’s the response of my body to my declining chances of becoming a father, increasing the likelihood of procreation.

Right now, I’m in India. People here generally marry by their mid-20s and are parents before they are 30 – even the metropolitan hipsters with their “love marriages”. There’s no real culture of dating here. People don’t sleep around, hoping to alight on “the one” they will commit to. Marriage and children are the explicit aim, and young people hook up with that in mind. I have met so many Indians – models, journalists and diplomats – who have married their adolescent sweethearts. Listening to two older Indians talk of how they met their wives at college and enjoyed long family lives with them, I felt envious. Both were great romantics with a habit for loving gestures and great exponents of the Kama Sutra.

In a society that cherishes marriage and family, romance and eroticism are an everyday art form that keep their relationships rich and interesting. The flirtation and sensuality of Bollywood isn’t fantasy – it’s how they actually live.

The stricter sexual mores of society mean that when people get together here they are not wracked with doubts and thoughts of greener grass. It makes life much easier. If men are designed to have babies by 35, then India is the place for them. In India it is considerably easier to find a wife than it is to get laid. And there’s no pressure on men to prove themselves with bedpost notches. Here, they are encouraged to meet someone when they are young, get hitched and make lots of babies while their sperm’s still working – just as nature intended.