Sunday, March 6, 2011

EMLY FORREST: The Problem With Cougars


My friend Teresa wants a man. “Someone to share dinner or a movie, so I’m not the odd person out anymore,” she tells me. “A companion, a partner, and, okay, maybe a romantic liaison.” She states specifics: no dirty finger nails, no physical problems that might turn her into a caregiver, no deadbeats. Never mind that Teresa is old enough to be my mother (and I’m no teenager).

“Have you tried the Senior Center?” I offer helpfully. “Or what about a singles group?”

She gives me a look that says she’s sure I’ve lost my mind and then informs me that older men want younger women. By “younger,” she means someone my age. It’s relative of course.

Teresa’s daughter, a fine artist who makes her home in Mexico, advises Teresa that her problem is more about geography than chronology. Mexican men—actually Mexican folks of either gender—are not as age-conscious as most Americans seem to be. “They don’t see a problem with a fifty-year-old woman dating a twenty-five-year old man.” And she goes on to explain that it’s not only acceptable, but quite common.

Could this be true? Certainly, Americans are fixated on youth. Witness the thousands of women and (yes, it’s true) men who undergo the knife to undermine the wrinkles. Try to buy a magazine that is not filled with ads for creams and lotions that promise a smoother more youthful complexion. But is it possible that folks in other countries are not as obsessive about staying young as we are?

And if that’s true, is it possible that there are no cougars in these other countries? By “cougar,” I’m talking the woman-of-a-certain-age variety, not the animal. I’m guessing that if the age thing turns out to be mostly an American concept, then the idea of “cougar” would have little meaning in other countries. Maybe they even laugh at our notions of what’s acceptable.

While I try not to think of myself as a woman-of-a-certain-age (and what age is that exactly?), my doctor reminds me that I might be at each annual checkup. My petty physical complaints and pleas for understanding and relief are usually met with a pat on the knee and the assurance “Well, when we reach a certain age...” She’s letting me know that I’m falling apart slowly and there’s little she can do about it.

The upside, then, may be that I’m cougar material. Can there be a gorgeous dark-skinned lothario across the border who might find me irresistible? Is he willing to overlook a few mild frown lines, a slightly poochy tummy, and a drooping derriere because I’m witty, experienced and kind? I may never find out. But I like to keep the fantasy alive.

Perhaps that’s why I write about cougars. It’s my way of living the dream without doing irreparable harm to my marriage. But I’m particular about the “cougarness” of my cougars. First and foremost, no “Real Housewives” stuff. I don’t believe those woman are any more real than the folks that enliven Jerry Springer-type shows. My cougars must be women we all might know. Maybe even us.

Take Jessica Grandville from my novella Irish Ice, for example. Sure, she’s beautiful and has a good-paying job. But she’s also a single mom, bored with her life and ready to be romanced, whether she realizes it or not. Who couldn’t relate?

And then, there’s the matter of younger men. They should never be childish. Or too innocent (or even better, not innocent at all). In fact, as Jess finds out, some younger men may be more mature, more sensitive and more serious than a lot of older men. The point is, age is just a number. And there’s no accounting for attraction and no limits on love.

So, what do I tell my friend Teresa? This is me, shrugging. And hoping that someday she travels to Mexico to discover that her daughter was right all along. I hope she invites me along.

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