I had a conversation with a friend over lunch in which we discussed the issue of age, being a cougar, and why it's okay to be a cougar unless addressed as "cougar" by someone in his twenties.
Here's my point: Age doesn't matter, unless it does.
I spent most of my five years as a divorcee dating younger men. My first post-divorce boyfriend in 2004 was 11 years my junior. He did, however, have two children and was also divorced. Mistakenly, I assumed that because he had children and had been through the process of marriage and divorce, he had the emotional maturity required to be in a functional relationship.
Needless to say, he didn't. And, quite frankly, I didn't either. Just because someone has the same life experiences as you, it doesn't mean he/she has the maturity that typically comes from having those experiences -- and that can apply to how he treats sex and intimacy matters too.
After I dated Junior, I tested the waters by dating a few men closer to my age. I met a variety of men who belonged to different Manimal species (including a few of the Quality Casual types, Mr. Murse and those whom I didn't date more than once and thus could only put into the category called "Excessive Talk about Ex-Wife and Custody Schedules").
During this period I realized once again that despite sharing many of the same life experiences, these men weren't looking for the same things as me. Some were still recovering from loss, others were enjoying their freedom, and others just "weren't a match." And when you're not on the same page, entering an intimate relationship in the post-divorce stage can complicate things even more.
Dating is a skill to be practiced because it enables you to discern your non-negotiables, likes and dislikes. It also creates opportunities to practice connecting with people, regardless of whether you want to have them as a romantic partner. If you've been out of the dating game for a while due to divorce, it's okay to play the field a bit as you "practice" dating -- but remember that "dating" and "intimacy" aren't interchangeable.
I continued to attract younger men into my life, and it was during this time that I decided who was too young and who was not. Too young is someone who has never seen an episode of "Happy Days" or the "Carol Burnett Show." Too young is someone who spends most of the date telling you he's "really mature" or texts you at 11:30 p.m. asking, "Where you at?"
These men were perfectly appropriate when my relationship goal was to date casually while I was figuring out how I could keep my independence in relationship and determine what I was truly looking for in a partner.
It really is fun to realize you can attract younger men and that you have it in you to stay up past closing time, but it's critical to recognize that its value is just that: a good time.
Once I became ready to be in a relationship and had identified what was negotiable and what was not negotiable, I knew what I was looking for was a more holistic package. I knew I wanted a man with emotional maturity, someone who didn't want to have kids of his own, a person who was on a spiritual path, and someone who lived in Los Angeles. I'm now in a relationship with a man who fits the bill in these areas and is eight years younger than I am.
Of course there are times when I wonder if he'll be attracted to me when my crinkles turn to wrinkles, or if it really does matter that I've let too much time lapse between visits to the colorist. Mostly, however, I'm centered and come from a place of self-love, knowing that Jem fell in love with me. All of me: the good parts, the parts that are works in progress, and the woman who "looks good for 40-plus."
Which brings me to the most important lesson of all: Instead of focusing on the number, determine your values, decide what you're looking for in a partner, and then decide if the person matches your values, your maturity, and your vision for a partner. This is far more important than the digits on their driver's license.
Marni Battista, founder of Dating with Dignity, has professional training in dating and relationship coaching and a certified Life Coach through the International Coaching Federation. Marni helps clients pinpoint exactly why they are or are not "date-able" and what types of messages they unconsciously broadcast based on their thoughts, feelings, actions and attitudes. http://datingwithdignity.com/