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A 'Cougar' State of Mind

Confident, sexy women enjoy dating younger men

So I've heard two reactions from women about "cougars"—defined here as "attractive older women who are desirable to, or mutually desire, much younger men."

One group of women gets a kick out of the term. These women are middle-aged and think that it's pretty trendy that any woman over 45 can saunter down the street and have men's eyes follow her; If those eyes are under 30, so much the better. This satisfaction arises in boomers (or their older sisters) because they all grew up in eras in which Hollywood thought women were past their sexual prime by their late 20s.

Except for very few occasions, women over 35 were simply absent as romantic leads (although they might be loyal sidekicks or pathetic man-chasers). Sexy older role models were almost nonexistent—so it was shocking and swell when older female movie stars started having love affairs on screen ("Bridges of Madison County") and off. This was even sweeter when the men in question were significantly younger. (Think Demi Moore, Susan Sarandon, Cher, Madonna.) Suddenly, it wasn't only an older man who could come into a room with a sexy young spouse or lover on his arm.

At first, cougar-ism seemed like a publicity stunt. We were so brainwashed about how unlikely it would be for a younger man to find an older woman as beautiful or as desirable as a younger woman that we looked for "angles" when we read about the permanent pairings of Demi Moore or Susan Sarandon. When these relationships proved to be loving and stable, it was like a breath of fresh air billowed around women's erotic prospects. The picture of a cougar—sensual, independent, and gloriously self-confident—was a welcome image to many middle-aged babes.

But of course, there's another take on the cougar phenomenon. Cougar critics think of these women as predatory rather than passionate. They think older women who are having active sex lives with younger partners sleazy, especially if the women's lovers are young enough to be their sons (or their daughters). It makes some people uncomfortable to think of middle-aged and older women dating, yearning for companionship and desire, and accepting advances and romance from younger as well as older suitors.

Critics don't like to think about the image of a cougar with someone else's cub. They find the idea of someone's grandmother in a young man's passionate embrace unsettling, insulting, and ultimately undignified. In their mind, that's not romance, it's just perverse babysitting.

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