– being the true confessions of a singular sort of carnivore
Once in a far more innocent time, the term ‘cougar’ was exclusively applied to exemplars of the feline species Puma concolor, also known as the mountain lion, renowned for its fierceness and efficiency as a top-level predator.
These days, thanks to a TV show, mass media and possibly Demi Moore, the term is far more likely to describe a woman who dates much younger men. It can be applied with or without a smirk of envy and/or derision. Cue Samantha in Sex and the City and her long-term relationship with Smith for the latter, and just about any woman who dares to break the wrought-iron chains of middle-aged mindset and convention for the former.
How do I know? Because I’m one of them. And I never in a million years ever thought I would be.
I never set out to label myself as any kind of sexual predator, or even any kind of erotic iconoclast because for the longest time, I hardly dared define myself as a sexual being. Or if I did, it was in terms of a wild and wooly imagination that led to a novel among other things that some readers have described as ‘sexy’.
It had to go somewhere, people.
Now, I’m 52. Obviously, I’ve had relationships. I’ve even been married for 12 years, and those twelve years were not the unhappiest of my life.
Yet although I married a younger man, in terms of cougarism (let’s call it), he doesn’t count by virtue of being only four years younger.
Somewhere between the divorce and today, I dated or met a few men, most around my general age and even a couple I’ve known since my teens and early twenties. There was… the dishy guy who stated he was single (so a friend of mine looked him up and found out he emphatically wasn’t), there was the unattached ex-boyfriend who kind of sort of hoped for a mad, passionate reunion and blithely overlooked what I told him 25 years ago when we split up – that once it’s over, it’s o-v-e-r.
As we say in Danish, and it means more or less exactly what you think it means: You don’t go back to wet fireworks. (In case they explode in your face!)
Then, there was the unhappily married man who proclaimed he was nothing like the middle-aged schmos we both derided and that he had not stagnated at all, only to refuse to add me as a friend on Facebook because (and I quote verbatim)‘we knew too many people in common and what would they think if they found out?’
KTHXBYE was what I thought.
Of course, all of these dates/meetings/sob stories were predicated on the idea that I was even noticed. The sorry fact is, past a certain age – or below a certain socio-economic status – women aren’t noticed even as individuals, right at the time when men of similar ages are described with the phrase ‘in their prime’.
Which is unbelievably sexist in this day and age.
So far as I know, I’ve never trawled the streets where I live in search of younger flesh. Nor have I peddled my over-the-hill carcass in Irish bars, English-language bookstores or music venues (all locations where I likely can be found) looking into the possibilities of millenials.
All I’ve done was mind my own goddamn business, thank you very much. And one more thing.
Whether due to genetics, clean living or my skincare routine, I’ve also been gifted with the ability to not look my age and above all things else, not to act it, either.
Somewhere along the way, I caught a few dashing twenty-somethings noticing me. Yet the idea of ever taking it a nanometer further was as remote as the Kalahari.
Until four years ago, when my life and marriage was literally falling apart and a hunky millennial friend and former colleague confessed he had a massive crush. On me.
At the time, I was precisely twice his age.
Many lattes, never-ending conversations, five months and a few clandestine meetings later, I spent the night with him, hoping that might cure him of his delusions.
Somehow in spite of it, we remained the best of friends and supporters for each other.
We both love horror movies and H.P. Lovecraft, sci-fi, chocolate, irony, Edgar Allan Poe, metal and comic-book art. We’ve seen each other through our own absolute worst and sometimes our absolute best. He knows nearly as much dirt about me as my best friends. I’ve even – cold heartless bitch that I am – kicked him out of my apartment at 3 AM to a long, cold walk home in the dark because I couldn’t face the consequences if he stayed.
One Friday night four months ago, after dinner, a few bottles of prosecco and a long evening of heated discussions (Gamergate/rape culture/Tinder/feminism/the tribulations of novel-writing), I didn’t have the heart to kick him out. He stayed.
He’s been around ever since.
One of my cats worships him and the other is coming around to the idea of not being the only male in the household. In most respects, certainly the ones that connote ‘relationship’, it feels like a lighter-hearted laugh of a massive love affair, nothing at all different than any other relationship I’ve been in, except it’s been ages since I’ve woken up in the morning, looked at the sleeping face beside me and thought:
I really don’t think of the twenty-three+ years between us. Nor do I feel maternal in the slightest. Instead, I think of ways to stay on my toes and above all else, stay fascinating.
Since I’ve been around the bend a few times (to put it mildly), I know how to pick my battles and stick to the positive side of things. I haven’t succumbed to a ‘younger’ wardrobe, age-inappropriate makeup or bought a Porsche.
I have re-read Colette’s immortal classic on the older woman/younger man love affair, Chèri. A masterpiece of a novel, and wow, was it depressing. But I am not Léa de Lonval, he is not Chèri, and this is not the Belle Èpoque of Paris, but the twenty-first century and a book-infested garret in the left armpit of Northwestern Europe.
Surely, age shouldn’t matter any more? It shouldn’t, but it does.
This was brought home to me on one sucker-punch occasion I knew would come some day, just not that day. We were walking, talking, holding hands and ignoring the stares of the people in the street, when he met someone he knew.
“So dude,” his friend asked, “you out with your Mom?”
“No.” came the frosty reply. “My girlfriend.”
A long pause, then his friend uttered an embarrassed, definite lower-case “oh.”
He apologized on his friend’s behalf for several days after.
We both know we’ve transgressed the social norm of where we live and are skating on a taboo. Older men and younger women may be a hoary, ancient Hollywood trope, yet if a woman decides not to just slide into the long, slow twilight of Giving Up, if she decides to remain a sexual creature, then she will always, always be vilified, ridiculed and castigated for not giving up one of adulthood’s greatest pleasures and having the audacity to go after it. Which is another trope of cougarism – that I hunted my honey, when the reality is the other way around, and he was as cunning, as stealthy and as patient as any mountain lion on the prowl for some really Big Game.
I haven’t yet met the in-laws, thankfully. I’m not even sure they know about me, and I’m in no particular hurry to find out. You won’t find me fretting about the future or even the future of our relationship, since I’m far too happy with the state of here-and-now. The conversations are always made of champagne bubbles, his highly articulate sense of humor and the absurd always makes me laugh, and my outrageous opinions on anything and everything often make him think and/or laugh. I dress up for a date night and am complimented shamelessly. I spend our weekends together in a Moroccan caftan, no makeup and a terminal case of bedhead and am also complimented. First thing in the morning, before coffee.
No complaints. Certainly not about the reason for the bedhead dreadlocks, since that particular cliché is a cliché for a reason; it’s all true.
I’ve never been so disinhibited in a life that has known its moments of licentiousness, but I was in my twenties then…
All told, it’s amazing. He’s amazing. We’re happy, the cats are happy, my girlfriends like him and to hell with the rest.
If that means I’m branded a cougar (a term I’ve come to loathe), then so be it.
Even if I’ll never look half so good as Cathy Cougar in the flowers.