Dating and mating a man who's at least a decade your junior may sound like the ultimate ego boost – and it is, at least in the beginning. Yet as experienced Cougars will tell you, that's only a small part of a complex equation. First, a little background about the trend, and then we'll dish regarding the upside and the downside of romping with a guy who was born when you were already in fifth grade or even later.
The popular opinion is that Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson in the 1967 film "The Graduate" was the original Cougar. Long before that, though, queens in ancient Egypt were wedding mere boys. Nefertiti's husband was her 12-year-old brother, and the same was true for Cleopatra before she moved on to her storied relationships with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. And then there was Queen Elizabeth I, who at 48 was engaged to the 22-year-old Duke of Anjou.
As for the term Cougar itself, most sources credit a Canadian web site with coining the term in 1999. Since then, celebrity pairings have spurred fascination with the phenomenon. Joan Collins, now 79, wed Percy Gibson in 2002. He's a whopping 32 years younger than she is. Mary Tyler Moore, 75, has been married since 1983 to Dr. Robert Levine, now 59. Demi Moore at 49 will celebrate her 6th wedding anniversary in September with 34-year-old Ashton Kutcher.
But enough about them. What would your life with a baby beau be like? That has a lot to do with whether you are the predator (as the dubious honor of being compared to a wild cat implies) or the prey. If you initiate the relationship, either through an online dating service or in person, you get major kudos for being pro-active as long as you're honest about your age from the outset and he's cool with that. This match has a good chance of working out well. The Urban Dictionary defines "Cougar Prey" as "not merely a sex starved dog. His motivation is often based in spending time with a woman who knows what she wants, who can carry a conversation, and who has a low probability of being a gold digger." Nice.
The other possibility, of course, is that you could get hit on by a potential suitor who hasn't blown out as many candles as you have. In this case, getting the birthdates out in the open right away is even more important than if you made the overture. Chances are you've done your anti-aging duty well and you look younger than your years. Unless you met online where profiles tell all, your Romeo may not have guessed what he could be getting into when he made the first move. We're not being cynical, just honest. Study after study has confirmed the obvious about human attraction. It's based on our survival instinct as a species. To wit, men are typically attracted to women who look like good candidates for having babies. Even if your potential match doesn't know on a conscious level that he's looking for the mother of his child, he may well be. Particularly if your childbearing ship has sailed, let him know at the outset. Otherwise, you could become seriously enamored of him only to find yourself dumped when he learns the facts. Even so, he may not want any kids – or any more -- in which case you will have gotten that issue out of the way and you can let the relationship evolve from there. (Bonus points if you no longer need birth control and tampons and he still doesn't need Viagra or Cialis. That's a recipe for a hot romance for sure!)
Speaking of children, though, no matter how the two of you got together you need to talk about former spouses and progeny. Do his little kids from his former marriage visit for the whole summer? Have your adult children boomeranged back home and set up camp in the basement? Is his ex-wife angling for more alimony? Are you a widow still mourning the loss of the love of your life? As they say on Facebook, it's complicated. Better to talk everything over rather than stumble on the truth when you're already entangled and a candidate for a broken heart.
On a more light-hearted note, remember that your younger consort wasn't around to collect memories during the first decade or so that you were alive. Not only that but his recollections for every decade after that will be colored by his relative youth. If you're in your 60s and you start to reminisce with a 50-something guy about jukeboxes and sock hops, he'll draw a blank. After all, he hadn't even started kindergarten yet when you were going to the 8th grade dance. Still, that's a minor drawback that can turn into a fun game of "Where were you when" if you're both comfortable with the age disparity.
Just one final warning, however: At the end of "The Graduate," Mrs. Robinson lost out to her 19-year-old daughter. It happens. But hey, that was fiction and this is real life. Make your own ending. And may it be a happy one for you both!