Reflections on Cougardom

I first learned that “cougars” are just as likely to be found in the suburbs of Wellesley, as in the wilds of the mountains at a meeting of a small business group last year. A woman who was a medical aesthetician, described her ideal referral as a “cougar,” and since I had never met a four-legged in search of skin care or plastic surgery, I figured she must be referring to a different breed!

Sure enough, all gender stereotypes change and evolve. While once the media focused on the 60- something man in search of his 30-something “trophy wife,” beyond Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin, the media can now cast its lens on the “cougar”–a woman in her late 50’s or older, seeking a man twenty years or more her junior as her “prey.”

The movie version of the Abba musical, “Mamma Mia,” even features a character, Tania, who is a fiftysomething cougar, with a twentysomething love interest who she plays with, but ultimately casts away. She sings the song, “Does Your Mother Know,” expressing the temptation and challenges of ethical cougardom.

While at the end of this month I will march across the threshold from 49 to 50, in reality, I am still a bit young for true cougardom. But on Halloween, one can be a little creative, and with a wardrobe full of feline elegance from my West Coast swing dance days, why not take a walk on the wild side?

So, when I was invited to a Halloween costume party, the natural thought was to go as a “cougar.” The costume was easy: an elegant tailored leopard print jacket, a low cut black top, a faux-leather mini-skirt with a rhinestone belt, black tights and hot black leather boots were the basics. Add on a heart- necklace-collar, a cat nose and gold cat ears from iParty, and leopard-pattern earrings from a now- deceased crafts person, and the attire was complete.

But what’s a cougar without her prey? And since the folks at the party were more likely to be babyboomers than generation Y, it seemed that I’d need to do a bit of importing if I really wanted to play the role. When you are a 49 year old cougar, your pickings lead you to college campuses and internet start-ups, looking for that 20 – 25 year old who would like to pay a visit to your lair. Had I connections with Saturday Night Live, it might have been easier to do my skit there on national television than in the suburbs of metrowest Boston. I realized it was a real stretch for me to ask someone so young to accompany me, even for a simple party skit. And it was scary for the young men I asked to consider playing the part, even though it was only a kind of party improv!

In the end, this cougar went hungry. However, I came up with another accoutrement: a little pretend book of pictures I titled, “A Cougar’s Little Book of Hot Prey.” Thanks to the internet, photos of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie and Jon Lester, all young stars of the Boston Red Sox, for those of you who don’t follow baseball, and other sports and entertainment figures all in the 20 – 25 year old age bracket are plentiful in supply. So, I composed the cougar’s preybook, and set off to the party.

Little did I know that I had chosen a costume that would be a little bit intellectually challenging for the great majority of the people I encountered! Wonderwoman, Elvis and even Morticia Adams were more the expected currency, than the suburban feline with her grocery list in hand.

A number of women caught on quickly and had some good laughs as I shared my preybook with them. “How come you didn’t bring one of them with you?” several women asked me. It happened to be the end of the American League Division series, and I easily retorted that they had something more important to do in Tampa Bay. “Why aren’t you down there with them? ” countered another woman. I guess it’s hard to be a cougar and a single mom with a babysitter watching your son at home!

All in all, it was a lot of fun playing with this role, and something I truly could not relate to in real life. But then again, it feels just as awkward being pursued as a trophy by a man 15 to 20 year my senior. Somehow, these kinds of liaisons seem to be more about power and status and less about connection and love.

So, while I am glad to have a few photos my son took of me in cougar garb, I think my clothes will go back into the closet. And short of singing in a “Mamma Mia” revue, I think they’ll be pulled out next for a visit to the dance floor, where other babyboomers populate the suburban jungle!