This week, I was chatting with a few other working moms around my (45-55 year old) age group about the “cougar” phenomena, older women thriving on the attentions of younger men. Rooted in The Graduate and Summer of ’42, we get it as a ‘fantasy thing,’ but it’s so far off from our not-even-close-to-Hollywood lives as to be one of the more annoying things about growing older as women.
What’s really been irking me about it over the past few years are the times when young(er) men flirt with me (which is weird on its own), but there is a subtle thing that makes it feel like I am supposed to be somehow flattered, grateful even, that they are showing me this (again, weird) sexual attention.
Certainly there are two sides to this- women in my age group who enjoy that kind of attention from younger men, and men who offer it—a cycle that I’m sure is collusive, whether I personally understand it or not.
It’s bad enough that women get called ‘handsome’ as we age, and that our sexuality becomes the stuff of jokes and really awkward humor (a la Betty White and the Golden Girls). The multi-billion dollars spent on anti-aging solutions from creams to Botox (do you know that stuff is formaldehyde?) fuels nothing short of a sexist, ageist epidemic where women fear aging as a loss of beauty, relevance and value.
By way of example: I stopped dyeing my hair recently, at the inspiration of my long-time close friend, Dr. Carol Burns Stoney, recently re-married and at the peak of her happiness—it radiates from within her like sunshine! I cannot look at this photo of her without smiling back at her gorgeous face and seeing how her commitment to the texture, the ups and downs of her life, have ‘grown’ her even more beautiful than she was 20 years ago when we first met. Carol grayed early in life, and has been under immense pressure for years to ‘cover up that gray!’ but has (thank goodness), refused.
Owner of Healing for Couples, Carol is a marriage therapist, and known for her role on MTV’s Teen Mom. I asked her what was up with this whole ‘cougar’ mess, and here’s what she said: “These young men have proverbial mother issues- and no one ever taught them empathy, or respect for women at a deeper level… and the women our age who crave this kind of attention from younger men? Fear of aging. Regrets. Wanting a do-over. Such loneliness… there’s not one good thing about it.”
Of course I know there are exceptions- and people fall in love regardless of age, etc… That’s not what I’m talking about here. This is a power dynamic, and a complicated one that I am loathe to sort out and happy to just plainly avoid.
So, to the women out there who may need this kind of youthfully proffered attention- know that you are as beautiful at any age as you choose to be. And it’s never to late to choose beauty, or reject someone else’s opinion of yours, especially if it’s not positive. And to the younger men who assume older women thrive on the (yet again, weird) favor of your youthful attention, know this: I have shoes in my closet older than you are, I was around when the Brady Bunch was on prime time, and I am past needing anyone’s attention who I’m not already married to or best friends with… in fact, the less attention I get, the closer I am to being left alone long enough to actually read a full chapter of a book without pictures, or watch a show without animation or manufactured melodrama, which I also no longer need. Call your mother, sort things out. Be kind to the women around you, and know that you have an incredible opportunity to live a life of which most men can only dream, if you offer the women in your lives kindness, honor and respect.
PS– I just googled “free cougar images” to find another photo for this blog, and well, suffice it to say I didn’t. And, please remind me not to do that again. Ever.
This blog was originally published by the Times Union and can be accessed here.
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