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Cougars And Double Standards

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In last week's column, I answered a question from a 27-year-old woman who had concerns about dating a man fifteen years her senior. I cautioned her about the potential pitfalls, but in the end told her not to let the age gap get in the way if she truly believed he was her soul-match. In the comments, I was asked if I would give the same advice to a younger man dating an older woman - which is a scenario that is becoming more and more common, or should I say "trendy."

While older men who date younger women are often viewed as virile and sophisticated, (and in some stereotypical views, rich) the term used for older women who date younger men has an entirely different connotation; they are called "cougars." However, in the last several years women who are labeled cougars have gone from being thought of as purely predatory to sexy and vibrant. Mrs. Robinson may have started the trend, but Demi Moore has definitely made being a cougar chic. The term originated in Vancouver as a put-down for older women who prowled bars and went home with whoever was left at the end of the night -usually the youngest men. But now thanks to the likes of Demi, the term has evolved to describe women usually in their late thirties, forties and fifties who are financially secure, independent and looking for a younger man to have fun with. Canadian author Valerie Gibson who wrote the book Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men, defines a cougar as "a very sophisticated, a very attractive, a very sensually-aware woman, very much in control of her life. She's got a lot of energy. Today they're very fit; they're very healthy. And they're very successful."

Today it's apparently "cool" to be a cougar, maybe even something to strive for. There is even an online cougar dating sites, and cougar apparel. This is where I think there is a double standard. We don't see a lot of mainstream books and dating sites for older men dating younger women. Perhaps because it's an older story whereas the trend of cougarism is just now becoming more accepted. Cougars are celebrated; they are the subjects of news stories, the new femme fatales on the movie screen (a la Ellen Barkin in Ocean's Thirteen), and they grace the covers of magazines. Today being a cougar is something to aspire to, and if you are a younger man there is a certain pride that comes with dating an older women. A "sugar mama" isn't something to hide anymore.

So, to a younger man dating the older woman, my advice is not that different from that which I gave the 27-year-old woman dating the 42-year-old man. Proceed with caution. Ask yourself this question: is part of the appeal the fact that the woman is older? Does your ego love that you have been hunted by a cougar? How will you feel when the novelty of the age difference wears off? Are you okay with being "prey" or do you want a long-term relationship?

Many young men, and I realize this is a generalization, are just looking for a fun relationship, not a big commitment. Believe me, I can understand the appeal of an older woman. (I've become much saner and more confident as I've gotten older). Don't use her for a short-term cougar affair - unless she is up for it too. It's also important to consider what you want from the relationship. If you fall in love with a cougar, you are eventually going to be faced with whether you want the same things from the relationship. Some older women are either finished having children or don't want any - is that okay with you? And what about her relationship goals? Maybe she's just exercising her libido, and not after anything more. Are you ok with being disposable? As in any romantic relationship, don't just assume you are on the same page - make sure that you are.

Just because Demi and Ashton or Tim and Susan made it work doesn't mean that we can say age doesn't matter. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Since every person is an individual, every single relationship is different, and only the people actually in a relationship can make the call.

In a society where teeny boppers seemed to rule, it is refreshing that forty has become the new thirty, and that women are finally thought to improve with age like men do.

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