The cougar: When women fall for younger men
Nowadays, you see women in their forties and fifties with much younger men on their arms, and this phenomenon has spread rapidly in the last few years. This is a sign of the times, but where does it leave men? Here, Doctissimo takes a closer look with psychoanalyst France Schott-Billmann, author of Féminin et l’amour de l’autre (The feminine and love of another).
Up until now, men have been falling for young girls all the time to the chagrin of their wives. Now, this has been reversed. Demi Moore (47), followed by Madonna (51) and Susan Sarandon (60), and on the other side of the channel, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (45) all have a preference for partners who are much younger than they are. Stigmatised by the press, these women have been branded “cougars”, (invoking the idea of predators on the hunt for fresh meat), as they break with modern convention.
A revolution of moral codes, or simply a case of women having a mid-life crisis and getting revenge? Psychoanalyst, France Schott-Billmann divides and conquers: “It is an attitude like a deep, unconscious desire in women and which combines two forms of love; the maternal and the erotic, being both mother and lover.” This ends up separating the mother from the whore, images celebrated by the French film maker, Jean Eustache, among others.
Cougar celebs only represent the tip of the iceberg however, and it is a real undercurrent in our society. For proof of this look at the number of “cougar” couples around today which has doubled since the sixties. A third of women over 40 admit to having had a younger lover (according to a study published by the HYPERLINK "http://www.aarp.org/family/love/articles/cougars_and_their.html" AARP, an aid organisation for the over fifties).
The cougar, the family and mythology
France Schott-Billmann is more positive about the cougar though; “More than just about getting revenge, there is some intrinsic part of female nature which is expressed here.” It is both the desire to nurture, educate and civilise, and the more erotic aspect of love which is forbidden from being acted upon by mother and son (as for father and daughter). A relationship with a “dashing young man”, substitute for the son who has flown the nest, could allow a woman to realise this unconscious desire in a socially acceptable way.
Ultimately, the greatest myths never go out of fashion, and follow us without us realising that they are the basis of our lives as much as our psyches. Just as the return of festivities signalled the return to favour of Bacchus-Dionysos according to Ancient Mythology, cougar women could represent the reemergence of the image of the Mother as a goddess, symbolised by Isis in Ancient Egypt, Ishtar in Mesopotamia and Aphrodite in Greece. All three were in love with a male partner who was younger, weaker and mortal.
This isn’t just revenge, it is a real liberation which causes “a break with the conventions laid out by men, which serves to protect and secure the position of women”, the psychoanalyst goes on to explain. The women known as “cougars” are most often successful, both professionally and also to look at... Having achieved financial independence, they have total freedom of choice and therefore the option to reject certain imposed restrictions. Of course, this does not apply to all women who have followed this path. For some cougars, the act of showing off their conquests as a demonstration of their power is a considerable factor too.
The cougar and self validation
If you have a cougar couple in your circle of friends, you will no doubt have noticed how the much gossiped about age gap starts to pale into insignificance over time. In fact, your cougar friend looks ten years younger and her boyfriend seems more mature. The result is that what on paper meets with disapproval is much less shocking in real life. This can be explained by the fact that: “The way another person sees you defines you, like a magic mirror”, France Schott-Billmann says. This is why having a younger man interested in her has an impact on how a cougar looks physically, as well as on her mood. But ultimately, most people are left speechless by the age gap which causes a ricochet of gossip, not escaping anyone’s notice!
Of course, nothing is every perfect, and the motives involved can sometimes be an issue. For some, motivation could be an underlying fear of getting older, which is not always hidden. It goes without saying that if a relationship is based on the fear of ageing, then it’s high time to face up to it!
The danger of breaking up
Wagging tongues will rejoice, no doubt, when cougars are by themselves again once time has passed and their young lover has moved on to pastures new. In reality, this isn’t the issue at stake... Real love takes no notice of cosmetic surgery or age, and has nothing to do with social status either. It is about two people meeting each other. And, yes, of course there is strong risk of cougar couples breaking up. But is this actually any more likely than for other couples? That remains to be seen! “If there is something else, a life together as well as the relationship, both being built at the same time, the risk is reduced”, France Schott-Billmann explains. Advice which applies to any couple aspiring to realise their dreams together, now more than ever. But cougars should be even more aware of this than other women.
In conclusion, the psychoanalyst reminds us that it takes two to tango. The ups and downs in a couple with a considerable age difference is down to both parties. What does this mean exactly? You could be under the false impression that all the cougar women swooping down on young, inexperienced men, are running the show. However, it would seem that the so-called “prey” are actually seeking out older women themselves. Dating sites testify to this phenomenon, and show that this is a two-way, symbiotic revolution in relationships: “The desire of mature women for younger men echoes the need of these young lovers to experience a more grown-up and softer approach to life, breaking with certain patriarchal codes which are weighing down on them.” Women have evolved, but so have the men!
- Escaping the vicious circle of relationship failure
- Saying I love you
- Battle of the sexes: how equal is equal?
- Do your genes determine who you date?
- White knight syndrome: The dangers of emotional dependency
- Say no to rudeness!
- Stop mothering him!
- How to recognise a narcissistic manipulator
- Discover your philosophy on love
Get more on this subject…