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Cougars & Cubs: The Older Woman/Younger Man Phenomenon

26 May 2008

Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry, Madonna and Guy Ritchie, Tameka and Usher, Janet Jackson and Jermaine Dupri, Eva Longoria and Tony Parker, Tina Turner and Erwin Bach, Ivana Trump and Rossano Rubicondi, Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon. What do they all have in common?

The fact that the women are the older ones in their relationships.

The dating scene is definitely changing. Dating options are widening for both men and women as old societal stereotypes are being challenged. There is a continuously growing trend of older women with younger men not only in Hollywood, but in the mainstream. A 2003 survey conducted by the National Association of Retired Persons revealed that one-third of single women in the USA between 40 and 60 were dating younger men and the numbers have increased.

Men have been dating much younger women for centuries, but when it comes to women dating younger men it is still considered a very controversial subject. This is a scene so fascinating and debatable that numerous books have been written about it, magazines have cashed in on it and even CNN did a profile on it called Older Women Younger Men, Can it Work? in September 2007. Oprah dedicated an entire show to the topic called Older Women in Love with Younger Men. Samantha on “Sex and the City,” and Gabrielle on “Desperate Housewives” portrayed the phenomenon as well. In the movie the graduate, a young Dustin Hoffman has an affair with the older and mature Mrs. Robinson. More recently in the 2005 movie Prime, Uma Thurman plays a career driven professional from Manhattan in her late 30’s who is wooed by a young painter in his early 20’s.

Is It Really A New Trend?

While it may seem like it’s a new trend, perhaps one would more accurately say that it’s a more publicized trend. Whilst Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher caused shock waves years ago when they started dating, it’s actually more common than most people think. Judy Garland, Mae West and Liz Taylor notoriously dated and married younger men. Other well known celebrities in this club are Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (12 years difference); Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Levine (18 years difference); Julianne Moore and Bart Freundlich (9 years difference); Daryl Hannah and David Blaine (12 years difference).

Are Cougars Cradle Robbers?

Whereas Mr. Right has always been defined by society as older, the definition is quickly becoming outdated. The expression “cougar” and “cradle robber” make it sound predatory, but that could not be further from the truth. The older woman/younger man relationships are mutually enjoyed. Although the term “cougar” makes it seem like it is the women who are pursuing, in most instances (of course with a few exceptions) it is actually the younger men who pursue the older women. In fact many younger men initially lie about their ages (adding a few years) in the hopes of getting the older women, leading to the women being shocked when they find out. But increasingly many women, who in their 20’s would have balked at the idea of dating younger men, now find themselves more open to dating younger men.

When one mentions older women with younger men, many people have images of “cradle-robbing” women in their 60’s poaching on teenage boys but we are not referring to pedophilia or child molestation in this article. We are referring to relationships between two consenting adults.  Moreover the allusion “dirty old woman” loses traction, because the “cougar” phenomenon is not limited to women over the age of 40. Even women in their late 20’s and early 30’s are increasingly dating younger men. Why?

Why Are There More Cougars And Cubs Relationships?

By the time they are in their thirties, many women have curved out their niche professionally, are financially successful and are ready for relationships, now that the educational and financial achievements are out of the way. In other words they have been there and done that. They are making money, they are independent and don’t need to look for a man to provide them with a financial safety net. They are looking for companionship. Others are newly divorced and joining the ever-increasing pool of women looking for men. And there are others who are just looking for no strings-attached fun with available younger men. But the cincher is many of the men their age are married already, attached or divorced with kids and an ex-wife. Many of the older men they might have considered are looking for young women in their early 20’s. So the odds are very slim for finding partners.

Enter the younger men.

What Is The Attraction?

The general stereotype is that these relationships are purely sexual. But many of these couples actually end up in long term relationships and some even married/in common law relationships with kids for example Halle Berry, Julianne Moore and Madonna. However, there is a lot of truth to the sexual angle. As women age, they learn more about their bodies, feel more comfortable and secure with their sexuality. On average women reach their sexual peak a lot later than men. This peak is reached anywhere from the late 20’s to early 30’s and lasts well into the 50’s and 60’s for many women. So many women find sexual compatibility with men who are a lot younger than they are. It’s a win-win situation for both sides of the equation. Add to that the fetishization and fantasy on both sides of having sexual relationships with a younger man or an older woman, and the results are deliciously explosive.

“Younger men are eager to please. They focus a lot more on the woman’s sexual pleasure and in turn enjoy the experience,” Explains Natasha a 33 year old divorcee who has been dating a man ten years younger than her for two years, “they are less hang up about their egos and willing to learn what it takes to make a woman sexually happy. They also have stamina.”

Older women are also seen as taboo and forbidden fruits, which ups their attractiveness and sexiness to younger men.

But beyond the sexual slant, many older women are looking better every day with medical advances, better diets and exercise regimes. An average 40 year old woman today looks younger than a 40 year old woman 20 years ago. Add that to the growing fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between say, a woman in her early or mid thirties and a woman in her 20’s. One can conclude that women are taking care of themselves more and as a result, looking and staying younger a lot younger than they were several years ago. Society’s image of what is a vital, vibrant, attractive, sexy woman has been stretched.

Brigitte, a social worker and widow in her mid 40’s was married to man who was almost 10 years her junior. She points out that ever since she was in her 30’s she has always had younger men after her. Even now in her 40’s, most of the men who approach her are in their 20’s. Of course the fact that she looks a lot younger than her age helps.

What Makes Younger Men Consider Older Women?

On the flip side a lot of younger men look deceptively older than their ages. But despite their youth, not all younger men are hopelessly immature and looking for a drunken one night stand. Some simply have a preference for older women. Younger men also find older women interesting, mature, experimental, fun to talk to, financially settled, and more adept sexually.

Two men who were interviewed in the article Cougars Go Mainstream by Allison Werbowetsky on filly.ca explain the dynamics from the younger man’s point of view. Michael James who was 24 at the time muses that older women do not play mind games. He says they know what they want and they're out to get it.

The other man Dan Mackenzie, who was 27 says,

"Hot is hot…If a sexy woman gives me the eye from across the bar, I'm sure as hell is going over there, no matter how old she is.  And cougars are hot anyways. [Cougars are] hot older women…But it''s really more of an attitude than age thing.  It's just a sexy woman with a whole bunch of confidence.”

Michael a 29 year old journalist says that he has always been attracted to older women because he finds something very sexy about them and he relates more to them intellectually and emotionally than women his age. He also adds that the sex drive of the older women he has dated is more compatible to his. The oldest woman he has dated was 15 years older. Kenneth who is 25 says he prefers older women because they come with less baggage and he is attracted to strong women. He also points out that they are less frivolous than his counterparts and very confident with their own sexuality and bodies, a fact that he relishes.

In general many older women feel that younger men value their independence and success more. Generational changes can change the perspective of relationships. Many younger men in their 20’s grew up with successful, working mothers, while many men in their 40’s most likely may have had stay-at-home mothers, and so both groups of men would view and treat the same woman differently. The fact that women tend to outlive men their age by about 10 years also changes the dynamics. From that vantage point, having a younger man translates to less years alone for the woman once they reach their senior years together.

He/She Makes Me Feel Sexy

One of the biggest pluses on a psychological level for the women involved in this type of relationship is the perception the younger men have of them. Younger men find them sexy and have no qualms showing it.

In the article Younger Men, Better Sex - Older Women Are Discovering The Attraction Of Younger Men on 48 hours part of CBS News, Dr. Jennifer Berman, a urologist and sister to Dr. Laura Berman, a sex therapist and one of the USA’s foremost experts women’s sexual health elaborates on this. She points out one of the biggest benefits of such a relationship.

“Feeling beautiful. Feeling attractive. Feeling young. Being appreciated as a woman for all that you are and all that you’ve learned and all that you’ve become,” says Dr. Jennifer Berman. “We’re starting to pay real attention to helping women reach their full sexual potential. For women, it’s part of their femininity. It’s part of their self-esteem. It’s part of their general power.”

For women who may have come from failed marriages and relationships with men who are their age, finding out that younger men find them attractive and sexy is definitely an ego booster. It’s definitely not what society teaches. This level of feeling good is two sided as well. The fact that an older woman may look at a younger man and consider him attractive and sexy is equally as appealing to the younger men who are involved with the older women.

So Is The Older Woman/Younger Man Match A Marriage Made In Heaven?

Like any relationships, the older woman-younger man couple does come with its issues. Depending how large the gap is, having to deal with the parents and family of the younger man may prove rather challenging for the couple. Also, going against the societal norm and dealing with the flak of societal biases and stereotypes is a hurdle, especially for many women. Society dictates that women should feel ashamed or dirty for dating men younger than themselves, a chokehold so strong to overcome that many women often reject what could have been a great partner based on that premise.

In the article Older Woman, Younger Man Relationships, Women Have More Options Than Ever – Including Men by Star Lawrence on WebMD, Kathryn Elliott, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, explains to WebMD. “We are victims of inner-critic constrictedness. We think we should only weigh 120. We should marry people within two years of our age. We pathologize anything that isn''t within those shoulds.”

Once that barrier is broken there are other considerations that an age gap can create. If the woman is no longer of child-bearing age and the man wants children that can be a relationship breaker. But other than that they would face the same issues any other couple would face.

Certainly there have been disastrous cases of doomed older women/younger men relationships, like in the case of Vivica Fox and Fifty Cent or Terry McMillan and Jonathan Plummer, but that is no different from the many other disastrous older man/younger women relationships that abound. The older woman/younger man relationship requires just the same ingredients that any other relationship does; compromise, communication, understanding and patience mainly.

Positive Proof That Love Is Priceless At Any Age.

Susan Winter is the co-author of Older Women Younger Men: New Options for Love and Romance. At 53 years, she has been in a relationship with a man almost 20 years younger than her since 1992. Prior to that, she was with two younger men, one 16 years younger and the other also 20 years younger. She published her book on a study based on her personal interviews of 200 of such couples. In all the cases, it was the men who had initiated contact and some of the couples she met had been together for 25 years or more, with the average length of the relationships being 13 years. At the end of the day, for many couples, age is just a number.

So for the older women who may have considered younger men but have hesitated because they are paralyzed by what people might say, this comes as good news. The options are not quite as slim as they think. Once the hoopla has died down, many of the older women/younger men couples seem happy and accepted by society.

Cameron Diaz did it with Justin Timberlake, Courtney Cox Arquette did it with David Arquette, Comedienne Fran Drescher (the nanny) did it with a man 16 years her junior for 4 years, Cheryl Crow did it with Lance Armstrong, Gwyneth Paltrow did it with Chris Martin, Joan Collins did it with Percy Gibson, Cher did it with Tom Cruise, Chili did it with Usher, Goldie Hawn did it with Kurt Russell. Older women/younger men relationships, also called May December relationships are here to stay. So women, would YOU consider a younger man? Men, would YOU consider an older woman?

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