Not long ago I met a woman who, recently divorced, was looking forward to the "cougar" trend, whereby women of a certain age date younger men. She'd been married for quite some time, so I can see how it might be a novelty to her. She couldn't wait to go out on the town and see what kind of "cubs" she could bring into her lair. And judging by the type of hype the new Courtney Cox show, Cougar Town is receiving, you'd think this was a brand new idea, and a fully accepted one at that!
The thing is, if it was a fully embraced lifestyle, a whole show devoted to poking fun at it wouldn't be necessary.
I spent a number of years in a relationship with a man more than a decade younger than me. It started before Ashton and Demi made it fashionably fun, and ended for the same reason many do - as my fertility window neared its close, he simply wasn't ready to make the comittment. At the time I was a lone wolf in this, my gal pals couldn't understand and didn't take my six-year relationship seriously. Until a few years later when they began to dip into the younger, more virile pool of men to shake off the sting of break-ups/divorces. Or because it's now the must-do activity once you're free. Boy-hunting is the new crying into your ice-cream.
'Course I've never been married, so that must be the difference. Unmarried 'cougars" must be desperate, while divorced ones are in full control. Once you've escaped the constraints of a long-term marriage getting it on with a younger man can only be seen as "empowering." I guess.
I've seen this "cougar" thing gain ground, fade, gain ground and fade. I actually think it's pure silliness. Rather than empowering, it's degrading. I don't spend alot of time talking about my experience with it because I didn't think it was anything to brag about, it was a personal and very real relationship.
Trivializing it, branding it a trend takes away from the reason an older woman might choose to spend time with a younger man. Here it is: at a certain age it becomes extremely difficult to meet men who are free - either because they are married, married-looking-to-fool-around, or divorced and feeling reticent. At one point it was important to me to be with someone who hadn't been married, and that's also difficult to find over 40. Even though, by most of society's still very firm standards, I'm past marriagable age (think about the treatment Susan Boyle got, the never-been-kisssed, dowdy reality show enigma), I do still want to have the same experience most people yearn for. My very own one and only.
Dating a younger man, at least for me, was not an immaturity thing, a "girl power" thing or a thumbing of my nose at societal mores. It was just a circumstance of my life - I met a man, we hit it off - and then mostly, a personal decision that was and is diminished by so much scorn posing as acceptance.
At the risk of sounding bitter, I would also like to say that our culture is increasingly infantilized by our entertainment sources. I'd rather see women portrayed as smart, insightful and empathetic (whether they are mothers or not, I might add, but that's a whole different topic).
Now that is empowering.