The wife of the new French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron has been called a cougar, a term that has come into vogue to describe a woman who dates younger men. Apparently originating around the turn of the century in Western Canada, the implication of the usage is that older women are jungle hunters and younger guys are their defenseless prey.
A book called Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men was published in 2001 by a Toronto-based journalist, and by 2009, the sitcom Cougar Town had settled in on American TV for its six-year run. Demi Moore pioneered celebrity cougar-ing with her marriage to 16-years-younger Ashton Kutcher; Mariah Carey, Madonna, Cameron Diaz, and many others have followed suit.
But wait. Is Brigitte Trogneux a cougar? She met Emmanuel Macron when he was 15; she was his 39-year-old high school drama teacher. At the time, she was married with three kids, one of them in Emmanuel’s class. Fourteen years later, Brigitte divorced her husband, and she and Emmanuel married. “Love took everything in its path,” she told Paris Match in a 2016 interview. It sure did.
Why No Male “Cougars”? Typical
Though twenty-four years is also the age difference between Donald and Melania Trump, it hasn’t been anywhere near as big a deal. No surprise there – just the typical double standard. Now if Donald had begun wooing Melania when she was 15, we would have a problem. No matter who is the hunter and who is the prey, at least here in the States, getting involved with teenagers is frowned upon. In Baltimore, we had a huge scandal about this a couple of years ago – and now a former Ravens cheerleader and mother of three is doing weekends in jail for getting one of her son’s friends drunk and giving him a blow job. No one mistook her for a cougar.
I view all of these matters through a slightly different lens than most people because I had a brief affair with a 16-year-old student at an alternative high school where I taught when I was 21.
I view all of these matters through a slightly different lens than most people because I had a brief affair with a 16-year-old student at an alternative high school where I taught when I was 21. Though I didn’t see much wrong with it at the time, everyone else did – I ended up resigning, mostly about this issue. As the years went by, I was finally able to see the unsavory power dynamic that was at play between David M. and me, even with only five years between us. It was exacerbated because he was an at-risk kid living unsupervised with his younger sister, their parents having dropped off the food stamps and headed out to pursue whatever conflicting priorities had ensnared them. At the time, I thought that that was a positive aspect of the situation, because at least there were balanced meals at my house.
Yeah, well. It was a bad idea. And it still is.
How Young Can You Go?
So forget teenagers. But what about dating younger men? When I found myself suddenly single at 50, I thought not. I wanted a man, not a boy. Also, I was nervous about my aging body and not eager to display it to the unwrinkled generation. On the dating profiles I hopefully set up at that time, I specified my target age as 45 to 60.
I’m 59 now, and it’s been a pretty lame nine years in the romance department. There were a few flashes in the pan, but no fires I could really warm my hands over. Or should I say my “hands.”
Though I’m not online much these days, I am still looking around hopefully, and while I’m not lusting specifically for fresh, young flesh, my research indicates there just aren’t very many single men over 50 who would be right for me, or me for them. So far, in fact, there aren’t any.
What if it’s the age limitation itself that’s the problem? I think of a book I read called Data: A Love Story, by Amy Webb. Webb tried to game the online matchmaking system. She developed a 72-item list and 1500-point rubric to quantify what she was looking for in a man, including an Apatow/Seinfeld scale for evaluating sense of humor. But even with all this strategizing and hard work, she failed to strike gold until she changed one small but critical component of her search – she expanded her geographical constraint to a 100-mile radius. She found the love of her life, 99.3 miles away.
What About Sex?
Okay, I could go 10 years younger without blinking. In fact I have a coffee date with a 49-year-old coming up – a mutual friend set us up – though I find it hard to believe he’s not looking for a 35-year old. What will he think about my gray hair? (It’s really very nice gray hair, and I thank God I stopped dying it. But that’s another story.) But what about 15 years or more?
I still feel more inclined to make them a peanut butter sandwich than go down on them.
Dating young seems to present a two-part problem: in bed, and out. I know I would want to turn the lights off, and even in the dark I would feel anxious about all the signs of aging on my body. I would probably feel self-conscious with a man of any age, but less so if they too were a bit … grizzled. Though apparently, some guys really do not care about this, because whenever I go on a dating site, I start getting messages from guys in their 30s and even 20s. In fact, there are “Age Gap” dating sites specifically for this, cougarlife.com, justcougars.com, and cougar69.com among them.
I have sons who are 29 and 27. The guys on these cougar sites look like their friends. I still feel more inclined to make them a peanut butter sandwich than go down on them.
And what about outside the bedroom: compatibility, maturity, balance of power? I think those issues are really even more important, because what would make this possible for me is less physical attraction than emotional connection. Could I fall in love with a 38-year-old, say? One of my best female friends is that age exactly. Our 20-year-age difference has been absolutely no barrier to our closeness. I don’t think I am a cougar at heart, but if I met a guy whom I liked as much as I like Liz, I’d have to give it a shot. On the plus side, he would probably have less baggage than the battle-scarred marriage veterans in my geezer cohort.
I’m not exactly moving to Cougar Town, but I am keeping an open mind. As long as I too can tell Paris Match that “love took everything in its path,” je suis Brigitte.