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– 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.

It didn’t.

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.

And then.

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:

Thank you.

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?”

*insert-instant-painful-death-by-total-mortification-here* Mine.

“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.

 

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Not much can get a woman motivated to shop like a broken underwire, no matter how well-padded the ribs beneath it. It’s your ribs, your sanity, or your vanity at having to tie your mammalian protruberances around your neck in twenty years. It might be much less, but something must be done – now.

For you gents who don’t know, this is a serious issue. We’re talking about something that might, if done right, take off ten pounds and five years and add a whole new wiggle to your walk. My mother never left her daughters with much in the way of stellar advice on womanhood, but I distinctly remember one of her sayings.

She said it in Paris, right before she was about to enter the Guerlain store on the Champs Elysées with her gobsmacked 14-year-old daughter, who had just had her bottom pinched for the first time in the Paris metro.

There we stood, mother and daughter, perched on the threshold of one of the ultimate high temples of femininity. I was about to graduate from using drugstore body sprays to the serious stuff. A quantum leap on a par from going from cigarettes to cocaine – in less than 24 hours.

“There are two things to remember about being a woman,” she stated with all the solemn intent of a priestess of Isis to a novice.

I held my breath.

Never underestimate the importance of a very good bra – or a killer perfume!”

All these years later, on a standard August Saturday, I remembered that day – the Belle Epoque opulence of Maison Guerlain, the staid, hushed atmosphere at Caron, the Dior face I received at Galeries Lafayette, the sensory overload of breathing in Jicky parfum for the first time and promptly bathing in it.

Meanwhile, all these years later, there was this broken underwire. Serious stuff.

Nothing focuses the mind quite so effectively as the thought of an impatient four-year-old waiting outside a lingerie store. I was in and out of changing room and shop and in possession of two pretty underwired over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders in less than 10 minutes, and it was all the four-year-old’s fault. If not for him, I wouldn’t have ended up with 36DDs to begin with.

Next stop, the killer cloud of perfume. I located it, sprayed myself down to convince myself that I really, truly, badly, madly needed the US equivalent of 180 dollars worth of fragrant alcoholic juice with which to slay the unsuspecting, and just because of that broken underwire, I also walked out with the first tube of anti-wrinkle serum I have ever bought in my 46-year-old life.

Some day, I fully expect Aerin Lauder to thank me. Meanwhile, I thank her for putting the va-va in my voom today.

The virgin ingenue on the Champs Elysees in 1977 was very far away. The harsh reality of MoltenMetalMama in the mirror at 5 AM an aeon or so later, with broken underwire, crow’s feet and a lifetime habit of lifting my left eyebrow at the ironies of existence, was, on the other hand, all too close.

It is, as a character in the Effing Book thinks at one point in my story, a losing battle. It’s all headed in the general direction of the magnetic South Pole anyway, but I do want to delude myself into thinking that I haven’t slipped too far from the Equator just – yet.

The Buttkicker had bribed Damien with a Pixar “Cars” racetrack. he was kicking back at a café with a beer, Damien was being four and happy with his new toy, and as I settled down with a monster caffè latte, wafting slay ’em sillage in all directions, he found the tiny tube of snake oil.

“Anti-wrinkle serum???” he roared. “But you don’t HAVE any wrinkles!!!”

We have been together for nine years now, the longest relationship in either of our lives. Now you know why.

Ah, but it’s not entirely true. I may not give Catherine Deneuve any sleepless jealous nights, but life has writ itself on my face in spite of all I’ve done to avoid it. A South Florida childhood spent mostly outdoors and often on boats – check. Teenaged sunburn – check. SPF anything not yet invented – check. The times a friend and I tried to drink our way across Scotland in a Copenhagen bar – triple check. And Triple Sec. We were always done in by the Loch Ness Monster.

One day in 1990, I came across an article stating that if you slathered yourself with sunscreen every single day, you could quite possibly avoid 90% of all the wrinkles you were doomed for. I decided to give it a whirl.

Almost twenty years later, the habit is now so ingrained that I never go anywhere outside without burrowing beneath a thick layer of SPF 25. I have been carded in bars and liquor stores and had to prove my decrepitude. I swear on that hotly coveted bottle of Tuberose Gardenia that there is no painting of Dorian Gray hidden in my basement. A good thing, given that although I may not look it, I am, I can assure you, thoroughly corrupted!

Can’t take the Goth out of the girl, doncha know.

But now I’m a lapsed gothaholic metalhead Mommy with a brand-new tube of anti-wrinkle serum. I’ll let you know if it works. I might even start kissing on my mirror again.

One thing it can’t do, no matter what it claims.

Take the wrinkles out of life.

Thank the gods for small mercies!

Image: Auguste Toulmouche, “Vanité” (1889)

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I had a birthday two days ago, the “let’s just say this is an ordinary Thursday like any other Thursday” variety. This particular birthday wasn’t remarkable, not auspicious, not even very ominous as such things go, and yet, I’ve spent the past two months in a peculiar state of dread over – that Thursday.

That Thursday, that April 23rd, that otherwise very unremarkable day that meant I was one year closer to my imminent mortality. That Thursday, that to me seemed suspiciously like a “best before” day, which was a day that happened a long time ago.

My one consolation was that at least I wasn’t the only one. My all-time favorite writer, a long-dead certain Stratford-upon-Avon playwright of untarnished reputation, had probably been feeling rather weighed down by the floor stones of Holy Trinity Church himself for almost 400 years, and so far as we know, the poor man died on his – our – birthday.

It was the “best before” thing that got me. The idea that now – it was almost over. I have almost managed to cross the finish line in the mad, bad, estrogen-fuelled race called sex toward the twilight limbo of menopause and into that Bright New Day of rebirth beyond, where I shall be elevated above such tawdry, pathetic matters and live out the remains of my days in an ethereal glow of self-sufficient bliss. Secure in the knowledge that I’ve Been There, Done Them, Done That and now, thank God – no more.

Oh, no. I shall not go gentle into that good night.

I got the basics out of the way. I have propagated. My immortality is insured. If my chick-magnet four-year-old is anything to go by, a proud line of Viking and Celt heritage will continue down through the ages, perpetuating the red-haired gene he inherited from both sides of the gene pool. He returned from playing yesterday surrounded by a gaggle of very pretty girls aged from about six to twelve, who all cooed good night and waved as I closed the door. As he took off his shoes and dumped his cars on the floor, he looked up at me and said nonchalantly; “Those are my girls.” Sexual charisma starts early, and he’s had that effect since he was a baby of seven months, charming diamond-hard Copenhagen café society ladies from his baby carriage.

So in a sense, I have, by now, fulfilled my purpose. I should just retire.

What I should retire, since you ask, is the notion that it’s all over, that the fun lies behind me, that I can never be wild and wanton again. And apparently, that is a concept that is unique to the last two generations of women, the generation of my own mother, the feminists of the Sixties, and my own generation, which gave us the greatest trailblazer of them all – Madonna.

We shall not age and wither, so long as we can do anything at all to stop the clock. So long as the ultimate sexual currency is youth, so goes the thinking, then we shall forever – or at least as long as we can – remain frozen in some perpetual “woman in her prime” time warp – and to hell and back with convention.

I wonder, though. I wonder whether the problem with women growing older and refusing to give it all up has more to do with male performance anxiety and the unsettling idea that we rapacious, female sexual predators simply know too much – about the masculine mindset, about the tricks and illusions and smoke-and-mirrors they like to hoodwink susceptible twenty-somethings with. We see the bullshit, and refuse to call it roses.

Been there. Done that. You can eradicate crow’s feet, but not experience.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I do not look my age, because I have good bones, I rarely drink alcohol (blame an alcoholic mother), and as a former Goth, I’ve kept out of the sun for well over twenty years, 19 of those buried beneath a very high SPF factor. I agree with Catherine Deneuve who once said that past a certain age, one can have a nice face or a nice ass, but not both, and just as she did, I’ve chosen to go with the face.

The Buttkicker, meanwhile, has no complaints about the other end.

And it’s the other end that’s the problem. Because now, my generation has been dubbed a generation of “cougars” – a particular species of untameable mountain lion. If the media meant it as an insult, then yet again, they’ve failed miserably. Wild, untameable, voracious – and ferocious – predators, on the hunt for man flesh – what’s NOT to love about that description?

Is it because that after all these years of ubiquitous – and often gratuitous – female sexuality in the media, men (who still, by and large, control the media) are now realizing with a start that women can be sexual threats?

C’mon, guys. really. Lesbians have known this for decades. Not only that, men are hard hit that women are gravitating towards – oh, the horror! – younger!!! – men.

It sucks, getting a dose of your own medicine. Really, it does. Pity the forty-something male. Browbeaten by wives to become fully participating dads to a degree and extent that was never demanded by their fathers, and then – unceremoniously dumped in favor of younger flesh.

The bottom line is – we won’t give it up – that bill and coo of sex. It’s been the most – legal – fun we’ve ever had, and we refuse to give it up, because we ladies know that if you don’t give up on sex, it rarely gives up on you.

I lived a split-level existence all my life. My mother was one of the last true courtesans of an age – a courtesan to the marrow of her bones, and her eldest daughter, who never did understand that until Mom was well into her very early grave, stubbornly rejected that particular path, because it wasn’t her own.

“Pretty is good”, as my idolized stepfather used to say, “but smarter is better”. Pretty was my mother’s prerogative, I thought, so it was up to me to prove I had brains.

So I spent a good portion of my life buried in books of many stripes and colors, and then I went out and made my way into the world to apply practice to theory, and some of that included sex. I have done my experiments. I’ve dabbled in many fringes in order to define myself – political, personal and sexual. Some of those fringes have turned into the flypaper of my life and I got stuck by choice and inclination.

And when I finally decided that it was time to roost, and nest, and plant myself somewhere I could truly bloom, I found and married a younger man in the millenium year, because I’ve always been immature for my age.

The Buttkicker knows he married a cougar. He knows – and he appreciates it.

Which might be the reason, after all, why I’m blooming now.

Best not to forget – even after a birthday.

Because I’m not dead yet.

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Sometimes, even when it’s been four days since New Year’s Eve and the hangover has long gone, it really, truly sucks to be a woman. I mean, it sucks, like, totally. It’s not just the many hats we have to wear. It’s not just the expense of things like lingerie and makeup and clothes and perfume and wax jobs. It’s not the granny wings or the cellulite or the post-baby stretch marks. It’s not even giving up the profiteroles, Pomerol or Poilly-Fumé. It’s not PMS (known as Justifiable Homicide in certain parts of the world) or pandering to egos, usually male.

No. All that is bad enough, but it’s all part of the package. The Whole Womanhood Package. We’re never entirely sure we’ll ever be able to fit into it, but we buy it anyway, on the off chance that some sunshiney day, it will. Besides, it’s January, it’s on sale and it was half off, and you snatch out of the hands of some semi-bearded Hilda the Hippo who really doesn’t want it anyway. It’s the principle that counts.

And you know, one morning, when we’re completely unprepared and unaware, one day when we’re not even entirely awake, or even PMS-ing, it does. It fits. The whole package. The blues, the babies, the wobbly bits and other parts that can be manipulated with Radiant Touch, Spanx and a very good bra. Not to mention gargantuan doses of outrageous flattery, which really does get you everywhere and nearly everything, if not everyone.

It’s you. And it’s not so bad, really. It could, in fact, be much worse, even for January.

So, right when you’re finally old enough to be resigned to your fated womanhood, right when even you begin to think that actually – and honestly – you really ARE one of the coolest people you know – comes the next double whammy of Massive Insecurity.

OMFG!

You’re getting – well, not to put too fine a sheen on it dear, but you are getting – old. Or old-er. Old-ish. That’s it. Wheel in the panic attack.

“Men no longer”, as W.B. Yeats once wrote, “catch their breath as you are passing.”

No. They don’t. Which may be a good thing, but you’re not entirely convinced you want to wave goodbye to multiple orgasms either, simply because you’re getting older and supposedly immune to that sort of thing.

This is when you perch on the brink of the female midlife crisis. This is when, if you can afford it, or even afford to dream about it, you can make an all-too willing prey for lascivious plastic surgeons.

“Oh, give me a face, that stays always in place, and where wrinkles and crow’s feet won’t roam…”

Botox? Fillers? Skin-friendly Plaster of Paris? Whatever you want, dear. Of course you want to look 20 again! And of course, you SHOULD! Or else, you know, we’ll drop you like the cold potato you are and go in search of luscious young things, who are smooth as silk. (And nearly as bland.)

Uh, excuse me? Where does it follow that just because you now can see the event horizon known as “that certain age” , you are in dire need of erasing your life with so much Tipp-Ex? There go the crow’s feet, courtesy of a month on a Cretan beach and cheap shades, there go the forehead lines, courtesy of the Ex From Hell, there go the remnants of your previous pack-a-day habit, and hey presto – The New You. Or should I say, it’s the old you in a new and unconvincing sausage casing. and somewhere out there, some stranger wants her face back right this instant.

No. I’m not buying it, not even on sale or at a discount at half off the original price. I keep thinking of a once famous Danish actress. One day on a massage table she was asked a loaded question by her masseur, around the time she was about my ripe, decrepit age. “Shouldn’t you be thinking” he asked her as he dug into her tense shoulders, “about a facelift?”

“What?” she shrieked. “Now that I finally have some character in my face?”

Bless her. Bless the ones just like her, who’ll never need to explain just how furious they are, because their face shows it all too clearly.

And speaking of faces, the image for today is yours truly, taken yesterday. No Botox. No Restylane. No facelift. No kidding.

Just half my life well-lived. Well laughed. And well loved anyway and in many ways.

Oh, and character. Lots of character. On my face and other places, too.

Character, I’ll have you know, it took me 45 years to acquire.

May I never cease to acquire it.

Just as the world I live in may never cease to require it!