The bar was packed—a typical Thursday night—but Sara, Jen, and I managed to squeeze our way toward the back where it looked like a couple was ready to leave. We were hoping to find a little quiet spot to catch up, but it also was where our favorite bartender, Barfly, was holding court.
“Quiet tonight, huh?” I joked to him, admittedly lamely.
“Yeah, can’t you tell it’s a recession?”
As we chatted—okay, flirted, but he’s happily married and so it’s truly innocent—I couldn’t help but notice some energy coming from the other end of the bar. Two men of a certain age—and, really, why don’t they call men that?—were giving us The Look. And then, with the predictability of a PB&J sandwich, they were at our side.
They weren’t much to look at, but even if they were, we weren’t there to meet them or anyone else; we wanted gal time. But they put us into one of those situations that we gals frequently have to navigate: how to be polite while blowing people off.
After a few niceties, we made it clear why we were there and, just to be sure, backed it up by our body language. Then we got back to our gal chatter.
And that’s when I heard it: the “c-word.”
No, not that one.
The other one.
It’s really tough being a single boomer woman nowadays. The men our age don’t always want us, and we don’t always want the older ones who do want us, and if we want men a little younger than us—not even the eleven- to thirteen-year spread most boomer men seek—we are labeled and mocked.
But evidently, we attractive older gals don’t even have to do anything to earn the cougar title. Well, except reject a man, and I am guessing that the offended men at the bar interpreted our banter with Barfly, obviously younger that we are, to mean that we were women on the make.
The problem is, there isn’t a universal definition for a cougar anyway. Is she in her fifties, forties, or thirties? Is she a MILF, a tragically surgically engineered wind-tunnel victim, or a fit and vivacious hottie? Is she trying too hard to look and act young, or is she the embodiment of a healthy lifestyle? Is she desperate or a sexually empowered woman?
Is being a cougar degrading or a badge of honor?
That’s where it all gets so confusing, but in a warped way, I’d still feel pretty happy to be lumped into any group with women in their thirties!
And there’s no male counterpart to a cougar. Certainly not “players,” who don’t have to be a certain age or attractiveness, nor do they have to seek women younger or older. And everyone seems to agree on what a player is: a sexually confident, charming man who makes women weak in their knees but is only interested in sleeping with her. He’s not husband material or even relationship material. But for one night …
I guess we can blame Mrs. Robinson for being the first woman in recent pop culture to raise the idea of a sexually aggressive woman wanting a younger man. But she has nothing on a lot of other famous real women in history, including Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie—aka Lady Randy—who was notorious for her lascivious hookups. When Lord Churchill died, she married two more times—both were more than twenty years her junior. So did Edith Piaf.
Many cougars of the past were rulers, like Mary Queen of Scots, who married a fourteen-year-old when she was fifteen, and her nineteen-year-old cousin when she was twenty-two.
Perhaps the most famous cougar was none other than Catherine the Great, who had more than 200 lovers—many of them younger than her own son. First, they had to be “tested” by her ladies-in-waiting. If they passed, they were in until she tired of them and sent them—happily if exhausted—on their way. When she married at age sixty-five, her hubby was a mere thirty-two.
I’m guessing that’s how she earned “the Great” part, because it all seems pretty great to me.
Still, I’m pretty sure one no one would have called Catherine or Mary cougars, even if the word were used as it is now. It was an honor to be chosen as the Royal Stud by a powerful woman. Plus, it was dangerous to turn them down; rulers back then had the power to remove a head from a body.
But a confident, intellectual, sexually savvy and economically independent older woman does have some sort of power, too; there’s no other way to explain the rise of “cougar hunters”—young men who actively seek out older women who aren’t into playing games but are into having fun.
And as a bonus, they get to keep their head.