“Cougar” relationships not that different, researchers say


The notion of a “cougar” – an older woman on the prowl for hot, younger men – is just that: a notion. According to an article by the New York Times, which summarized a 2006 study of marriages in which women were at least ten years older than their husbands, the relationships were surprisingly normal and healthy. I.e. not at all creepy. The women were not overly motherly towards their husbands, and there really weren’t the power struggles you’d expect. Neither the husbands or the wives had major issues. There were some problems as the years went on, due to generational differences and worries about aging. But overall, it’s something Hollywood has turned into this strange, empty-sex based little phenomenon, when really they’re generally just normal, healthy marriages.

…The loosening of relationship conventions, which is not limited to age but also includes race, religion and economic status, appears to be particularly evident among female baby boomers, sociologists say, who are faced with the tightest “marriage squeeze” — the smallest pool of compatible men as conventionally defined, those two to three years older, of similar background and higher levels of education and income. The reason is that as women have delayed marriage, men still have a tendency to date and marry younger women.

In the last several years, as the loaded term cougar was popularized by the media’s frenzied fascination with Demi Moore’s marriage to Ashton Kutcher, 15 years her junior, and the dalliances and liaisons of other celebrities like Madonna and Katie Couric, researchers have begun to examine the older woman-younger man relationship. It is one that has long been taboo, heavily influenced by the Freudian notion that the older women are mother substitutes or “robbing the cradle.”

“For a long time we’ve been fed this idea that women should look for a man to take care of her, a man that is more educated, has a better job and makes more money,” said Sandra L. Caron, a professor of family relations and human sexuality at the University of Maine. “That might be fine and dandy if you’re in high school and have this fairy tale Prince Charming. But when you look at adult women, most are self-sufficient and they don’t have to look for that.”

Dr. Caron is an author of a 2006 study of couples in which the wife is at least 10 years older, which found surprisingly positive attitudes among the couples, although fear of stigma and insecurity about aging for the women, in particular, were common. The study, published in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, reported that the couples thought their age difference mattered more to the outside world than to them, and that the men were more strongly drawn to the relationships at the start because of physical attraction.

Consistent with most other research and what many relationship experts are saying about these connections, the authors found that women liked the vitality the younger man brought into their lives, and men liked the maturity and confidence in the women, although generational differences sometimes made both partners uncomfortable. Others have also cited infidelity as a stronger possibility in any relationship with a large age difference.

“Initially I thought I would find more issues,” said Nichole R. Proulx, the lead author of the study, who is a marriage and family therapist in Maine. “But it’s a relationship like any other, despite what society might say. I thought I’d find that he looks at her like his mother, more inequality, more power struggles.”

[From the New York Times]

The Times also cited several studies that pointed out that the cougar phenomenon really doesn’t exist. Sure, there are marriages and relationships with older women and younger men. But they haven’t dramatically increased lately, they’re just getting more attention. However most of what they looked at were marriages, so dating relationships are another thing altogether.

The Times talked to Christie Nightingale, who is the founder of a matchmaking service called Premier Match (rates start at $6,500 and climb up to $50,000), and she said that while she’s noticed there’s been a bit of an increase in women looking for younger men, the same cannot be said for the men, generally speaking. However they do seem more flexible on the subject, and if Christie feels she’s got a great potential date who’s older, the men can often be convinced. So they’re open to the idea, but not specifically seeking it out. Which does slightly reinforce the idea that the women are pouncing on the men, which isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself.

But by and large, the cougar phenomenon is mostly about television. It’s a fantasy, and it’s crossed over into the real world a bit, but not with the drama and bed hopping Hollywood would like you to think. Someone might want to mention that to Courteney Cox and her new show “Cougartown.” That’s just one of the many things it’s doing wrong.

Thanks to Jezebel for the story idea!


You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

18 Responses to ““Cougar” relationships not that different, researchers say”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. TwinkleToes says:

    Jaybird, I love your articles. You write creative posts. You write thought provoking articles that switch things up a bit from the usual celeb fare.

    I must say, cougar, douche and LOL has seen it’s days. Same goes for “I just threw up in my mouth a little bit”.

  2. audrey says:

    nice!.. My BF is 12 yrs younger than me.. He’s 25.. When we met, we both thought the other one was 30 yrs old.. As we began to get to know each other, we both started to realize there was a considerable age difference, yet neither wanted to ask the question. When I finally found out, I was shocked!! I thought, no way in hell can I keep seeing him.. Then my sister said, “He sounds like the best guy you’ve ever dated to me – are you really going to write him off just b/c of his age?” And I realized she was correct. I never thought i’d date someone even 3 or 4 yrs younger.. But, it’s been a yr and a half & we moved in together over the summer.. I still am a little wary of mentioning his age to friends, and thankfully, he looks much older than 25, but it is actually the best relationship I have ever had.. And we do have some pretty good laughs about the age difference.. Now if I can only break the news to my folks….

  3. tooey says:

    All that said, I still like the guilty pleasure that is Cougartown.

  4. BitterBetty says:

    I still like douche.

  5. Firestarter says:

    Douche never gets old!

  6. badrockandroll says:

    I’m going to add “Karma is a b!tch” and “methinks” to the list of overdone phrases.

  7. Firestarter says:

    Add “It is what it is” to over used phrases.

  8. PJ says:

    I saw Cougar Town last night and was not impressed. The writing was terrible. It was pretty moronic, not funny.

    Courteney Cox looks incredible, though!

  9. margo says:

    Good for you Audrey!

    I am sure your parents see how happy you are–let that speak for itself!

  10. Juice In LA says:

    Cougar town is a fun diversion, Tooey- as soon as they relax and get over the “premise” of the show, it will turn out some GREAT episodes.

    But as for Cougars? sigh. Although I am in an amazing same-age relationship now, I had my cougar years. I think its great that some people find a may-december relationship fulfilling. For me, dating a 20-something in my late 30’s was for fun and sport, not longevity.

    Remember when Carrie slept over the 20-something waiter/artist’s place and he used “used” coffee filters and had the grateful dead-esque wall tapestry and the floor you were afraid to let your bare feet touch? That is usually the reality of it all.

  11. Gigohead says:

    I love this show!! It’s very funny! It’s indeed a guilty pleasure for me.

    I have to say, I have two friends who are in relationships with young dudes. They are constantly in drama with these guys.

    No thanks, I love my man who is 4 years my senior. I can’t see myself babysitting again drama babies. LOL!

  12. cara says:

    Audrey…..Great for you!!!! I think we women get better with age and any young guy wise enough to notice that is a sure keeper. Kudos to you girl.

    seriously….look at Lisa Bonet and/or Barbra Hershey….2 fab “cougars”. I only wish.

  13. Uzi says:

    Personally, I prefer men my own age. But I’m so sick of people making a big deal about an older woman/younger man relationship when the reverse is never an issue, no matter how big the age difference (83-year-old Hugh Hefner/19-year-old twins…hello!) Courteney Cox is gorgeous, as is Demi Moore, so it’s perfectly normal that men of all ages would be attracted to them.

  14. audrey says:

    @ margo & cara – thanks!

    I keep telling my sister (who is 2 yrs older) that I wish my BF had a younger brother she could go out with 😉

  15. sauvage says:

    Dearest Audrey: If he is the man who makes you happier than you could ever be without him, then that’s the real thing no matter what anybody else might think. If he treats you kindly, if you can talk to him, if the physical attraction is strong – what more to ask for, a NUMBER?

    Keep going, girl, and I hope the two of you stay very, very happy.

  16. audrey says:

    @ sauvage –
    well said.. again, thanks!

  17. KatyAlia says:

    The happiest and most lasting relationships among my female friends are – surprisingly enough – women ca. 10 years ahead of their male partners.
    And I’m talking about 10 year history now, in 3 of these cases.

  18. Brock Taul says:

    “It looks that you’ve seized the proper core of the position in the current situation. While numerous seem to have neglected the central point of it, that which is expressed previously is unimpeachable plus concise. I am avoiding alleging that I harmonize on every one of the points; nonetheless, I have to admit that you managed to have handed me grounds to pause and think of many of the main ideas that I supposed that I deemed as unshakable opinions in that respects. expressed, and now for myself to think a some more on a few of the outstanding details. Summarizin I would state you have have added a little thoght to the World.”