I watched GMTV last week in utter bewilderment when the presenter cheerfully introduced a story on the growing number of so-called "cougars" – women over 40 looking to date a man at least eight years her junior. Sofa guest, Rita Sangha, 39, whose recent, more able-bodied beaux include a 17-year-old, runs Cougar Camp, giving advice and encouragement to women looking to attract young blood.
It was not so much the concept, but the gung-ho enthusiasm with which it was introduced. The message seemed to be: "Wake up, women, this is the latest fun activity to boost your post-divorce ego." It came without any health warning on some of the possible effects a bold and experienced woman may have on the less emotionally developed mind of a younger man.
The presenter asked whether this is about the pursuit of fun or love and Sangha declared it is both. But I doubt if the eager, unscarred heart of a young male – refreshing as that may be – is able to make the distinction as ruthlessly as an elder date.
This was no isolated case. On research it seems it is very trendy to be an aspiring cougar. There are dating websites for them, books on them and this weekend one Sunday newspaper published not one, but four heated letters on the topic. Last month saw the launch of a new American comedy TV show, Cougar Town, starring Courtney Cox as a divorced woman re-entering a dating scene filled with younger men.
Not to forget a host of celebrities. Kim Cattrall, 53, dated her 20-years-younger chef boyfriend for several years. Madonna, 51, appears enamoured by Jesus Luz, a 23-year-old Dolce & Gabbana model, and Demi Moore, 46, is married to spring-chicken Ashton Kutcher, 31.
Who cares, you may cry. Women should be embracing their sexuality in defiance of grey hair and gravity. They should be fighting back over an ageist, youth-obsessed society. Indeed they should, but any relationship should be born via natural causes and based on a genuine connection. A workshop teaching women to force their pheromones on to the younger male seems predatory.
Nor should any relationship serve as a sidekick to boost either partner's ego. I imagine if a man were to set up a workshop giving pointers to middle-aged males on how to woo a younger girl, there would be a great deal of feminist outcry. But we seem to be in an era where anything that empowers a woman is an unquestionable victory for women's lib.
More to the point, though, why on earth would any woman want to date a younger man? Their lack of savoir-faire is terribly off-putting. They don't have a penny to rub together and their idea of haute cuisine is a two-for-one deal at Pizza Express and a bottle of Jacob's Creek. To keep in touch with them, you would need a log-in with Twitter, various instant-messenger accounts and Skype – whatever that is. If you went on holiday, all your snaps would end up on Facebook and if you "stayed over at his", you would have to join a queue of 15 flatmates to use the bathroom in the morning.
My experience of younger men has found them to be incurably addicted to unrealistic romance. It's quaint, but it isn't sexy. If I wanted the doe-eyed affections of a younger man I would get myself a puppy. No thanks, I'd much prefer a seasoned panther.
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