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