A later version of this article was submitted to Huff Post, and declined
Fully embraced by our ageist yet feminist, ground-breaking yet traditionalistic American society, the word Cougar as term is now being flown as media-endorsed banner into mixed-gender battlefields everywhere. Women, already burdened with the inherent uphill climb as possessed by our gender, are now labeling themselves as such in their intentional pursuit of men significantly younger than they. As if it were not enough to fight age with the constant fixing/freezing/plumping and lifting of bodily self, it is now also the wooing, bedding and possible wedding of evermore youthful male quarry that we have to endure as feminine benchmark. The altar-driven part of this trend amuses; so what if it’s the second, third or fourth time around? Weddings are a great American industry, serial marriage an accepted way of life.
Articles touting the wonders and wild adventures of cougarism abound these days. On the flip side, essays lamenting our drying-up body parts, sagging selves and fragile self-esteems are everywhere too, proving that despite twenty-first century social proactivity, we are still in many ways just as brittle and delicate as our “hysterical” ancestresses. Cougars (usually self-proclaimed), risk becoming caricatures of themselves: aging babes in search of babes. Women seeking boytoys for purposes of ego-boosting and/or time-warped “true” love are setting themselves up for ridicule, not to mention old-school disappointment and heartbreak. I mean, read the responses to most articles touting hardline cougarism. The quest to bag solely younger men has the potential to become as cliche as a midlife crisis Macho Man who sports, um, say, a handlebar mustache, drives a red corvette and dates 20-somethings.
Famous cougars are notoriously gorgeous and rich. Fact is, any man or woman who is gorgeous, rich and famous can schtupp and/or wed just about anyone he or she wants. But boy oh boy, celebrity cougarism ceases to be a grand accomplishment once that relationship hits the skids. It becomes fodder for mass media pop psych 101. The revolving door of coupledom is an old, old story and credit for longevity via mutual commitment and compatibility should always hold first sway, not the novelty of disparate birth years. Truly successful relationships are red-diamond rare anyway. If we were all happy and settled in this media-saturated world, there would be nothing to watch, read or post about, would there?
Cougars are by definition on the prowl for an archetype. Know what ladies? Young is as young does. If your tousle-headed, six-packed quarry is young enough for you to have birthed him, sure, have fun with him, but acknowledge that your cutie is possibly also counting on your paying the tab. How many of you have not dressed your guys? These boys are not setting out to find someone who they can tend to in decades to come; they are interested in doing you. Now. Moreover, if your pretty young thing is not yet a father, be prepared for this deal-breaker to hit at some point down the road, particularly as most of you are no longer in the market for reproduction.
Pursuing men with any age as a main criteria precludes seeking anyone out for what I believe to be the right reason. Compatibility. What first attracts opposites soon enough repels and is best left to movie scripts. Beyond any age issue, the diverse worlds of any couple need to crisscross in enough ways that a foundation of mutuality is able to survive the years. The fawning of one over a passive, pedestal-placed other might feel good on some level, but it isn’t healthy for the long haul. Additionally, hooking up with someone much younger, however fascinating it might at first be, soon holds the logical possibility for boredom borne of disconnect. Can it be Blink-182 and Bocelli or is it Blink-182 or Bocelli? Boredom, as we all know, often leads to relationship demise. Cougars, for all their hard work and effort, risk growing old(er) for this reason alone: Is solitude what they want in the end anyway?
I also wonder: Is this relationship trend yet another aspect of our confusing fun for happiness? What obvious, momentary thrills continue to outweigh the desire to thoughtfully invest in meaningful but perhaps more mature relationships? By picking and choosing within the confines of agism, by perhaps relishing the challenge more than the status quo, the cougar invites a decided uncertainty into her life at a point where she may arguably be in her prime. Does the reality of cougarism play into the answer? Our primal fear is, I believe, to be alone. Fear of being alone fuels faith, it fuels sacrifice, it fuels aspirations to greatness, it opens the door to good and bad allegiances. Fear also takes us down knee-jerk, superficial paths and creates contests where there should be none. No true happiness comes easily, nor is it, I believe, conjured up by pursuing the unmarred beauty of idealized youth, be it under the knife or between the sheets.
It is a known fact, substantiated by studies and the industries, that American women struggle with their post-reproductive phasing-out. We fight menopause with snake oil and prescription meds (many of them not good for us) and we suffer longer and harder for it with symptoms that appear to be more severe and last longer than elsewhere in the world. We have been confronted with monstrous cosmetic and cosmetic surgery reliance and we now can add to that the behavioral manifestations that is this cougar trend. The youthful age of the pursued is used to re-identify the predator, one who fights tooth and nail against what is elsewhere treated as a more elegant process.
On that note, we women should not let the hormone industry brainwash us into thinking our ability to respond sexually is irrevocably linked to our baby-making clocks. The power of suggestion can be crippling. We as consumers need to remember that advertising is to sell a product and not to dispel or establish truths, but it is impossible to avoid or to be completely immune to it. In this 24/7 visual age of arm candy parades, it does include hanging on to some concept of dignity and accomplishment via whom one is linked to romantically. No one should be that afraid to be alone, but we are. Can there come a point when the performance art and pressure of finding and having new encounters grows less influential to our sense of self? I happen to like the giving and taking of sexual pleasure with someone I know very, very well, and I like having this within the context of the productive compatibility of a committed relationship. Revolving romance doors have always puzzled me; that is just how I am wired. Does a prerequisite of youth suggest, like infidelity, an ongoing need for the new to achieve the thrill? Where it comes to relentless cougaring, can its flaw be represented via reality in Nature? In Nature it is the outsider, the weakling, that is picked off for consumption.
Yes, I as wife to one younger absolutely benefit from the energy of my guy, but he benefits as much from mine. The years have so far been good to me, knock on wood, thank the Fates, I’ll keep working on it. And we did have a kid together (later-year parenting I completely recommend). It was pure happenstance that he turned out to be younger than me. In our case, I resisted long-term commitment for several years; I was the hesitant one.
Ladies, sisters, hold yourselves in first place, pick your “we” mindfully. If your guy happens to be younger than you, great. How about we let age be a coincidence.