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May. 10 2010 - 10:05 am | 286 views | 0 recommendations | 13 comments

Should ‘Cougars’ Be Leashed?

Cougar ready to pounce

The other kind...Image by Harlequeen via Flickr

I hate “Cougar Town”, perhaps the most self-loathing (lots to choose from) show on network television. The risible idea of an older woman — shriek! — dating or sleeping with or chasing a younger man, actually having sexual desires, has become a cultural trope.


Here’s the predictably outraged Andrea Peyser in the New York Post:

Susan Winter’s relationship at 40 with a 19-year-old led her to write “Older Women, Younger Men: New Options for Love and Romance” (Horizon Press). And she understands the “ick” factor.

“What’s empowering about a middle-age woman coming on to a younger guy at a bar and taking him home?” asked Winter, now 55. “Do you really want to wear leopard-skin pants, crop top and muffin fat hanging over?

“Being with someone younger expands our choices. What we find unattractive is the idea of a predator.”

Carolyn, 44, works in the music industry and dates younger guys. But she knows some men get turned off — or on, for the wrong reasons.

“I’m dating people, they have to know how old I am,” she said. “I’m the one who’s uncomfortable.”

It was inevitable that society would turn against women’s gray hair, crow’s feet and belly fat. But I won’t be the butt of jokes.

Act your age, ladies. And lay off the boys.

This matters…because?

Because if you head into any New York (substitute any major city name here) bar, you’ll find some fat old guy with a comb-over and healthy self-esteem working hard to pick up lithe, pretty girls half his age. Yet when women play the man’s game, the wrist-slapping, pursed-lips crowd remind us it’s not seemly for a woman over…35? to have a sexual appetite, let alone want to enjoy it with a younger guy.

I think they’re all really jealous.

Many older women are in great shape. Those gray hairs? Feh. We treasure our colorists. We earn our own incomes, own our own homes and, best of all for some younger men, have our own clearly formed identities without the social validation of a husband.

After my divorce, my first boyfriend was six years younger, his successor eight years younger. For most of my older single life, (before settling down with someone four months my junior), I dated guys much younger than myself, mostly because they were a lot more fun. They had more energy and optimism.

Available older guys were too often embittered sad sacks — broke from divorce/child support/alimony; worn out from endless fighting with their ex-wife(ves); broken by the forces of middle age, whether the loss of their hair or their job.

The ones my age who were in decent shape? Too busy chasing college-age kiddies to even glance in my direction.

Cougars are using the basic laws of supply and demand to their advantage — older guys (i.e. men their age, 40+) won’t even consider dating most of them. New York City women over 35, even the ropy-armed crowd lean as whippets, freshly manicured/pedicured/highlighted/Botoxed, wearing their best designer dresses, are a dime a dozen. They know it, men know it. Oversupply.

Younger men — 10 or 12 or 15 years younger — even five or six years younger, offer an appealing alternative. I used to call them Kit Kat boys, like the candy bar, a nice, light snack. They probably won’t marry you or nurse you through your hip replacement(s), but they have their own charms. They dance well, know cool music, are up for adventure. One of them told me, appreciatively, how much he valued our age difference. Women his age, he said, were an amorphous, identity-seeking mess, too often focused on Getting The Ring.

I’d just lost a lousy husband and was in no rush to make that mistake twice.

I did hit bottom the night I met a lovely young —- oooooohhhh, so young — man in one of my favorite Manhattan bars. We dated a few times but it wasn’t working out too well. Not because he lived in Queens (where I’d never even been before) and I north of the city. But because he kept talking about college. Because he’d just graduated.

I could barely remember college.

There are limits to how low one can go. But it’s up to the man, and the woman, to make that decision.

Not the finger-wagging crowd.

Have you ever dated someone much younger (or older)? How did it turn out? Would you (never) consider it?


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  1. collapse expand

    Absolutely release the cougars! Better older women than older men. Personally, the thought of 60-yr-old man balls is rather traumatic to my person. Whereas a woman, a woman of any age, is still a woman. But maybe that speaks more to my attraction to the opposite sex than anything at all related to age. It should be clear from your experience with younger men, you care more about age than we do.

  2. collapse expand

    John, I am still digesting breakfast. Please! I personally think that bit of the male anatomy, however completely essential to health and procreation, is/are just not your best feature, at any age.

    I don’t care more about age, per se — I’ve dated guys 10-30 years older as well. I care most about being with someone who is kind, fun, talented, smart and ethical. I’m shallow enough to want a partner who’s also physically attractive. Sue me!

    My Dad still looks great and dresses with terrific style at 80. “Old” or “middle” aged is a (stodgy, dull, settled) mindset, much of the time. When I ditched my 30+ years-older man (who proposed within a week or two), it was because he was REALLY bossy and didn’t listen to me. His age was less annoying than his (relative) deafeness.

  3. collapse expand

    I think my FIL put it best, “It’s only a problem if you’re jealous. Goodness knows we give the guys kudos for hooking up with the young things, why not extend the courtesy?”

    In my family, my mother is 11 years older than my father. They actually met in college…she was the grad student teacher for his basic programming class and he impressed her by tying for the highest A in her class. Since they graduated about the same time, it didn’t really make a difference in the long run.

    Me, I date older guys, my current fiance is 9.5 years older than me. I don’t like many of the guys my own age, partially because I feel like I’m ready to settle down. My fiance is also at that point in his life, so we came together at the right time I guess.

  4. collapse expand

    Your FIL sounds like a cool guy. Many men, and women, find the idea of a sexually predatory woman terrifying — while men who behave in this fashion, at any age, get a high five. Such a tedious double standard!

    Women are considered safe/good/worth having when they wait for a guy to initiate. Those who take the lead are often enjoyed but later dismissed as sluts. So much for progress.

  5. collapse expand

    If I look half as good as some of the so-called “cougars” at their age, I’d be happy as a pig in poo. If they’re happy, healthy, and want to show off, who’s to judge? I say go for it.

  6. collapse expand

    I think the problem with a big age difference is that other power differences tend to come along with it – experience, income, notariety. My father is 21 years older than my mother, and one of the problems with their relationship is that she didn’t have much of an income, while he did, and did what he wanted with it, leaving her dependent and in a state of anxiety over his financial ventures.

  7. collapse expand

    Marissaao, thanks for this. I’m not sure it’s a problem per se, but most women would feel intimidated by this sort of power difference. I wonder how many older women face this issue when dating (or married to) much younger men.

    One of the things I noticed when dating younger men is how much more comfortable with female power they were — generationally speakingm some of them raised by single/feminist moms — than older guys who were used to being in charge. That alone made younger guys more fun; not that they were docile (boring) but they weren’t threatened by a woman who knew what she was doing and clearly enjoyed it.

  8. collapse expand

    My experiences have been not unlike yours.

    At first I thought it was strange that it was easier to find young men to date than older ones. In my late thirties I started noticing that men my own age and slightly older had no interest if they knew my age. Confirming the fact that it was the number not the physical appeal, some of these men had approached me in person only to back off after they asked me how old I was.

    At first I took the “if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them” approach and started dating older men. Much to my surprise, even men a dozen years older seemed dissatisfied and would say things that made me feel that they were on the lookout for an even younger affirmation of their lack of mortality. I found I couldn’t go old enough. If the only thing a man cares about is the year you were born, you’ll never be able to please him because you’ll always be inadequate compared to every woman born five minutes later.

    It’s evident that I’m am a little bit self-conscious about being predatory because I rarely approach significantly younger men although I’ll approach men my own age or older quite boldly. Even considering that, I date younger men more often than men my own age. I’ll consider older men, but I approach them warily.

    I hate to make sweeping generalizations but there’s one thing I’ve found with older men and I’d be curious to know if you’ve found this too. Older men have a longer and more exacting list of requirements regarding appearances. They want to tell me what kind of clothes to wear, how to wear my hair, what kind of shoes, underwear, make-up, etc. My jaw drops when I hear this. I’m not the sort of person to whom men have ever said things like this in the past. Younger men say things like, “What’s inside is more important than what’s outside.” This could just be the men I’ve met, but the contrast has been striking.

  9. collapse expand

    This sounds familiar. I think older men — 50+. certainly 60+, were raised with a more pliable idea of what women should be, pleasing to them! I have been amazed (unpleasantly) by this sort of unthinking demand. I never had guys tell me what to wear, but some had some very specific ideas what they wanted and they were quite happy to tell me what they were. Whatever.

    I think younger men are happy if you’re fun, fit, economically solvent. That’s plenty. The two younger boyfriends I had I met (both of them) when I was crewing on sailboats. Good hunting there…:-) The old guys (fat, bossy, rich) own the boats but the cute, fit ones come to crew on them.

  10. collapse expand

    I thought of a retort for Ms. Peyser: I’m single and my sexual desire isn’t going away on your say so. Would you prefer if I acted my age by sleeping with your husband?

    I’m not usually that nasty, but I read her column. She thinks 35 is over the hill! Wow!

  11. collapse expand

    Age us just a number, and not even a phone number. I’ve tried both ways (a woman 10 years younger and one 12 years older.) If I’m a decent guy and she’s a decent gal, I don’t see how we can be scandalous together. That’s why I see age as unimportant while it’s absolutely critical to be a cad and date trollops.

  12. collapse expand

    Unrelated, but True/Slant is the only site where I comment under a pseudonym. I’m learning to appreciate pseudoanonymity a lot.

  13. collapse expand

    jaxyn, it’s only “over the hill” because she’s older than that! As someone on the dark side of 35, I’d say it’s all better than the alternative — i.e. death.

    doug…Cads and Trollops. Love it! A punk rock band or a Dickensian law firm, perhaps. And, yes, I think a little anonymity might be helpful for you at times like this.

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    About Me

    Former reporter and feature writer for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News. Winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor) about -- what else -- my divorce. I've been writing frequently for The New York Times since 1990 on almost any subject you can think of -- yup, I'm a generalist. Author of "Blown Away: American Women and Guns" (Pocket Books 2004). Canadian born, raised and formally educated, I've lived in New York since 1989.

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