Agebreak – Let’s Be Thankful For Our Years, Not Ashamed

A long time ago there was a song that’s now become an iconic soundtrack of a period in Australian history – AC/DC’s Jailbreak.

Back in their formative years (the 1970s), the band was fronted by the late Bon Scott, a hard-boiled young sex god with a chest rug, tattoos back when they were dangerous, and denim jeans so tight you could see the outline of his considerable assets.

Jailbreak remains legendary for many people and I’m going to use it now as a metaphor for the cages in which we control and label women as we age.

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Three events have sparked this post

Each acted as a small thorn in my side, until I put all of them together and realised that this was a subtle push to voice my feelings and thoughts.

The first was the joint gasp from a group of young and beautiful narcissists on a franchised TV show premiering in Australia. It features several twenty-somethings with seemingly faultless and idealised body types, all thrust together on the tiny Love Island.

As viewers, we are expected to voyeuristically gorge our eyes on their unblemished physiques while we watch them figure out a pecking order, and couple up night and day under the watchful eye of 24/7 cameras (including night vision).

The almost-comic gasp I mention occurred when the group discovered that one of their members (a svelte, early-twenties buck) had a fling with an ‘older woman’ – “almost 50” no less.

The shocked expressions worn by these young women might indeed have been hilarious if they were not so insulting. I saw the gamut of emotions flicker by as the camera panned around the group – astonishment, the dreadful reality sinking in, revulsion. I imagined these vain hen peacocks trying to comprehend the scandalous notion that their ‘perfect’ bods might not actually be enough to keep hold of their man!

Who knows what the young bucks were thinking – I indulge myself that maybe they were a little more opening minded?

The second event I recalled after subconsciously pondering that ghastly show (like a car accident that held my gaze, I found myself strangely compelled to watch it until the first ad break!).

This second event was a story told by a recreational cricket player here in my town and it involved a similar socially suspect admission by a younger guy. Let’s say he was in his late teens, but his age is irrelevant. Points were jokingly assigned to these cricket hobbyists based on their most recent sexual success. When it came to the young buck’s turn, he LOST points – amid much jocular ribbing – because his womanly ‘conquest’ was over 40.

Not only was their assignation deemed unworthy of point value, he was penalised for it!

The third event was a comment made by a man on a dating site.

“Who’d be interested in a 52-year-old man?” he rhetorically and self-deprecatingly enquired. I responded, “And why wouldn’t someone be interested?” Tick any of the boxes that our youth-worshipping society so neatly packages up for us – too old, clapped out, can’t get it up, past his use-by date, haggard, jaded and just plain boring.

And for all those stereotypes there are matching ones for women! Dried up old prune, wrinkled, middle-aged, invisible, unworthy of our interest or attention, tired, past her best, and so on.

Subverting the dominant culture

While I find these examples of narrow-minded ageism all too predictable, it’s simultaneously fascinating that, subverting the dominant culture, is a whole other world where mature women are actively sought out for age-earned privileges.

‘Knowing what we want’ and ‘being able to hold a conversation’ are two such examples of the recognised virtues an ‘older woman’ brings to the table, as well as the more questionable ‘cutting to the chase’ and ‘being low maintenance’. (You might want to have a quick peek at my section about the changing definition of a ‘cougar’ at this point.)

Yes, it’s true that sometimes we don’t care to mess around with preliminaries – we might just want to get laid. In contrast, people regardless of their age still have very human needs and for me, being respected is right up there in the top five.

…people regardless of their age still have very human needs and for me, being respected is right up there in the top five.

Another example of the change in attitude at the other end of the spectrum is the term MILF. Firstly, that it exists, and secondly, that it’s consistently one of the top five most popular search term on Pornhub. (Pornhub Annual Report 2016) More worryingly, ‘step mom’ was the top most searched term in 2017 and still remains extremely popular.

Both cultural terms denote edgy, mature (and slightly dangerous) female sexuality combined with the traditional stereotype of women as the nurturers and carers.

In the article The Emancipation of the MILF: Does sexual freedom belong only to the young? journalist Kim Brooks describes the relatively unchartered territory of mature female sexuality, especially that of women who are also mothers. (Kim Brooks, The Cut May 2017)

In her 40s, author Claire Dederer came to the painful conclusion that she had a problem. “The problem had to do with sex. It had to do with desire. It had to do with being a middle-aged wife and mother and needing and wanting to be seen and known by new people in a new way…” says Brooks.

While recognising that she loved her husband and her family, she could no longer suppress the bubbling desire for something ‘other’ than where she found herself in her life. “A part of her wanted to step outside the boundary of the polite, middle-class domestic life they’d drawn around themselves. Or, to put it more crudely, she wanted to fuck around.”

And this concept is being echoed around the world, not only in memoirs, articles and blogs, but in TV shows like Wanderlust, and even among my own midlife female friends.

Revising the concept of the cougar or MILF

In the time since I installed that first dating app four years ago, I’ve done a complete 360 on my attitude to the concept and mythology around MILFs and cougars.

It hasn’t been easy, because I’d imbibed the subtle messages that surround us, as women, that once we reach a certain age our lives become less interesting, less important and certainly, less passionate. As I age, I instinctively struggle with this blatant ageism, because in my core, I don’t feel any different from those early heady years of discovering my personal, female and sexual identity in my late teens and twenties. I’m sure you feel the same way.

History and popular culture has proven that many, many women in midlife can identify with what Claire Dederer grapples with in her memoir Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning, forensically examining what happens when a devoted wife and mother stops taking care of everyone, “stops subsuming her own needs to those of her children and husband, stops repressing her unruly sexual desires, and starts acting like, well … a man.”

Dederer asserts that a woman might be a mother and yet also a person with unruly, lively and even promiscuous sexual desire. “…A mature woman’s love life might be every bit as sensuous, tawdry, complicated, and overflowing as that of any women in her twenties,” she says.

Kim Brooks suggests of Dederer, “…but as a woman, she is setting out into the uncharted territory, suggesting, as a few brave souls have now begun to do, that the MILF might not just be a male fetish and a focus of male desire, but a person in her own right, not just an object, but a subject with things she herself would like to do.”

This image of the powerful and emancipated cougar or MILF is in direct contrast to the dominant ideology western society likes to periodically regurgitate. It was repugnantly blatant in the three examples I mention here – and it is not only confined to women.

Men also experience a similar cultural backlash as they age, even if they are party to its distribution.

For example, men perpetuate ageist attitudes about themselves (“who’d want this clapped-out old goat?”) and in the popular midlife trend of seeking out a newer model of the no-longer-interesting wife.

Research shows that men judge a woman’s physical appearance significantly higher (33%) than any other factor. (Elyse Romano ‘The State of Dating: What Do We Look For In A Mate?’)

British journalist, Deborah Orr writes in The Guardian, “how many articles have there been about how awful it is that ‘middle-aged women’ can’t meet ‘middle-aged men’ because all the ‘middle-aged men’ are snapping up ‘younger women’?…Women are culturally programmed to go into some kind of existential panic if they find themselves single in their forties. Men? They’re culturally programmed to believe that whatever they do, they mustn’t get mixed up with an ‘incredibly lonely’ and ‘incredibly vulnerable’ woman in existential panic. Which, frankly, is fair enough.” (Deborah Orr ‘Helen Bailey and the Lethal Darkness Behind This ‘Middle-Aged Woman’ Myth’ The Guardian 25 Feb 2017)

Looking on the bright side

But thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom for women in midlife.

Not only do we have the titillating prospect of sex or liaisons with younger men, but at least 58% of 26,434 men between 30 and 49 in one study said they’d consider dating a woman older than them. (Elyse Romano ‘Online Dating Report Women Want Younger Men’) So there are some positive aspects to take out of some research.

One article says that, “the overall attitude [is that] the older woman is better adjusted …that women in their forties have significantly high levels of self-confidence, are happier with their lives overall and feel that the best days of their lives are ahead of them.”
Even better for men with commitment phobia, “96% of women in their forties are content being in a relationship that may not end in marriage, but only 62% of eighteen-year-old women can say the same.” (OK Cupid Says Men Are Looking for Older Women and Just Don’t Know It’)

I am happy to have reached the stage where I am content both with myself and my life, as a strong, independent woman.

I don’t need a man – I want mutually satisfying, challenging and fun relationships, but that’s very different at my age and stage at any other decade. I don’t have a burning, ‘sand through the hourglass’ desire for babies, I don’t have any economic need to be taken care of or pampered. I don’t rely on my body or my appearance for my external validation (although it’s always nice to be appreciated or admired!).

Finally, in this second half of my life, I have reached a place of satisfaction, empowerment and reasonable contentment with myself. I’m still a work in progress, as we all are.

If there’s one thing I’d say to those obnoxious, narcissistic young women on Love Island it’s this: One day, if you’re lucky, you’ll reach 50 too. Pray that by then, you have something other than a lithe body and a pretty face as the foundation for your self-esteem.

Meditation on Gratitude

Capturing feelings of gratitude can be extraordinarily hard. It is often fleeting and ephemeral, not something tangible that I can pin down and examine.

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But in the last few days I’ve been focusing on the flow of energy in my life, and my reactions to recent events – disappointing and painful – and how my attitude to these events is influenced by my core beliefs.

Those beliefs are not always helpful or positive, so at a very deep emotional, mental and physical level I’m doing some work on changing that.

One of these long-held beliefs is a variation on the theme of not being worthy – ultimately worthy of loving. This premise is one that so many of us carry throughout lives like a lead coat of misery or shame. A rainbow of morbid grays that weighs us down and contributes nothing to our emotional or mental health.

I’ve decided to cast mine off and reclaim my inner space as an optimistic, confident woman who is indeed deserving of respect, someone’s time, being heard, being supported, being treasured, being satisfied, being adored – and being loved.

In some ways my ‘cougar’ identity – read ‘mature, sexually empowered woman’ – is one face I hold up to the world. There are others too.

I’m sure this new period of determined growth will influence my dating life and my desires in the coming months.

I’m henceforth inviting in people who will help me grow, specifically towards re-building my core (unconscious) beliefs to be life-affirming, self-affirming and loving.

Part of what I will be working on during the next two weeks is creating a vision board. I have never done one of these before, although in a way my whole, beloved home, particularly my bedroom and study, is about holding beauty, strong positive energy and ideas through language (quotes), images (cards and pictures, artwork) and of course, cherishing the physical (through touch and intimacy).

This is my first living space (house) that I alone own – I’m responsible for the roof over my head (to also shelter and protect my children) by my own labour and dedication. Before now everything I owned belonged jointly to the ex-husband. It is immensely liberating to go it alone – although I share the space with my children, I know that one day it will be all mine. It is my safe space and my sanctuary.

This is a deeply empowering fact that I don’t take for granted. I am grateful for my ability to provide for myself and my family in work that enriches me, and helps me grow and learn every day. It is also work that allows me to enter ‘the zone’ aka the flow; a place where we are lost in our endeavours. I am grateful for this state as there is no more rewarding career than one that allows you to connect with this energy through whatever means is your calling.

I am also grateful for the reciprocal love, warmth, listening, and sharing of my friends and immediate family.

That may seem obvious but in feeling gratitude I can’t go past the most observable source, which includes the people who I spend the most time with day in, day out, week in, week out and in some cases, year on year.

There are many other aspects of my life I’m grateful for, including my good health. I’m also working on being genuinely grateful for my physical body (without succumbing to the notion of myself as a flawed and less-than-perfect specimen of womanhood).

I’m hopeful that shifting some of these unhelpful core beliefs and subconscious attitudes will also shift something in the type of relationships that I attract into my life.

And of course, you – dear reader.

I am grateful for you. I am grateful that what started out as dipping a toe in the waters of experimentation (never having read a blog before, much less followed dozens!), close on 9 months later I have a solid following and much more importantly, a genuine feeling of community channeled via blogging and specifically, WordPress.

In 2017 (September to December), Unleashing the Cougar achieved 4,547 views from 1,251 visitors, attracting 433 likes and 409 comments.

In 2018 (to end May), Unleashing the Cougar achieved 8,055 views from 2,492 visitors, attracting 596 likes and 562 comments.

Highest all-time views were in March and April 2018 with 1.9K each month.

The top 4 countries to view UTC during these 9 months were United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, with surprising numbers in France, Germany, the Netherlands and India.

In 2018 (to end May) I have written 41,229 words or 22 posts, and in 2017 (from September), I wrote 46,423 words, or 36 posts. I have long posts on average, because I tackle meaty subjects, and they sit around the 1800 word mark. And UTC has gone from zero to 264 followers in these 9 months – for every one of these people I am honoured and thrilled.

Thank you again to everyone who has read or commented on this (still) work-in-progress blog. Thank you to the women and men I have ‘met’ and collaborated with, some of whom have become my first blogger friends – and one I have even met IRL!

As always, I am grateful for feedback, suggestions and opinions, especially constructive criticism because that’s how we learn and grow.

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Eve Lawrence