‘Cougars’ are popularly defined as women in their 40s (or older) who date significantly younger men, generally at a 10-year age gap or more. Popular culture paints the cougar as predatory and pathetically desperate, but women have recently begun fighting the stereotype: real cougars…are confident, successful, single women over the age of 40, who — tired of unromantic and narrow-minded men their own age — date younger, more active and more adventurous men.
Cougar Talk and a Cougar Theme Right Here
If, like me, you’ve found yourself being referred to as a cougar on a dating site because you’re over 40, you might wonder what this stereotype is all about.
Stereotypes about cougars are more nuanced than they first appear – it’s about attitudes influenced by media showing sexy older women as ‘teachers’. It’s about beliefs that younger women are too ‘high maintenance’ or older women are ‘easy’. It’s about differing expectations or desires about sex and ‘commitment’ at various life stages.
It’s also about confidence, life experience and tolerance – some might call it maturity.
Look at me – so cute, intense and umm, furry.
A lot of people relate to the online dating experience regardless of age, but what I’m interested in here on this blog is exploring the uniquely ‘cougar’ experience – as a mid-life woman over 40 even if nothing else.
In fact, I now see the word ‘cougar’ as a rebellious take on the outdated, patriarchal notion that women (unlike men) have a use-by date defined by their reproductive abilities, their appearance, their value according to men, and their clickability or appeal on social and mainstream media.
I’d even go as far as declaring that to be a cougar you can be a feisty, forthright and sexually empowered woman of any age – you don’t have to be attracted to younger men. You don’t even have to date men! You can date whoever you like!
At first, the cougar stereotype did not sit easily with me. I feel a bit silly admitting that when I launched my very first profile on the cheesy dating app, Skout, I didn’t even know what a ‘cougar’ was, or how popular we are! Yes, I was a slightly awkward, intense and naiive online dating virgin.
But though I may have been innocent in that regard, I was certain that I would be no young man’s teacher, experimental sex plaything or time filler. If they were crazy enough to want me, they had to take me on my terms – and that included (ideally) having a strong intellectual bond, as well as a certain openness or lack of pretension.
Emotional honesty is necessary for me to find myself, and to appreciate him. We don’t need to be ‘in love’ but we do need to be transparent and truthful. I soon found out how difficult it is to find these qualities in the online dating world. But back to the nature of cougars…
In a Cosmopolitan article about why young men choose cougars, one guy said that he likes “how mature they can be when handling serious situations, but also how playful and youthful they can be”.
Another said, “Older women have their life together. And with 15 years more experience, they’re more interesting to talk to.” Another speaks of there being “less drama with older women and they are much less likely to be dependent on you – a strong, independent woman is sexy.” (Cosmopolitan ‘What’s It Like To Be A Guy Who Only Dates Much Older Women?’ May 2016)
Like a lot of women, for a time I felt that my age put me on the back foot. Eventually I decided to play to my strengths and humorously adopt the ‘cougar’ mantle for myself.
What I learned in the Online Dating World: Cougar Hunters Abound
They are usually in their late twenties to early thirties, but occasionally they’ll be fresh out of high school. Initially, these guys were off limits for me. I used to baulk at the idea of anyone younger than mid-twenties.
And then, during my first year online dating, I developed a highly charged texting liaison with one young man, only to retreat in horror when he confessed to me that he was actually 17 and not 18 as he’d stated on his OKC profile. Ouch! He couldn’t understand how that one year made such a difference to me, and yet his behaviour at being rejected demonstrated his immaturity. (Note: Although the age of consent in many places is 17, if there is an age gap of more than 25 years that’s not OK as far as I’m concerned. There’s also the small matter of ‘dating’ someone who’s still in high school if you’re a mature woman of the world!)
I also spent a few months on kik’s Match & Chat chatting to young guys from all over the globe (provided they could speak English). Despite my initial misgivings about their ages, most immediately proved they were up to the task of flirting with a woman often more than twice their age.
Each in their own way, they could talk the talk.
I started experimenting with the concept of the erotic short story. It was all the more exciting because I had active participants hanging on my every word. Sometimes we’d take turns to tell the next bit. My arousing stories were achieving their goal – driving the reader to a frenzy of sexual excitement – and this turned me on too. I’d found my niche and it was incredibly liberating to be talking dirty, and to be the initiator.
I did briefly succumb to the charms of Jake, an 18-year-old commerce student. We liked each other, laughed a lot and when I eventually agreed to meet him, I was taken aback to see his braces, which made him look even younger. I did spend some time kissing with him though, and a comment he made while groping my bum still makes me laugh. “Oh my God!” he announced. “You’ve got a MASSIVE arse! I love it!”
What Jake talked to me about struck me as the dilemma of youth.
He wanted to have sex all day and night when he got the infrequent chance, whereas girls his age were not so keen, or wanted commitment, or were too much hassle, or “they just lie there and do nothing.” I assured Jake that there were many reasons why he might not be in synchronicity with his female peers.
I also reinforced that I wasn’t volunteering to be his sexual mentor purely for the dubious privilege of bedding a teenager, no matter how keen he was to learn, “how to be a good lover”. This cougar’s got standards!
Online, there are constant variations on this cougar-teacher theme.
I often chat with younger men for a short time to suss out whether there is any depth of character or some sort of common ground that might hold my attention.
One borderline-attractive very young man on OK Cupid assured me that though bedding a ‘mature woman’ was on his bucket list, he actually had ‘heaps of experience’. Anyway, he said, I should be grateful that a young buck was paying me attention. Puurrleeaase!
There are many and varied reasons why men under 35 are attracted to women a decade or more their senior. Apart from the common themes I mentioned earlier, another story is that older women know what they want, are confident and secure in their identity, are ‘low maintenance’ and can be good teachers in bed.
In the ‘young man’ psyche, older women and great sex seem to go together like hand in glove! This has the potential to make me feel more than a little nervous. Being compared with a stereotype or a cheesy urban myth is not my goal.
Sometimes I debunk these assumptions but a lot of the time I agree with them. I know that I am more confident now than I was as a twenty-something, and certainly I’m better educated and more worldly.
But I am still a human being looking for human interaction, that elusive special something with a person who values me for who I am, not my age or my ‘number’.
Beware of young guys who say ‘age is just a number’ – you can guarantee that they’re under 35 and have no idea what they’re talking about.