Beyond the ‘Cougar’ label: Confessions of a non-cougar

cougar There are several popular definitions for the word cougar. The feline mammal not withstanding, these days a cougar is described as a woman 35 years of age or older, who pursues younger men, typically more than eight years her junior. Another, harsher definition, is one of an older woman who frequents clubs in order to score (their word, not ours) with a much younger man.  Sounds pretty predatory doesn’t it? Well, there are many women who happen to be in relationships with younger men who take issue with the term.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Jo. Jo lives in England and is a woman in her late 30’s married to a younger man, and she does NOT want to be labeled a cougar. Throughout her life Jo had always been drawn to younger men, and in 2005 she met a man – 10 years her junior – and within a year, they were married.  Here’s what she has to say about marriage, marriage to a younger man, and why she hates the term ‘Cougar’.

On why she decided to marry, and why this man:

“I met him in my mid thirties, long after the majority of my friends had settled down with their same-age partners. Before that, I hadn’t been prepared to settle down. In some ways, I felt that doing so would compromise my own identity. When I met my husband-to-be, he was a breath of fresh air. There were no expectations on me to behave and act a particular way, and no notions of what a ‘wife’ should be, which I suspect an older man may have had. We both wanted a committed relationship, but we both also wanted fun in our life together, and our life has been just that.”

On finding compatibility in marriage:

“Finding the right man to spend your life with is a matter of compatibility. Some women are going to be more compatible with guys their own age or older, while others are going to have a lifestyle and outlook that is more compatible with a younger guy. At this age, we surely know ourselves well enough to make that decision and go find the right guy based on that self-knowledge.”

The ups and downs of being with a younger man:

“Well, he looks fantastic, and his energy and enthusiasm are contagious. But of course, dating a younger guy isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s very difficult not to step in when we see them making a mistake we made ourselves when we were their age. But just because they are younger doesn’t mean they are not an equal partner in the relationship – and as such, they need to grow and learn for themselves, and sometimes that means making their own mistakes. It’s important to not lose sight of that. They chose us as a partner, not as a mother – and it’s important for any relationship to respect our partner on equal terms. Also, younger men tend not to be as further along in their careers. That can result in a financial inequity that, as it would in other marriages, cause a certain degree of conflict.”

On the term ‘Cougar’:

“Regarding the ‘cougar’ term, I really dislike it. Who wants to be defined by the age of the man she dates? Aren’t we all grown up enough to be beyond that? It’s predatory and insinuates that women are out to merely play around with these guys, when the reality is that more and more of us are actually choosing a younger guy as a life partner. I hate the assumption that just because my husband is younger than I am that I somehow coerced him into being with me, or that I finance his lifestyle, when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.”

On why she launched her website, Beyond Cougar:

In 2010, seeing the media hype surrounding older women with younger men, Jo decided it was time to put fingers to keyboard, and get writing! There was plenty of ‘cougar-esque’ material out there, aimed at women who were looking to empower themselves and their lives. However, very few women who were actually with younger men were joining in the conversation. So, in January 2010, Jo founded Beyond Cougar, where she shares her thoughts on the realities of relationships with younger men. Beyond Cougar is also focused on breaking down the existing cougar stereotype – after all, what modern woman wishes to be defined, purely on the age of the man they choose to date?

Jo is a marketing professional who also holds an MA in Creative Writing from Kingston University, London. You can read her thoughts on all things “Beyond Cougar” on her website, http://beyondcougar.wordpress.com.

Share your thoughts on the whole Cougar craze, Jo’s interview and whether you find the term Cougar derogatory or not, in the comment section or on our Facebook fan page.

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Blogger, self-proclaimed-philosopher, voracious eater and opinion sharer.

  • I find it quite ironic that she feels justified in stereotyping men her age (or older), but feels 'beyond' a common stereotype of women her age. I believe that people should date/marry whomever they choose. However, I don't understand why people feel the need to assign generalizations to groups of individuals. The notion that younger men are mostly this… or older men are mostly… feels like a copout. The same as when someone exclusively dates outside of their race, because they claim that 'men/women within their race are all… (fill in the blank)'. When I hear this explanation, it seems that the person is fooling his/herself. For every older man who has a preconceived notion of what a wife should be, there is a younger man who shares it. In my opinion, her choice was more about how she values and perceives youth more than anything else.

  • womenatforty

    From talking to her I gathered that her observations about men her age and older were based on what she'd seen among her married friends and some of her own experiences. But I didn't come away from the interview feeling that she placed any particular value on a younger man vs an older one, but instead valued the similarities she shared with her husband.

    And I do think that some of us (men and women), as we get older tend to become more “stuck in our ways” – we believe things to be true, or not, want it done a certain way, or not, and have a bit more difficulty changing our tune. I felt like that's what she was referring to when she talked about men having a certain expectation of marriage/wives. Also there is some truth to generational differences between how marriage and roles in marriage is perceived.

    Great point of view though – thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject!

  • I, too, cringe at the word “Cougar” and dislike how the media always wants to make the younger man/older woman relationship about sex and money. As a human behavior research specialist with a Ph.D. in Psychology, I have studied the cross generational dating dynamics between younger men and older women for over 20 years and determine is is more than a fad, trend, passing fancy. Historical accounts dating back beyond 41 A.D. show powerful men who married older women. http://cougarinternational.ning.com/profiles/bl

    There is a positive imprinting that takes place in a man when he is a child or adolescent that keeps him coming back to older women as partners throughout his life. I once interviewed a man who married an older woman when he was 82 years old. He told me older women were always better. It is something he never “outgrew.” I despise the stereotyping that cougars are desperate, horny, stiletto wearing, booze guzzling predators. Women at 40 who behave this way were behaving this way when they were 20. It has more to do with their personality disorder than their age or being a cougar.

    The thousands of younger men, older women I have interviewed in 20+ years are regular, every day people in relationships. They are not movie stars. They do not have Madonna's money or celebrity. They don't look like Demi Moore. 90% of these women are looking for long term relationship or marriage. 35% of women in the UK are either in a relationship or married to younger men. The percentage is growing.

    The women who cruise bars looking to get laid and dump a man are, frankly, pathetic and probably have emotional or mental issues concomitant with drug and alcohol problems. This is acting out behavior and not in keeping with an emotionally or mentally healthy woman with self respect. These are the types of women who give any woman seeking to date a younger man a bad name. And since the media thrives on sensationalizing and sex and money sell, they capitalize on this very small demographic.

    Those most threatened by this dynamic are older men and younger women who are seeing their available pool from which to choose, shrinking. These are the people who utilize the media most to vilify and ridicule the older woman dating the younger man. Note that seldom if ever is the younger man ever vilified or ridiculed. It is the woman who gets painted with the scarlet letter. The younger men are portrayed as “prey”, vulnerable and unsuspecting “meat” for the “predator” cougar to “pounce” upon and “devour.” Headlines such as,”Mothers, Lock up Your Sons. The Cougars are In Town” further paint a demographic of women with a broad stroke of vilification.

    I work very hard as an advocate for this community. Women have come a long way from being chattel who could not vote, own property, get credit in their own names. It appalls me to see neurotic women who think they are empowering themselves by acting out sexually, like the very men who repulsed them. Since when did becoming like a man make a woman better? Yet many women think that in order to live up to the stereotype, they must go to bars, drink, party and drag home a young man. At the end of the day, this is very unfulfilling for them. They are trying to live “up” to the adolescent male stereotypical fantasy of the older woman; instead of defining for themselves who they are or want to be as women.

    If you see it on tv, it must be reality, right? Wrong. The show Cougar Town has done much to damage the image of the Cougar woman. Courteney Cox plays a neurotic, immature “girl” who has the mentality of a junior high school kid. She frequents bars with her friends, brings home men for sex, has no boundaries with her son and her ex husband (also a junior high mentality character) and her leopard print, stiletto wearing girlfriends who are as neurotic and ill defined as women as she is are there to give her advice. Could we make women over 40 look any more ridiculous?

    The vast majority of women who are proud to call themselves Cougar do so as a rite of passage. They have suffered the slings and arrows of life and made it through. They are mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, daughters, secretaries, dentists, hair stylists, accountants, sales people, doctors, attorneys, soccer moms, PTA presidents. They are more than a label. They are women. But because society needs to label, categorize and put things into boxes in order to make sense of the world, they are called “Cougars.” Men came up with the name. Men came up with the associated vernacular, and of course, since younger men are driven by testosterone and a need to conquer, they had to sexualize it and wrap it into a package of objectification along with pointy ears, a long tail, big boobs and wads of money.

    Younger women are seeing their young men flock to older women, so many of them are now calling themselves “Cougars.” I am an expert for Hercampus.com, an online collegiate newspaper started by Harvard graduates. I have written articles for them and others about the younger women who are trying to jump on the older women's bandwagon. The truth is, regardless of what they call themselves, they do not have the longevity, sophistication, life experience or the maturity to warrant the name.

    The media hype about this dating demographic may fade away, but the dating dynamic will not. If anything, it will increase its numbers due in fact to women being more financially independent and seeking out younger men as mates, as they do not have to marry for money or security. Any time there is change in society, there is always conflict: women's suffrage, civil rights, gay rights. Sooner or later, this too shall pass and conflict and criticism will give way to tolerance and acceptance. In the meantime, vilification and ridicule will be predominate. Hopefully, the mature voice of the Cougar woman will prevail.

  • Hi Tamika,

    Thanks for your comments. I think the ed. has summed my perspective up very well. I don't like to put anyone in boxes, but for the sake of discussion, sometimes we have to make generalisations. Of course I agree that not everyone fits in a box – there will always be exceptions to any rule (and I hate rules of any kind)!

    We are all creatures of our upbringings and I know I have different views to my husband just because of our age difference – what was the norm when I was younger is different from his experience and generation. Likewise, someone of the next age gap upwards from me will likely have an outlook that differs from my own. Not always – but often.

    I must disagree though that my choice of husband was based on how I value youth. I'm far happier at the age I'm at now than I have ever been, and I'm not desperate to hang on to my youth. Sometimes I see my husband going through things I went through at his age. Would I want to go back there? No way! My choice was purely based on the man I fell in love with. If he'd been older or the same age, I'd still have married him – and be writing a whole different blog, I'm sure!

  • Dr Fayr,

    You make some great points. I already wrote on my blog about how some women who are badging themselves as cougars are fooling themselves if thing think that doing so is somehow empowering. I'm also seeing a marked increase in men who think that cougar = sugar momma. A lot of it is undoubtedly to do with how the media is presently portraying those of us who date/marry younger men. And of course, the ultimate losers are women.

    Truth be told, the age gap between my husband and I doesn't often figure in our day-to-day life together. Sure, there are some times when it becomes apparent – when my husband is leaning a lesson I learnt myself at his age, or when I'm experiencing something that is outside of his realm of life experience – those are the things that give us cause to reflect on the fact that those differences exist.

    Other than those times, it's only when we're subject to comments from friends, family and colleagues, or askance looks strangers in the street that we remember that there is an age difference. And we shrug our shoulders and smile – if there are issues, they are usually other people's, not our own.

    Thanks again for the comment – fascinating reading!

    Jo

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  • I hate to be branded as a cougar though i think it is a wonderful animal.

  • womenatforty

    LOL Anamika – I agree, they are wonderful animals, and I don't like the branding either!

  • TC

    I like Puma better…LOL

  • Jo’hates’ the term cougar … But she owns a blog which is called ‘Beyond Cougar’ …