Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Cougar makes it to the magazine stands

It seems word of this blog is spreading, and the latest to pick up on it is Easy Living magazine. For those of you who want the full technicolour version, then you can pick up the April issue in a newsagents near you now. But for those of you lacking cash/the inclination/or living in foreign climes... here is the unedited, author's cut.. (and please accept this as my apology for not posting here recently!)

A Cougar Gets Married..........
A few weeks ago, I got married. Nothing unusual in that - it was a beautiful wedding at a boutique hotel, followed by bubbly and cupcakes on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour.. We didn’t have many guests, just our family and close friends – but if you’d looked carefully, you’d have spotted that while the bride’s side was filled with friends in their forties and fifties, the groom’s was populated by a group of guys who were significantly younger – much younger. Yes, despite being 40-plus, divorced, and a single mother to two children, it seems I have just joined the likes of Demi Moore, Halle Berry, Sam Taylor Wood and many other women of note, and bagged myself a toy boy!
How on earth did that happen? It certainly wasn’t planned. Because, although the media have come up with the rather predatory label of ‘cougar’ for any woman dating someone significantly younger than herself, I certainly didn’t spend my evenings prowling bars in search of younger prey. That, to me, just smacks of young man’s fantasy. I suspect the reality is that most “cougars”, like me, have simply found themselves falling for someone who happens to be born eleven years later than themselves. I also suspect that many of them, like me, then spent quite a bit of time wrestling with the situation, and wondering whether such a relationship could have any real future.
I certainly spent many evenings with friends, and a few bottles of red, debating the pros and cons of succumbing to the charms of the persistent young advertising manager in my office who was pressing me for a date. I knew he made me laugh and had a carefree manner that was very attractive, but the age issue did concern me. I was already nursing a rather bruised and battered heart having been through a painful marriage break up a year or so previously, and I suppose I was scared that I might fall in love only to be cast aside by an ambivalent young stag. Of course logic should have told me that could happen whatever year the object of one’s affections was born, but nevertheless…
The more impetuous of my friends obviously advised me to “go for it”, while the more settled and cautious, queried where it was likely to go and, if there was no future in it, then why waste my time fooling around with someone who was still at primary school when I was at university? Ultimately though I decided that I had nothing to lose, except my dignity, and that I would continue seeing him for as long as it was fun. That was four years ago, and I’m clearly still having fun.
Dating a toy boy has been a whirl of laughs, new experiences and opportunities to rekindle forgotten pastimes too. With my Simon at my side I have learnt to wakeboard, been coasteering (jumping off cliffs), bought a boat, flown from Bournemouth to Glasgow just for a day, gone clubbing into the small hours and much much more. He has the energy and enthusiasm to try new things, without worrying that he’ll put out his back, break something or miss his favourite programme on TV. The difference between dating a 30-something and a 40-something (and I do recognise that I am generalising massively here) is that the toy boy still believes he can bounce. Cynicism, fear of failure and middle-aged aches and pains are yet to set in and so, when faced with a new hurdle (literally), he’ll run at it like a puppy and, even if it does go horribly wrong, he’ll simply get up, shake himself off, and have another go.
It’s so refreshing. I love the young man’s sense of life still being there for the taking and shaping - and I like being surrounded by his friends who are still working out what they want in terms of careers, houses and women.
Even my kids love the new energy that Simon’s brought into our lives. Although my teenage daughter inevitably greeted our relationship with some scepticism at first (”he’s how old? Ugh, that’s, like, disgusting”) even she can’t help but giggle at his antics. And my son, 12, loves the fact that we now go out cycling with an ‘adult’ who will try to leap over ditches and logs, and who comes back as mud spattered as him.
My previous long term relationship was with a golf fanatic who would rise early, spend half the weekend on the golf course and the other half asleep, so for me it’s a real joy that toy boy and I can be out having fun together. There are times that Simon’s ‘bounce’ becomes a bit too much though. Such as the morning when I got the call to say he’d been knocked off his motorbike on the middle of the M4’s rush hour, but had still continued into central London with a broken foot. And the times when it’s 2am and my liver is begging to be taken home. Overall though it has brightened and enhanced my life, not darkened it – and it’s his enthusiasm that has continued to push our relationship forwards, despite my reservations about the age gap at times.
But why is it that we all make such a big deal out of age differences? Sure, when you’re an adolescent and still have plenty to learn about the world, launching into a relationship with someone who has already been there, done that, and got the t-shirt can inevitably lead to various conflicts of interest. But once you’ve both moved out of home, become established in your careers, travelled a bit, had your heart broken a few times and learnt a lot from the experience, then surely you are both more or less looking for the same things in life - so where is the problem? I suspect that what fascinates us, or confuses us, is a couple’s perceived physical compatibility, or rather incompatibility. Just as we find it hard to accept a very tall woman going out with someone very short (think Jamie Callum and Sophie Dahl, or Woody Allen and almost anyone) or someone very beautiful going out with someone plain (think Woody Allen again), we are suspicious of any coupling that seems unequal in corporal terms. Why is she hanging out with HIM? What does he see in HER? If a couple aren’t of the same age, background or height, we are suspicious of their agenda. It rocks our perception of what is normal - and yet, open any book on relationships, and the ubiquitous message is that what is most important is what lies beneath the skin, not how smooth or wrinkly that skin might be.
I’ve maybe been helped a little in that department in that Ad Man lost his hair prematurely, which can give him the air of someone rather older at times (it fooled me at first), but I have still suffered my own fair share of insecurities. Yes, he may think I’m lovely now, but what about when I’m 50 and he’s 40. Or I’m 60 and he’s 50. Society cuts men a lot more slack than women when it comes to ageing. Men grow ‘rugged’, while women just grow wrinkly. So I admit I have increasingly found myself drawn to the beauty products that promise a smoother complexion, if not eternal youth, and there are mornings after a heavy ‘night before’ when I’ve buried my head in the pillow so that he can’t see the ‘after’ effects then rushed to the bathroom to smother myself in cougar flash balm.
When it comes to style too, while most 40-somethings are wondering how to successfully dress more like sophisticated mutton and rather less like lamb, I’ve got the added complication of being a mutton who is constantly surrounded by lambs, and as a result sometimes doesn’t really know which field she is supposed to be in. But the more our relationship has progressed, the more relaxed I’ve become, and eventually I’ve realised that how I look really doesn’t make much difference to him. He knows what’s important, and airbrushed perfection comes way down a list which, as far as he’s concerned, is topped by more lasting qualities such as wit, intelligence, confidence and understanding.
Still, it was only when he suggested that we move in together that I finally accepted that he might actually be serious about this whole older woman thing. At first I was still keen to play it safe, and suggested that he moved into my tiny house (so that I still had my base if it all went wrong) but then I realised that, sweet as my little house was, it was just not going to cope with a boisterous adult there on a full time basis. And so it was that I was forced to take a leap of faith, and once again share a mortgage with a man – only this time a very young man. I only fully appreciated what I was letting myself in for when he and a bunch of mates turned up outside our new home with a white van packed to capacity with guitars, massive speakers, Led Zep CDs and Phillippe Starck chairs which we then attempted to blend seamlessly with my Joni Mitchell and shabby chic. Somehow or other though, just like our relationship, it works, and whenever I wince at the sight of the endless lengths of speaker cable, I just have to remind myself that he left his bachelor pad, all his friends, his local curry house and pub to join me in middle class, middle aged suburbia 90 miles further south. Not only that, but his weekends of late night clubbing, takeaways and lie-ins have been replaced by early morning trips to children’s tennis lessons, forty-something dinner parties and talk of Ofsted reports. He must love me!
But, actually I know he does, because he tells me so – every day. That’s the other thing about toy boys. They’re not afraid to wear their heart on their sleeve, and actually communicate whatever it is they’re feeling. And they know that women like them to do that. Today’s thirty-year-old male was brought up in the Eighties by a mother who was more likely to go out to work, be independent and to speak her mind than those of the generation before. He was still an impressionable teenager when Princess Diana died and the nation openly mourned. And magazines such as GQ and Mens’ Health were always readily available to tell him how women work and what they want, as soon as he was ready to know. As a result the toy boy is far less concerned about being the macho hunter-gatherer, is able to wear moisturiser without a second thought, can express his emotions freely and is much more interested in simply pleasing women. Hurrah!
These qualities are, happily, carried over into the bedroom too. Today’s young male is bombarded by so much media on what women want, what they expect, and how to keep them happy, that the poor guys are under a lot more pressure in that department than the 40-something man ever was. Add to that, the high street presence of Agent Provocateur and Ann Summers, and most 30-somethings now feel they can’t possibly take a girl to the bedroom unless they have prepared a fully orchestrated 40-minute routine featuring a range of props and toys. How on earth could I fail to appreciate such effort, energy and prowess? Though there have been moments when, perhaps rather churlishly, I’ve suggested that sometimes a woman just wants a bit of simple loving, without having every single button pushed first…
But I love the way we communicate with each other, both in and out of the bedroom. For the first time I feel like I’m really being listened to, and understood. And having already experienced the collapse of a marriage due to a lack of effective communication, it’s important to me. Of course we are helped in that this is the ultimate age of communication – and for the first time in my life I’ve been wooed and seduced by texts and emails as much as whispered sweet nothings. When we come together in the evenings, there’s hardly any need for the “how was your day dear?” because we’ve exchanged enough texts or mails throughout the day to already know.
For Simon too though, good communication is important, and he says this is the first relationship that he’s had in which he has felt able to say what he feels without any negativity leading to a dramatic showdown. It seems the 40-something has the edge over the 20-something female in this regard, as the older woman has been through enough ups and downs to only get stressed by the things that really matter, and not throw a hissy fit when something isn’t perfect. Simon feels able to be completely himself, whether that’s laughing for the umpteenth time at Top Gear, or crying when some pop diva changes key..
And talking of crying… Our wedding was full of laughter, but it was also soaked in tears – all his, not mine. He was red eyed in the morning, welling up when I walked down the aisle, and doing so once again as he stumbled over the vows we’d written together. But it was as I kissed away his tears before they rolled down his cheeks, that I knew that was exactly why I was there, why I was marrying him, and why I’m more than happy to be labelled a Cougar.
(read more about living with a toyboy at www.thecougarandthetoyboy.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Cougar Fashion - what wearing shorts says about you

Every woman may think she has a style challenge on her hands when she looks in the wardrobe each morning, but believe me, the Cougar has twice the dilemma. Whereas most 40-somethings are simply working out how to hide various lumps and bumps and avoid looking like mutton dressed as lamb, the Cougar is also wondering how on earth one should dress when one IS a mutton but spends one’s life permanently surrounded by lambs. I frequently lose track of which field I am supposed to be grazing in, and either meet AdMan feeling as if I’m dressed like his mother, or head into work looking like I’ve had an unfortunate date with Paris Hilton’s stylist.
That said, I must admit, I have always wondered why, if your body is in relatively good nick, the older woman is suddenly supposed to abandon certain fashions in favour of the classic black trouser suit, and head for M&S rather than Top Shop. My passport might say I’m 40 plus, but my body is pretty much the same now as it was when I was twenty or thirty, so why, when there are high streets packed with overweight twenty-somethings, squeezed into items completely unsuitable for their body shape, should I feel that I can’t enjoy a fashion moment or two as much as they can? After all, I’ve never been someone to expose vast amounts of flesh, and bare legs and plunging necklines are just not my style, so is it that inappropriate for me to go for a bit of skinny jean street fashion or throw on a mini and opaques now and then?
Ad man of course, is very much in favour of the skinny jeans, or anything in fact which is tight and shows every curve. But then he’s male, and as such his tastes are shaped by what’s ‘sexy’  rather than what might be appropriate, so I don’t feel I can always rely on him as an acid test.
I decided instead to check out the pages of Grazia this week, to see what key looks might be Cougar friendly. Unfortunately the edition to hand was a little low on Cougar style (Elle, Madonna, Sadie and co were all obviously having a quiet week in the Bahamas) while all the females of  AdMan’s generation - Sienna, Fearne , Holly etc - were out in force as usual, variously featured in their ‘favourite skinnies’ or a short frock or two, but mostly in this season’s short shorts, black tights and boots.
“Well,” I mused, immediately losing focus on my original mission.. “There’s a look I can pull off.”  Of course I was basing this purely on the fact that it was a trend that I worked – and loved – way back in 1990. Admittedly, the look then was a bit more Yaz (ie ripped denim shorts, black tee, tights and DMs,) but with a bit of tweaking and the help of my daughter’s wardrobe, I knew I could give the 2010 version a go.
And so it was that I found myself in, broad daylight, dressed in tiny TopShop black shorts, laced up boots, and a checked shirt… Admittedly when I got outside and the cold air hit my thighs I did have a momentary sanity check, but undeterred, I headed out on my errands.  Less than an hour later and I’m asking the fashion gods why on earth they hadn’t reminded me that today was the day I had to drop the car at the garage…  Walking into a mechanic’s domain is always something of a challenge when you’re tall and blonde, but doing it in micro shorts is just bloody madness.. Do Fearne and Sienna get these problems? Of course not, they have someone else to do such menial tasks, leaving them to get papped simply clutching a latte and an oversized handbag and looking as cool as a well-iced gin and tonic.  Being a lesser mortal, all I could do was hug my short trench coat tightly around me and try to brave the quips and leers with as much dignity as possible.
Next stop, the library to return AdMan’s Sherlock Holmes’ collection.. That should be fine, I reassured myself, At least everyone has to be quiet in there. But even strolling down the high street towards the library, I was having my doubts. A van came up behind me and beeped appreciatively, but a nagging fear inside me was already imagining the occupants feeling completely conned, or worse, laughing their heads off, when they clocked the unexpected extra years on the face on the other side.
I began to wonder if that’s where I was going very wrong. Today your choice of clothes is all about sending a clear message to the world about what sort of person you are. What you don every morning is a way of letting everyone know what sort of people you hang out with, what music you like and maybe even what decade you were born in. And if that’s the case, was I sending out massively confused signals?  Did my shorts and boots combined with a 40-something face say, “Here’s an older woman who’s still in touch with what’s hot?”, “ Here’s a woman not afraid to wear what she wants?” Or simply, “Here’s an older woman who should know better”?
But of course, the Cougar is going to get a mixed bag of responses whatever she’s wearing. Whether in black trouser suit or micro mini, when I stand by my man, people will still do a double take, and will still judge. And for every person who says, “good for her, bagging a toyboy” there will be those who tut and disapprove.  Society doesn’t like people who challenge the usual way of doing things. The average person on the street wants us all to date someone of the same height, same colour and same background - and it rocks their suburban way of thinking when someone takes a different path. Well, to hell with them, I don’t want to be a sheep - whether I’m classified as mutton or lamb - I’m very happy to be a Cougar and, yes, I’m still quite liking the black shorts too…………….

Friday, 8 January 2010

Can a toyboy ever be too much of a boy for a Cougar?

So Cougar Sam Taylor Wood and her toy boy lover are now expecting a baby. Of course the fact that there’s 23 years between them (she’s 42, he’s 19) has obviously made the announcement all the more newsworthy…  so I’ve been considering where this Cougar should stand on the matter.

The idea of creating a little being that was part Cougar and part Ad Man has obviously come up from time to time – usually on the nights when a few bottles of red were also mixed with the odd margerita – but although the more romantic side of me was rather tempted at times, in the cold light of day we both would inevitably wake up, look at one another quizzically and then be hugely relieved when it was clear that neither of us really wanted to see it through. In fact, we’d rather stick needles in our eyes.

We’ve already done more than enough for the next generation. Like Sam Taylor Wood, I have two children, and Ad Man has a son.. and both of us can still remember so clearly the sleepless nights, endless crying, and sheer hard work that our bundles of joy brought us that we really don’t fancy going through that bit all over again.  Call us selfish, but we love the fact that we can spend as long as we like in bed and don’t get woken up in the night by anything other than each other.

If this was a planned event for Sam TW, I take my hat off to her bravery. She is a very beautiful woman, no doubt about it, but I challenge any Cougar to feel sexy and desirable when you’ve had two hours sleep, your breasts are engorged and you haven’t had a minute to leap in the shower. And, bearing in mind that she’s only been seeing her Toyboy for a matter of months, I’d imagine that they are still at that point in the relationship when she is throwing every ounce of energy she has into looking good and fantastic sex..  I hate to be the one to knock another Cougar/Toyboy relationship in any way, but will a 19-year-old really be happy to hang around once that chapter of fun comes to a close and he has to play second fiddle to 8lbs of noise and spittle?

One of the wonderful things about the relationship I have with Ad Man is that he was just celebrating his 30th birthday when I met him. By the time you’ve hit 30, you’ve seen a few things, got a few serious relationships under your belt and (in Ad Man’s case) even had a child of his own - all of which puts you on a much more level playing field with the 40-something Cougar.  And all of which also seems to be leading me to the point where I have to concede that even I might have a cut-off point in terms of what might make a successful Cougar/ToyBoy coupling.  Or, in other words, if what you want from your relationship is some depth and longevity, there's little point hanging around with someone fresh out of college, who still has a lot more to learn about life, love and women.

 Sorry Sam, but unless your 19-year- old is remarkably worldly wise and mature for his years, I just don’t see it working.. Factoring in that he’s also an actor (not the most selfless of people at the best of times) and if I’d been you, I’d have given it another 10 years at least - but that’s rather a long time to cross your legs now.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Cougar Christmas with the toyboy - and his family

So, Christmas with my toyboy, Ad Man, has come and gone, in a flurry of snow, champagne, pressies – and a sprinkling of awkward moments..
While the Cougar spent much of the build up to the festive season rushing to meet work deadlines, buying presents, cleaning the house and dealing ineffectively with my builders who were attempting to beat the world record for the slowest bathroom makeover in history, Ad Man’s hectic work schedule seemed to consist entirely of perusing Ebay for guitar accessories or going to the pub with various work colleagues for some Christmas cheer.
And so it came to pass that, when we finally turned up on his parents' doorstep somewhere on the edge of Wales, I was no doubt looking more old and haggard than they were even expecting, while Ad Man was in exuberant form.
As a teenager I was never much good at staying at boyfriends’ parents houses. Said boyfriend would inevitably have high expectations of the fact that we were finally spending a night together under the same roof, even if the only thing separating us from his parents and various siblings was a few millimitres of plasterboard with as much sound proofing as a negligee. I on the other hand, would have absolutely no intention of doing anything that would make me unable to look his mother in the eye as I passed her the toast the following morning.
And, so within minutes of crossing the threshold of Ad Man’s family home, all the same insecurities and questions unexpectedly flooded back once again. Where would I be sleeping? Where would he be sleeping? And would he be expecting me to cross the landing quietly in the middle of the night for an illicit, whispering fumble under his Arsenal duvet cover? I didn’t have to wait long for the answer. As we headed inside, he only had to run a finger suggestively down the length of my spine for me to get the message loud and clear.
But it soon also became clear that his very Christian parents had been anxiously pondering exactly the same points. And, even more interestingly, I suddenly realised that, of course, for them, it was an even more awkward scenario. Whereas, when dealing with a couple of teenagers, they would have been well within their right to lay down the law and read the riot act (or any other such clichĂ©s of parental behaviour) if they suspected anything they might not approve of was happening under their own roof – when faced with a ‘girlfriend’ who was not only in her 40s, but only 14 years younger than them, it was a whole other conundrum.
Ad Man’s parents had clearly surmised that the best approach was to put us in single beds (a double would have obviously been sending completely the wrong message) but single beds in the same room, thus eliminating any awkward night-time encounters in the corridor. And so it was that we were shown into the primrose twin room, with its towels laid out neatly on both beds, and tea-making facilities in the corner. But, just in case Ad Man and I still harboured intentions of sharing anything more than a cup of Earl Grey, his father felt the need to take me to one side.
“The walls in these houses are very thin, you know” he proffered. I laughed, and tried not to squirm too visibly. Ok, I thought, point made. But still he kept going.. “They’re only plasterboard, the sound goes right through them,” he emphasised once more, in case I hadn’t quite grasped it the first time. I smiled yet again and tried to shape an expression that said, “Yes, I understand what you’re saying, but of course that sort of funny business was never on the cards anyway as far as I’m concerned..” I’m not sure I succeeded.
Meanwhile, downstairs, presents were already being distributed and Ad Man was whooping as he unveiled a new amp for his bass guitar. Within minutes he and his brother were happily jamming together in the front room, recalling all their old favourites from the Police to Led Zep, while I, the parents, and even Grandma tapped our feet appreciatively. All was very festive and cheery, then his brother began the opening chords of a familiar tune.. ‘Here’s one for Emma,” he smiled. “Ah, what is it?” asked Grandma.
But I didn’t wait to hear the answer, I already knew. I’d reached the stairs before I heard them launch into the chorus. “Here’s to you Mrs Robinson…“ Excellent. Time for a cup of Earl Grey, I thought. Upstairs. By myself. His parents would have nothing to worry about tonight.