I used to hate the term “Cougar” for all the obvious reasons. First, it evoked images of Mrs. Robinson in a girdle and garters, smoke billowing around her alcoholic head as she seduced a vulnerable (but willing) Benjamin. Flash forward to leopard clad women over 40 showing way too much cleavage, voguing in 4 inch stilettos, hanging out at bars, guzzling wine and dragging home young prey. Every time the media interviewed me, I cringed, knowing the obvious questions would be asked: “Isn't this just about sex?” “Isn't this just about money?” I endeavored to explain to them that in my 20 years of research as a human behavior research psychologist and world's foremost authority on cross generational dating and psychosexual imprinting (translation: Cougar and Cub dating) that they had it all wrong. The media is promoting what I coined “The Myth of Stiffler's Mom” as in the film American Pie. Stiffler's mom seduces a young man, yet he is not the 6 pack ab, GQ model type. He is mature for his age, an intelligent. He gets in her head before he gets in her bed. The younger men and the media who think the younger man/older woman relationship is just about sex or money have never been in a relationship with an older woman. If they had, they'd know the truth.
The facts are fairly simple, and I say these with a great deal of certainty, as this is a demographic of people I have studied formally for over 20 years. If you are familiar with the bell shaped curve, you can easily see that the bell shaped curve can be applied to just about anything in life. Let's plot out the younger man older woman dynamic on it and see what we find: In the mid section of the curve we have most of the older women. “Older women” can be considered any woman in her 20's and older who date younger men. The majority of these women who fall in the mid section of the curve are ages 40-50. These are Cougars. Women in their 30's are Pumas. Women in their 20's are Kittens. Pumas and Kittens fall outside the center of the bell shaped curve. Let's say they are 1 standard deviation away from the Mean, to the left of the midsection. Women in their 60's and older are Panthers. Let's put them to the right of the middle of the bell shaped curve. There are fewer Kittens, Pumas and Panthers than there are Cougars; but for the sake of argument, they are all “Cougars.”
What is a Cougar? Many women take offense to this moniker, as did I, based upon reasons I have given above. People actually get angry with me for using the word in my articles and research. Don't shoot the messenger. I did not coin the word and I did not brand it. Blame the media. They are the ones who want to make Cougars look like neurotic, caricaturist, boy crazy, wackadoos.
I really had a viceral reaction every time I heard the word mentioned, read it in an article or saw my fingers typing it onto my computer screen.
Not any more.
Here is what I have realized and here is what I have advocated to the thousands of members of my Cougar dating site: YOU define what a Cougar is for yourself. Do not let the media. your friends, other Cougars, younger men or so called “experts” tell you how to define yourself as a Cougar. There are basic ingredients that do make up the definition: an older woman who dates, mates and/or marries a younger man. That is the basic criteria. You don't have to look like Courteney Cox, have Demi Moore's money, have Madonna's confidence, or Cher's success to be a Cougar. People who say a Cougar is a “sexy, confident, successful, mature woman who knows what she wants” is leaving out the majority of women who consider themselves Cougars but who may not be successful or sexy or confident. In fact, she may be fresh out of a 20 year stale marriage, up to her eyeballs in debt and feeling insecure about those extra 20 pounds but finds that she is attracted to and open to a relationship with a younger man.
There are “experts” who will try to tell people that a woman can be a Cougar only if she is over 40. Not true. There are women on my dating site who are in their late 20's who date men 7 to 10 years younger who consider themselves Cougars. Being a Cougar is less about your age, economic status, body type or confidence level than it is about your desire to date a younger man.
I really do work hard to set the record straight for the media; but they print the salacious sex and money angle anyway.
In my Ph.D. research project “Childhood Psychosexual Imprinting and the Effects it Has on Adult Male and Female Relationships Specific to Younger Men Dating Older Women” I interviewed over a thousand men about their desire to be with an older woman. Each man could give me chapter and verse about a “defining moment” in his life when he became imprinted with a desire to be with an older woman: a school teacher, baby sitter, friend of an older sister, mother's best female friend, actresses on television and films; the list goes on and on. For these men, it was not about the Myth of Stiffler's Mom. It was not a roll in the hay with Mrs. Robinson, it was a powerful imprint that has stayed with them throughout their lives and keeps them going back to older women time and time again.
I have interviewed men in their 30's who have been married to older women who are looking for their next older wife. I have interviewed men in their 40's and 50's who refuse to date women their age and younger and opt instead for the more mature woman. I met a man who was 82 years old who told me,”I just married an older woman,” and then he added with a wink,”Sex with an older woman is always better.” 82!
Psychosexual imprinting is an area of expertise of mine as it relates to the younger man/older woman dynamic. The “psycho” part has to do with the psychological aspect of the imprint and the young man's personality and how it is formed and imprinted upon. The “sexual” part is prima fascia obvious. Imprinting is a very powerful, defining moment in a person'a life. We all have imprints, some positive, some not positive. The younger man who has imprinted positively with an older woman will seek out and bond with older women for the rest of his life. It's not a one time, flash in the pan kind of thing.
This is what the media does not understand about this dating dynamic. And it is not understood by many so called “Cougar Experts” who are jumping on a bandwagon to sell books and speed dating sessions. My research in this area is extensive, comprehensive and documented; which is why CNN refers to me as The Uber Cougar.
So, if you are a Cougar, don't be ashamed by this term. It is not derogatory. It is not a put down. “Wear the paw with pride” as we say on my dating site. Define who you are as a Cougar and dispel the myths that are out there. And feel free to email me with any questions you may have about my research and this dynamic. Ageism is the last barrier we are breaking down in dating. Even if you are not a Cougar at least now you understand a little more about what one truly is…and is not.