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Cull the Cougars

September 7, 2010

Now, before the animal rights supporters among you start a campaign to lynch me, let me explain that I am not advocating any sort of action against the regal mountain lion.  They are a magnificent species that we should all be concerned about protecting. 

"40+ women seeking cub to play with"

No, the class of ‘cougar’ I am referring to is (as defined by Wikipedia) “a woman, 40 years of age or older, who pursues younger men, typically more than eight years her junior”. And the reason I would like to see them reduced to infinitesimal numbers (or eradicated entirely) is because their very existence is an insult to all the reasonably good-looking, middle-aged, single women out there who don’t want to jump into a relationship (or a bed) with someone who’s young and immature enough to think that sleeping with someone who’s old enough to be his mother (or his big sister, aunt, teacher, etc.) is a good idea!

According to lexicographer Grant Barrett, the slang term ‘cougar’ originated in 1999 in Canada (wow – there’s something we can be proud of!) when two women who wanted to create a dating website that matched older women with younger men were told by their nephew that they were “like cougars in search of small defenceless animals”.  Fast forward ten years and there are at least a dozen ‘cougar’ dating sites, as well as several ‘advice’ sites on ‘how to date a cougar’.  I even heard (from a friend of a friend) that house parties are being hosted in middle-class neighbourhoods where ‘mature fun-loving women’ are given advice on putting together the right wardrobe, hairstyle, makeup, and attitude in order to attract the attention of younger men (the one she was invited to included a follow-up ‘field trip’ to a local bar where the ‘cougars’ were encouraged to put their newly-honed skills to work.  Boy, we’ve come a long way from holding Tupperware parties, haven’t we?!?!)

The concept of older women with a fascination for younger men has been explored as something of a character aberration in episodes of TV shows like Sex and the City’ and ‘Desperate Housewives’.  It ‘went mainstream’ in 2009 with the reality TV show ‘The Cougar’ (where eight 20-something males competed for the chance of a long-term relationship with a 40-year-old divorced mother of four / real estate agent from Arizona), and a half-hour sitcom called ‘Cougar Town’ (which is about “exploring the difficulties and stigma of many so-called ‘cougars’ …” ) I have to ask:  If there is such a stigma attached to the term, why on earth would you market yourself as one?!?!?!?  You don’t see shows called ‘Leprosy Town’ or ‘Sociopath Town’ do you?!?!?!?

cartoon 'cub'

"20-something male seeking older woman to take care of him"

I suspect that women who categorize themselves as ‘cougars’ are seeking out younger men in order to feel young themselves. Maybe they’ve never been married, or they’ve just gone through a divorce, and they want reinforcement that they’re still desirable at forty-plus. Whatever the reason, they ARE the age they are – and no ‘young cub’ is going to change that!  (And if you’ve been married and have grown children, why on earth would you want to start a relationship with someone else’s child at this stage of your life?!?!?)  Why not simply be satisfied with who you are NOW? You’ve earned the right! Why back-peddle?

(And while I’m not going to get into the psychology of why younger men want to have ‘liaisons’ with ‘cougars’, suffice it to say most of it has to do with the alleged sexual prowess of older women or some sort of Oedipus complex.)

I realize that there have always been older men who actively seek relationships with younger women (the term ‘manther’ has been coined recently to describe these men; they’re also occasionally referred to as ‘Hugh Hefners’ – although I imagine few of them actually spend their time lounging around mansions in their pyjamas).  I suppose that by finding an attractive young wife, these men hope they will feel or appear young and/or powerful.  Perhaps ‘cougars’ are the natural female response to this sort of behaviour (i.e., if men can seek out ‘trophy’ mates, why can’t women do the same?).  However, it seems like a perverse way of proving that women are ‘equal’ to men. Why do we want to ‘be even’ in the demonstration of poor judgment in our relationships?

Sometimes I forget how old (in years) I am.  I’m often surprised when I glance in the mirror and see an older-than-I-expected version of myself looking back at me. And I admit that I have admired my share of attractive younger men on TV or in the movies (George Clooney, Clive Owen, Tom Cruise … at my age these gentlemen are at least eight years my junior) and even, on occasion, have thought to myself, ‘I’d let him eat crackers in my bed’.  But I put these ‘fantasies’ into the same realm as oogling a Porsche 911 GS or gazing longingly at pictures of multi-million dollar mansions in Hawaii – I don’t expect to ever actually own them!

And let’s not forget that all this chasing after younger men can occasionally put a ‘cougar’ in an embarrassing situation. About a dozen years ago, I was at a conference in Toronto with several female colleagues, most over the age of 40.  One night we were in the hotel bar, sipping a sickly-sweet cocktail that was served in a giant pitcher (designed for sharing), and enjoying time away from our jobs and our ‘regular lives’. One of the women soon noticed that the young male bartender kept glancing our way.  She smiled at him; he smiled back and waved to her.  Emboldened by the three drinks she’d already knocked back, she crooked her finger to call him over.  He approached the table eagerly, his eyes keeping direct contact with hers.  Fascinated, if a little grossed out by her overtly lascivious interest in this young man, and his eager response (he appeared to be no more than 30; the woman in question was 42), the rest of the group at the table leaned in to listen to their conversation.  It went something like this.

Her (almost purring): “Hello there. I noticed you looking at us from the bar.”

Him (smiling): “Of course.  I recognized you as soon as you came in.”

Her (smile dimming): “Recognized me? Have we met?”

Him (still smiling): “Of course. Don’t you remember me?”

Her (looking decidedly uncomfortable now … one of my other colleagues later told me that this woman had something of a habit of picking up young men in bars): “No, I’m sorry, I don’t.”

Him (smile broadening): “I’m Jeremy Smith*. You used to live next door to my family. You babysat me from the time I was just a baby until you went off to college.  Boy, it’s good to see you again.  It’s been – what – twenty years?  You must have kids of your own by now.”

Her (turning slightly green): “Of course. Jeremy. Wow. Well, it’s been good to see you too. Gotta go.”

As we quickly gathered our purses and prepared to leave the bar, my now-mortified colleague muttered, “My gawd, thirty years ago I was changing his diapers!”  One of the other women in our group chuckled and put the encounter into perspective by adding, “And if you married him, in another thirty years he’d be changing yours.”

I am sure there are couples out there who have successful ‘May-December’ relationships.  But do they really ‘connect’ all the time? I know a woman who – upon hearing a song on the radio – sighed to her much-younger boyfriend, “I remember exactly where I was when that song came out.  It was 1967 – the summer of love.” And he replied, “1967. Yeah. I think that’s the year my mom and dad got married.”  Personally, I’d prefer to reminisce with someone who can relate to my memories in a more ‘timely’ manner! 

I believe that anyone – man or woman – who finds their soul mate in an individual several years younger (or older) than him/herself, should pursue the relationship, regardless of the age difference.  However, I sincerely hope that women who think of themselves as ‘cougars’ (or who might consider it) remember that a relationship has much more meaning if the search is undertaken with dignity and respect – both for yourself and for all the other ‘mature women’ who are looking for love ‘in all the right places’.  After all, you are going to want someone who’s still going to love you years from now when you reach and surpass … the other side of 55.

Married Couple

Happily Ever After!

*Name has been changed

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