Urban cougars on the prowl

Fearless, 40 and on the prowl. They pounce on younger men. And they're in a bar near you
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The Independent Online

She is sophisticated, sexually predatory and won'tsee 40 again: meet the urban cougar, the new phenomenon sweeping the New York dating world and now on the prowl in the UK.

The urban cougar dates younger men: think Sharon Stone, Kim Cattrall, Demi Moore or Nicollette Sheridan's Edie Britt in Desperate Housewives. Cougars are successful in their own right: financially independent, career-driven, possibly divorced, with children, and they want to avoid the ties of a long-term relationship in favour of the freedom of the hunt, turning the tables on older men who scoop up trophy babes.

With stealth and athleticism, the cougar pounces on her prey and gets away fast. Visit venues such as Soho House and Bungalow 8 in New York and you'll find cougars at large - dressed to the nines and sipping cantaloupe martinis with a glint in their eye.

These 40-something women have no qualms about picking up the same boys that as babysitters they sent off to bed for being naughty, according to followers of the trend in Britain.

Shows such as Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives have removed the stigma of the oversexed older woman. "The strength and power of New York women is almost frightening," says Sarah Ivens, the editor of American OK! "We British girls have a lot to learn. Manhattanites on the prowl are ferocious. They earn a lot of money and spend most of it on looking good and going out. They feel they deserve the best."

Lucrative websites have sprung up offering an on-line dating service, advice on the best places to meet younger prey and age-defying fashion and makeover tips. The predator's hand-book is Valerie Gibson's Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men. The website www.urbancougar.com, launched in 2004, takes more than 40,000 hits a month and boasts a ratio of two women to every man. "An older woman has so much to offer a younger man," says its co-founder "Dynomite", an estate agent. "She doesn't have as many insecurities, knows what she wants, and isn't afraid to pick up the check."

The new Hollywood film Prime, released in the UK this week, stars Uma Thurman as a 37-year-old career woman who, after a painful divorce, embarks on a passionate affair with a man 14 years her junior. The classic cougar film's release coincides with a stealthy approach by UK felines.

SpeedDater has started running evenings in London for men aged 23-35 and women aged 35-50. "Young men have often grown up with quite independent mothers so they probably are more liberal and sensitive than the generation of men above them," says Ben Tisdall, co-founder of Speed- Dater. "Women in their forties typically have very high expectations of going out with someone who is their financial peer. But as soon as they start going out with a younger guy, it takes the pressure off them."

A quarter of British women now marry a partner younger than themselves, according to the Office for National Statistics.

US trendsetter Marian Salzman, of the advertising firm J Walter Thompson, says that the cougar phenomenon is about much more than just hooking up with a toyboy. "It's more about unleashing your inner Angelina Jolie. This is more Yummy Mummy goes wild and free than it is the neighbourhood singles salon."

ON THE PROWL

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Who: Ivana Trump, Jerry Hall, Sarah Ferguson, Princess Michael of Kent

Eurocat: Foreign feline with accent to match

Who: Isabella Rossellini, Catherine Deneuve, Juliet Binoche, Salma Hayek

Rock cat: Wild woman who's been there, worn the T-shirt

Who: Marianne Faithfull, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry(above), Suzi Quatro

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