Declawing the Cougar

A recent study of age preferences among single women conducted at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff came to a firm conclusion: Cougars do not exist. After sifting through thousands of singles ads, head researcher Michael Dunn declared: “I do believe the cougar phenomenon is a myth and, yes, a media construct.”

Time magazine disagreed. So did Judith Brower Fancher, author of Females and Younger Men.  Fancher approached AskMen with a request to reassure our readers that cougars do, in fact, exist. Here’s her defense:

The Myth: Cougars Are Imaginary Creatures

At the same moment I launched my book, Females and Younger Men, to point out the global trend of women dating and marrying younger men and explain why this trend has occurred, a study came out from a college professor. The study was based on researching dating websites and his own interviews. His finding was that women still preferred older men, and that the cougar trend was a myth.

The study got tons of media attention. Reuters ran it and that piece was picked up and reprinted or reposted by dozens of other media. But Time magazine put out an article in which the reliability of the study was indeed questioned, as did the Huffington Post.

See, the problem is, the study is flawed. As we know, college professors do their research on college freshmen (remember all those mandatory experiments you did in your Psych 100 class?). OK, news flash: 18-year-old college females who take those surveys aren’t looking for younger men -- in fact, that would be illegal.

But there’s a bigger problem with the study: The professor ignored the facts.

The Fact: Women are Dating and Marrying Younger Men

Here’s proof:

- On a Sunday, in July of 2009, 7 of the 25 marriages covered in the venerable New York Times were women with younger men - nearly 30 percent.

- According to the BBC, 26 percent of British brides were older than their grooms - more than one in four marriages. This number “soared” from 15 percent to 26 percent in 25 years, according to the BBC.

- A recent AARP survey conducted with women ages 40 to 69 found that 34 percent of them - more than one-third - date younger men.

- It’s truly global. A survey in Turkey conducted in 1987 stated that approximately 55,000 women married men younger than themselves. By 2006, that number had nearly doubled to 90,000.

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- A new study by Statistics Korea noted that even in the traditional Korean society, the number of females marrying younger men has jumped from 10.1 percent in 1999 to 14.3 percent in 2009.

Females and younger men are a spicy combination

So, are Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore an anomaly? Not if you remember fellow legendary cougar Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Tim is 12 years younger. They have broken up, but were together for more than 20 years, which is longer than many relationships in or out of Hollywood.

There’s the idea that the women are chasing younger men because they can’t keep a man their own age interested. Uh, yeah, I’d wager there might be at least one or two 47-year-old men who wouldn’t mind dating Demi if she were single.

Last I checked, Madonna was not looking for a man to support her. However, Madonna had her daughter with her personal trainer who was seven years younger, and after divorcing her husband Guy Ritchie, who was 10 years younger, went on to date A-Rod, who is 17 years younger, then Jesus Luz, who is 28 years younger.

When David Beckham, then 24, went in hot pursuit of then-25 year-old Posh Spice (Victoria Beckham), it would be hard to think that he was the victim of a desperate woman who couldn’t get an older guy to like her. And, OK, she’s only a year older, but she certainly wasn’t unable to attract an older man.


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Why the Cougar Slur?

OK, so men who date younger women are called “men.” But women who date younger men are called “cougars.”

What’s up with that? Why is it a crime for a woman to be older - by a year, six years or 17 years?

We know the women didn’t give themselves a derisive nickname, so it likely came from men. And the reason is clear: Most people don’t like change. Females and younger men (FAYM) is indeed a relatively new trend that has only flourished during the last 20 years.

Likely, the real demon here is equality of the sexes. If young women no longer need older men to “take care of them,” does that mean that men are less important in women’s lives? No. Women love men. Believe me, you’re our No. 1 fascination whether we’re age 7 or 70.

So, the idea that women who date younger men are predators looking for victims certainly didn’t come from the women. In fact, because the younger men are called, and call themselves, “cougar hunters,” it is obviously still the men who are the pursuers. No need to worry there.

The Competition Heats Up

So women still love men and men are still the hunters. But one reason 45-year-old men might not be excited about FAYM relationships, and that might lead them to belittle these women, is competition. If women are dating and marrying younger men, the 45-year-old guys’ competition might now be 32. “Oh, hey what?” the men say. “I’m supposed to be in the same shape as the 32 year olds to get a 37-year-old woman?” Not a pretty thought. Women have, of course, been dealing with this forever, but now it’s the men who have to seriously watch their diets and get to the gym for something a lot more real than a steam and shower.

This isn’t a small problem for men because it’s not that they can’t find a woman, it’s just that they might have to do more than just flash a silver AmEx to impress. In fact, because women are now seeking men they love rather than someone to take care of them, money just might not do it. Oh sure, there will always be gold diggers, but now they’re female and male. And everyone else will go on looking for someone they actually love.

The Competition Swings Both Ways

Who else is calling older women who are dating and marrying younger men cougars? Young women. Because they now have new competition too. When an insecure 20-something female is checking out a 32-year-old guy, she doesn’t want to compete with a confident, well-dressed 37-year-old woman who can actually carry on a conversation. The one thing that’s true about the cougar slur is that older women are much more confident about their bodies, in bed and about the fact that a good relationship has a lot to do with communicating to their partner about what they like. For men, that should be a relief. Instead of trying to guess what their woman wants, they can find a woman who comes with an instruction manual.