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An Old Taboo by Maris Lemieux
Since 40 year-old Demi Moore showed up for the cameras with 25 year-old Ashton Kutcher on her arm, it seems the proverbial cat -- the older woman/younger man relationship -- is out of the bag. Demi Moore would be the cat -- what Valerie Gibson calls a "cougar" in her book Cougar: A guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men.

Lately, the media have been telling us there's an increase in this type of relationship. And usually they are also thrilled to mention cougar women throughout history: Mae West, Merle Oberon, Ruth Gordon, Mary Tyler Moore, Raquel Welsh, Susan Sarandon -- they all married younger men -- to the tune of 14 or 15 years younger in many cases. And let's not forget Catherine the Great. (You can read about the true extent of Catherine's younger-man penchant in our archived Sex Secrets article: "Sex up the Back Stairs.") But Hollywood and royalty have always received special dispensations on behavior.

What do the rest of us think, deep down, about this sort of pair-up? Do we think "sagging flesh," "gigolo," "sugar momma"? Because in spite of all that, it appears that increasing numbers of everyday middle-aged women are pairing up with men in their twenties and thirties. Last October even the editor of the AARP magazine was surprised when an AARP study revealed that 34 % of women between 40 and 69 had dated younger men and 12% had married younger men. Commentary about this "trend" points to a handful of movies out lately involving older women and younger men. But does a spate of movies about a topic suggest the subject matter is accepted or merely sensational?

In soap operas it's always the "bad" older woman who takes up with a younger man --usually derailing his career or education in the process. Sometimes she's a good woman who happens to be down on her luck, vulnerable, or on the rebound -- bottom line: it's temporary, the odd flirtation, not a "serious" relationship. And even if one of the fools in these OW/YM couples thinks the relationship is serious, the soap opera world will make it have an accident. Then, the older woman wakes up, as if she'd been in a trance, and realizes that the traditional wisdom was right all along: "these things can't last".

But isn't this all by choice? When you read profiles on the site, you see many middle-aged men specifically requesting women 10 or more years their junior, while a good number of women of all ages request men who are older than they are. Younger men on the sites often say that they're not being taken seriously when they approach older women. (Men tend to be kinder when turning down women they feel are too old). There's nothing wrong with these preferences; but for people who don't fall into these categories, alternatives are out there, and in large numbers.

Felicia Brings and Susan Winter (who have both been with younger men) go even further to suggest in their book Older Women, Younger Men that a lot of these preferences come simply from "buying into the myths." They feel that social changes have led to a change in the percentages. And they point out that, by necessity, the statistical realities for baby boomers -- more available women boomers than men; women with more financial independence -- are about to force the dating world to create some new myths.

What could make the OW/YM match a good one? Gibson's answer: it's all about the sex. In her "guide book," Cougar, she lauds the fact that the older woman's sexual peak is more aligned with that of the younger man. And the older woman has been-there-done-that in terms of marriage, kids, commitment; she's looking for something light and flashy; the younger man finds all this free and easy sex very attractive. Following that logic Gibson warns her cougars not to expect or demand long-term commitment from cougar love. She calls it the "golden 'short-term' rule." Obey this rule, she claims, and everything will be OK. But this is an idea that the Brings/Winter book seeks to undermine. In Older Women, Younger Men they continually show relationships that have lasted 10 or more years, including their capstone couple, Karolina and Paolo, who met when she was 55 and he was 39. Twenty-five years later, at 80 and 64 the two are still together.

Brings and Winter believe that what attracts younger men to older women is the fact that older women know who they are and know what they want. They do not play mind games; they're direct, confident, interesting. Gibson doesn't miss these assets. She lists them off as she tells her cougars they have nothing to worry about from "pumas" (younger women). She follows this advice with a section called "Surviving a Puma Attack." Gibson's point is that for whatever reason, these men are interested in older women, not "settling for" older women. As the myth would say.

Perhaps it's just a question of the numbers. Even if cougar love never becomes the norm, there is and probably has always been, a steady "older women" fan base in the male population. It appears that statistically, the percentage of younger men and older women who especially gravitate towards meeting up is somewhere between 15 - 30 percent. One younger man named Frank voiced his attraction recently on a vegsource.com blog about the recent trend in cougar love relationships. http://www.vegsource.com/talk/relation/messages/27180.html
"For my own experience, I've been intensely attracted to older women from my early teens, way before it was "fashionable". At the age of 20, I was interested in women well into their late 40's. It continues today.

For me, I always felt I was much more mature than other guys, and thru high school, college, and post-college I thought that women my age were too immature, with values that were too shallow (what car do you drive, what kind of a dancer are you, what clubs to you go to, etc.) Things that weren't important to me at all. Older women seemed to me to be more together, more experienced, intelligent, to-the-point, honest, witty, and open. They were mysterious and worldly. I liked that a lot!

And sexually, oh boy, they were and are just the sexiest women in the world to me! While other guys were into Carmen Electra, I was into Raquel Welch. Joan Collins doing Playboy was a revelation ;) I just love the physical nuances that come with age...grey hair, wrinkles, softer, curvier body. I fantasized constantly about wonderful evenings out with intelligent conversation followed by incredible, steamy sex?quot;

Frank has plenty of company. And more and more, older women are finding that guys like Frank are exciting, too. They may be feeling their power after managing a successful career; they may be wanting to indulge in some play after doing for others for many years -- whatever the case, the older woman/younger man option is now up for consideration. Those who are a little leery might find either Gibson's book or the Brings/Winter's book worth a read.

Gibson's book is the funny one, with all the candor and humor of "Sex in the City." For older women considering younger men, it has the effect of a good pep rally. Give it a quick read as you're getting your nails done and then go off to "prowl." But it's not all that informative; it typecasts people, (it casts the younger man as "prey"); and there are no anecdotes of happy couples. With the Brings/Winter book, you get the happy couples, the romance, and a solid look at issues that may come up in the long-term relationship. Brings and Winter interviewed both partners in the relationships they examined, so once they get past the feminism, the book will be of interest to men and women. For the younger man and the young-thinking older woman (especially if she's been dating young men all along), both books may seem mired in remnants from the dark ages. But then, if you're in this category, you don't need a book. Just get out there and take advantage of the times; they've finally caught up with you.

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