The reality of dating a younger guy; with Susan Winter
Beyond Cougardom; dating a younger guy in 2017
Eagle-eyed readers of EliteSingles Magazine will know that we’ve already made a foray into the world of older woman/younger man relationships. When the former article went live last year, the issue it explored was the somewhat problematic explosion of the term Cougar, particularly how it portrays those women who choose to start dating a younger guy. Beyond the Moore-Kutcher comparisons, it seemed something slightly more complex was afoot.
Nothing has changed. 2017 has been as much a “Year of the Cougar” as Newsweek’s proclaimed eight years ago. This year, society’s fascination with older woman/younger man relationships was reignited once more, and by the most surprising of events. During the French presidential election, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron’s marriage to Brigitte Trogneux, 25 years his senior, emerged as an unlikely sideshow to the politicking.
Media outlets across the world, from the reputable to the less salubrious, gorged on the incumbent president’s age-dissimilar relationship, some with respect, others without. Macron even suggested that if the age gap were the other way round, it’d barely be newsworthy, and if it did get covered, people would see it as something positive. For those still in need of convincing, Donald Trump’s figurative comments towards Trogneux ought to do the job.
Satire aside, this French vignette exposes the core of the issue; regardless of whether we gloss over the facts, we’re still not quite OK with older women dating younger men. Yes, eminent couples have helped thrust the topic into the limelight, but we’re still a fair distance from seeing older woman/younger man relationships as something ordinary. And as with most societal inequalities, it’s the real-life women and men who enter into these relationships that end up feeling the brunt of normativity.
Debating the injustices felt by mature women who decide on dating a younger guy, at the social level, is an extremely important project. So too is telling the stories of the men and women who’ve experienced these May-December relationships themselves. Only then can we start to piece together an honest and accurate picture, rather than resting on hackneyed caricatures.
Few people are better qualified to take on this mantle than Susan Winter. Based in New York, she’s researched and written extensively on the underpinnings of older woman/younger man relationships, from both intellectual and personal perspectives. Her best-selling Older Women/Younger Men: New Options for Love and Romance is a case in point.
We’ve decided to publish our interview with Winter in full as it offers an incredibly nuanced overview of the topic. Far from being a last-chance saloon, dating a younger guy can be one of the most stimulating decisions an older woman can take. Here’s the lowdown...
Older woman/younger man relationships have been dealt some pretty vitriolic condemnation in the past. Do you think this has something to do with them operating outside of conventional gender norms?
SW: Yes, society likes conformity and rails against disruption. Historically, older men were granted access to younger women because they could take care of them. Maturity enabled older men to amass power and wealth, so this was seen as a clear-cut benefit to the younger mate. Conversely, the image of an older woman with power and her own wealth is new to the last midcentury.
The idea of a mature woman being wanted by a younger man is unsettling, as it doesn’t fit the traditional norm. We’ve been taught that women are desired for their youth and beauty. How and why would a younger man choose an older woman? It must be for the money, right? There has to be a payoff. An outsider assumes the draw of an older woman is the same draw as an older man. But that’s not the case.
What are your thoughts on the deeper meaning of the term Cougar? A lone predator hunting unsuspecting prey isn’t the most endearing of monikers…
SW: Given all the recent news about sexual impropriety, I find this term offensive. Nothing’s more off-putting than the image of a slovenly old gal in leopard stretch pants pawing a college boy at the bar. Even if you placed that same woman in designer clothes and a luxury car, anyone exhibiting predatory characteristics is unappealing. Abuse of power is unacceptable under any condition. Though I’m not fond of the term Cougar, it’s certainly easier than saying “older women and younger men.” Valerie Gibson coined this term when she wrote book of the same title. Patently sexual, it was supposed to empower women, comparing them to a stealth predator.
The overarching inaccuracy lies in the relationship context; every older woman I’ve researched, including myself, didn’t come onto her younger man. He pursued her. The commonality was that none of us had a younger man on our radar. This was something that took us by surprise and wasn’t calculated. That’s one of the hallmarks of the older woman younger man relationship; the pursuer is the younger man.
What role have age-dissimilar celebrity relationships played in the debate?
SW: Modern-day celebrities have opened the door to age gap relationships for all of us. Having larger number of older females marrying younger men lessens the taboo. Celebrities have always been above our social laws. In this realm, they’ve helped release the stigma around an older female and her younger mate.
If a woman is considering dating a younger man for the first time, are there some initial steps she can take to better understand the dynamic?
SW: She must have tremendous self-esteem. Every day she’ll notice the physical differences between herself and her younger partner. It can be daunting. She will also have to be prepared for social censure. It’s good practice to have some handy one- liners ready to combat negative comments. She should read material of those who’ve been there. There are numerous books, articles and videos from women who’ve lived this lifestyle.
What are some of the most common problems woman face when dating a younger guy? If possible, can you include any examples from your experiences?
SW: Yes. The sudden recognition of the physical differences can come as a shock. If you spend all day looking into your mate’s wrinkle-free face, it can be a shock when you catch your own image in the mirror. But the aging process is cruel to all women, even those with same-aged or older partners. We’re held to the impossible standards. Youth and beauty are valuable commodities in the western world. It takes guts to go through the aging process and still feel good about ourselves.
It’s also necessary to find the intersection of common interests, as well as those hobbies you need to pursue on your own. This is even more important as the woman becomes older. Certain physical activities will not be interesting or possible any longer. Both partners have to adjust to this. The older female will constantly be exposed to new music, writers, and creative formats. She will learn a new language of communication, and will be forced to stay current with her partner. This is a good thing.