Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Cougar meets the parents

So Madonna has met the mother of toyboy Jesus Luz… a woman 15 years younger than herself. Now there’s a social challenge - and not, I suspect, one that’s covered by Debrett’s Rules of Etiquette.

In days gone by, you met your potential mother-in-law dressed demurely and hopefully looking like someone who would not only be the perfect wife for her precious son, but also the perfect mother to his future children. By contrast, Madonna already has a couple of ex-husbands behind her and a (growing) clutch of children by a variety of fathers. Also, at 51, she is likely to be less fertile than her potential mother-in-law (36). I wonder if this is what Mrs Luz had in mind for her darling son? The fact is, the cougar usually comes with a lot of baggage and it’s not just the toy boy, but also his family, who have to take it on board – whether or not they want to.

I don’t know how much Ad Man prepared his parents before we were introduced, but from what I'd already heard about them, I was nervous about it. On paper it wasn’t looking good. His mother is just 14 years old than me – so not even legally old enough to be my ‘mother’. And both his mum and dad are good practising Christians. I don’t go to Church myself, but I know enough about good Christians to understand that a 40-something divorcee with two children in tow was probably not top of the wish list for their son.

As it was, I needn't have worried. They were charming and lovely, and welcomed me into the bosom of the family - apparently just happy and relieved to see their son looking so relaxed and content for a change. And maybe that’s what we should all remember – that relationships don’t always follow the accepted ‘rules’ and that we should look beyond what is considered the ‘norm’ and see what it is that really makes people happy. I hope Mrs Luz felt the same.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

What's in it for the ToyBoy?

Of course it’s not hard to see why any young man might be more than happy to hook up with an older female celebrity. From Halle to Jen, to Cameron and even Madonna, the celebrity cougar has plenty to offer in terms of looks, cash and connections – but what about us lesser mortals? What is it that the toy boy sees in dating the average older woman?

Some mornings I’ll peek at Ad Man as he gets ready for work, cheerful as ever, plugging in his MP3 headphones, zipping up his hoodie and leaping onto his scooter, and I can’t help but feel a very, very lucky woman. Then I catch a glimpse of myself, pale faced, in a shabby dressing gown, handing out school bags and scrabbling to put packed lunches together and think, ‘ye gods, what on earth does he see in me?’

As far as I’m concerned, I’m definitely the one getting all the perks here. And I can see in the faces of my girlfriends that they, clearly, think the same. At a recent party in a club somewhere southwest of London, I sat in a velvet booth with some friends watching Ad Man as he gregariously scampered to and from the bar, buying everyone drinks, then hit the dance floor with enthusiasm – a lone stag surrounded by a bunch of excited women. Meanwhile the other, older, menfolk clutched their pints and kept their backs firmly against the walls. “A man who dances… you lucky thing, “ sighed a Yummy Mummy enviously while glaring at her husband who simply stared, glumly, into his Fosters. “I know," I smiled, trying not to look too smug, but then getting up to join Ad Man on the dance floor, just to emphasise the point.

In my more insecure moments though it does concern me that, one day, Ad Man will wake up and wonder what on earth he is doing hanging around with someone who listens to Radio 4 and usually prefers a nice cup of tea to a tequila slammer. It was beginning to play on my mind a bit so the other night I finally plucked up the courage to tackle the issue head on. Over dinner, and after a bottle or two of red, I asked him rather directly, why he would want to be with an older woman when there are clearly plenty of 20-somethings keen to step into my rather sensible brogues.

To my surprise (OK, and relief) he instantly came up with quite a convincing string of reasons which I feel I should share with you – if only to let some young men out there know what they’re missing, and maybe to reassure any other uncertain Cougars. So, for all of you doubters out there, here it is, from the mouth of a babe (well, a 33-year-old male)…. Why young men really do love the older woman:

We’re wiser OK we may have a few crows’ feet to show for it, but our extra years on the planet have also given us a sense of perspective and the experience to know not to sweat the small stuff. Toy Boy may still go dewy eyed over Britney in her school girl’s outfit, but he’d rather spend some quality time with someone who is not going to go into melt down at the smallest hiccup.

We’ve got more to talk about By the time a woman hits 40, she’s usually been to a few places, seen a few things, and realised that there’s more to life than what’s happening in X-Factor and the new handbags in TopShop (though that’s not to say that we don’t like those things too!) We’ve got somewhere in our careers, seen some ups and downs, and know that you need more than perfect hair and make-up to make an evening interesting. Twenty–three-year-old Megan Fox (below) may tick a lot of boxes for the Toy Boy, but her conversation certainly isn’t one of them.

We’re less self aware One of the best things about getting older is that you don’t mind laughing at yourself. We’ve learnt that life is too short to take yourself so seriously. So what if someone turns up at the same do in the same dress or you trip over your own feet as you make your grand entrance? While the 20-something ends up in the Ladies in tears, the 40-something is still having a giggle and glass of champagne.

It’s not all about ‘me’ Talking about yourself for too long is a big turn off for the Toy Boy, and so many 20-somethings are yet to emerge from their egocentric chrysalis. The joy of the forty-something is that she has developed the skill of asking people questions. More than that, she is genuinely interested in someone other than herself. Think, who would you rather have a chat with - Kate Winslet or Peaches Geldof?

We’re not slaves to fashion Most guys just don’t get what it is about Sex and the City’s Carrie – and much of that is to do with the clothes. While men want their date to look good, they’d far rather she was in a well-fitting pair of jeans and flashing a hint of cleavage, than a high-waisted puffball and shoes she can’t walk in. The 40-something scores hands down here because she’s learnt to edit what hits the catwalk and only adopt the more wearable pieces that actually suit her body shape. Natalie Cassidy, take note!

We’re confident Age definitely brings an added confidence. The cougar knows what she wants and what she doesn’t want, and she knows how to sweat her assets. Such confidence is sexy – men of all ages are unanimous in that – and that extends to the bedroom too. OK, so the 40-year-old’s body may have the odd flaw, but at least she’s happy to keep the light on and show off the bits that count – and that keeps a toy boy very happy.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The cougar is concerned

Dating a toy boy is not without its problems for the less experienced Cougar. Although one of the joys of getting older is that you do become much more comfortable with who you are, I’d defy any woman over 40 to say that there isn’t the odd day when she doesn’t wake up, look in the mirror and think, “holy crap, what happened there?” .
While, much of the time, we can convince ourselves we are still lovely young thirty year olds, after a late night and a bottle or two of Fleurie, the facial evidence most definitely says otherwise. So, while young Ad Man clearly liked what he saw when I was propped up by half the products on the Bobbi Brown counter in the daytime, I wasn’t so sure that he’d be prepared for the early morning face.. I already knew that, pre Cougar, he’d only dated women in their twenties, who (damn them) would no doubt wake up looking as dewy and fragrant as a teenager, so the pressure was on..
It seems even the celebrity Cougars have the same insecurities. Sadie Frost (former cougar wife of Jude Law) was pictured recently looking ‘fab at forty plus’, even in a bikini. But reading the small print, she has apparently spent tens of thousands on ensuring that her body looks fit and pert still for her current young partner, 28-year-old Andy Jones.
My Features Editor salary was never going to stretch to that, even if I had the nerve to brave the knife, so I had to resort to other tricks instead. Luckily for me Ad Man sleeps, well, like a baby of course, which gave me an early morning advantage. I soon learnt to prepare for a sleepover by filling a handbag with cougar face-saving essentials, such as eye rescue cream, beauty flash balm, and other such tricks we girls rely on. At night, I’d keep my handbag by the bed and, in the early hours of the morning, very quietly ease out said products, and then lie back, head on the pillow again, and start frantically applying creams before he stirred.
Of course, there would inevitably be the days when an overnighter hadn’t been planned, and I’d wake up after a heavy night, almost feeling the weight of the bags under my eyes, but with no emergency beauty kit to save me. I could vaguely remember some beauty editor once telling me that lying horizontally at night (as, lets face it, most normal beings do) allows fluid to accumulate under the eyes and causes the dark circles and bags. So, those unexpected mornings chez Ad Man would find me desperately plumping up the pillow to make me more vertical than horizontal and tapping away at my eye sockets in an attempt to persuade the damned fluid to head south. Then I’d try to slip off to his bathroom and splash my face 100 times with freezing water, in the hope it would, I don’t know, shock my face into eternal youth maybe?
One morning though, when worryingly, I’d not had a chance for any such pillow prep, Ad Man happened to bring the conversation around to his dislike of the high maintenance woman. “What I like about you, “ he murmured softly, “Is that you don’t wear make up, and yet you always look lovely..”
What?! Could he really not see the difference between the bare faced and exposed ‘me’, and the ‘me’ after hours of work in front of the bathroom mirror? It was at that moment I realised that, actually, what young men see, isn’t the small details we fret over, such as the crows feet and the frown lines. They are far more interested in the more general picture, such as how you move and smell, talk and smile. So, actually, the fact that they may not notice that you’ve had your fringe trimmed, or bought a fantastic new bag, is a GOOD thing ladies – it means you can get away with a few bags under the eyes too. Listen up Demi, you could have saved yourself a fortune!
Next time: dating the older woman – what’s in it for the younger man?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The arrival of the cougar

I could never be labeled a trend-follower, let alone a trendsetter. I may have erred mistakenly into wearing something 'of the moment'  at times, but that’s usually only because said trends have finally come back round to my way of dressing, rather than as a result of me picking up Vogue and thinking – oh yes, this season I really must invest in those must-have platform killer heels, essential knits or day-glo gloves etc.

So it’s been a little disturbing to find myself not just following one of the latest trends, but actually living it… 

Five years ago or so, I inadvertently embraced one aspect  of typical 21st century living  when, as statistics would no doubt have predicted, my long-term relationship fell apart, and I  - plus two kids - left leafy suburbia, to set up a new single-parent home in what I like to describe as a tiny urban cottage, but what the kids would probably call, ‘a dump’.

Just to liven things up a little, I decided that was also the time to return to the world of glossy London magazines and take a job as a Features Editor. My plan, if I had one, was not only to get back into doing a job I really enjoyed, but maybe gain some enhanced self respect along the way - and friends reassured me (when I exhibited regular guilt about being away from home a lot more) that, in juggling it all, I was actually being an excellent role model for the children. I don’t think any of us anticipated that what I was actually about to do was turn into a Cougar.

For those of you who don’t read the lifestyle pages of the papers, the word Cougar now refers to rather more than the sleek pumas or mountain lions you see in the wildlife parks.  Rather less flatteringly, today’s ‘Cougar’ is  “a woman of 40 or so who pursues younger men, typically more than eight years their junior” (wikipedia). Put like that, it initially sounds, well somewhat seedy, but then you look at the people who have entered the realms of the cougar, and the list includes Madonna, Demi Moore, Sadie Frost, Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston and more. Apparently, bagging yourself a younger, well MUCH younger man, is quite de rigeur these days… but I didn’t know that four years ago..  All I knew was that I was still spending my days bursting into tears in the office whenever I spoke to any lawyers, and my evenings going to Clapham Picture House for some solitary popcorn. But, that all changed when I eventually, and rather inadvertently, spent a night with a work colleague, who was more than 10 years my junior…

As I’m at risk here of being labelled as some sort of ageing seductress, desperate to gain a final trophy, I think I should make it clear that, when it comes to matters of the heart or even the bed, my past was hardly going to raise many eyebrows. Apart from the inevitably decadent years of student life,  I was your average serial monogamist until finally settling down with someone of a similar age, from a similar background, and having two kids and a cat.

But something happened that night, over a long drunken dinner at St Katharine’s dock with the ridiculously youthful Ad Manager, that opened my eyes to the whole wonderful, testosterone-pumped world of the younger man. I didn’t have high hopes of my first date with someone who was still at primary school when I was starting university, but I spent that sultry summer’s evening with a man who complimented me, listened to me, laughed a lot, talked about his feelings, and – god forbid - even understood my liking for indie guitar bands.  There was no middle-aged talk of house prices, no expanding waistline, and no burden of  responsibility or emotional baggage weighing heavily  upon his shoulders. Finally I could understand why it was that Madonna hooked up with Guy, Demi is more than fine without Bruce,  and  the close-to-forty Moss found it hard to resist Docherty’s more childish charms.

What is rather sad is that the media has seen fit to come up with such a depressingly predatorial phrase for women enjoying such relationships. It’s as if the poor men involved  are the hapless prey and poor Tim Robbins (52) has spent the past 20 years trying to escape the clutches of his beautiful and intelligent wife Susan Sarandon (62). Despite the fact that women since Cleopatra, and even Elizabeth 1, have  favoured the younger man, society continues to treat these couplings with a certain suspicion, while smiling benignly at the older man trading his girlfriend in yet again for the even younger model.

Well, if you’re someone who wants to live by society’s unwritten rule book, that's fine - go find yourself someone more grown up. But if you don't mind, I'm not quite ready to do that yet. I'm still having far too much fun... 

Coming next  – what a Cougar should always carry in her handbag....