Candace Bushnell's Cougar Complex

The Sex and the City author sounds off on cougar stereotyping.

By Candace Bushnell
Photograph: Illustration by Daniel Adel.

“Dude, if you were that worried, you should have inquired about my age before you took off your pants,” I responded. “Plus, I can only be nearly as old as your mother if your mother had you when she was nine.” Geez.

But then, something happened. Suddenly, it was cool to be 40, and women that age were declared still sexy. And when a reporter asked me what happened to the women I had known and written about, I realized that most of them had husbands and some of them had children—but all were involved with younger men.

None of these women had intended to become cougars. Unlike your traditional single guy, who never gives up the idea that his biological age is somewhere just north of 30, that it’s OK to have his first child at 70, and that therefore a 25-year-old is about the right age for him to date, I don’t know any real-life women who strap on a pair of stilettos and hit the club scene with the intention of meeting a 25-year-old guy. For most women, it just happens. You fall in love, and the guy turns out to be 10 years younger. For the first couple of weeks, you worry that if you turn your head a certain way in the wrong light, he’s going to see those wrinkles on your neck. And then you get over it. And somehow these relationships work.

I can’t speak for all cougars, but the reason my marriage works is that it’s not traditional. When I was younger, I dated men of various ages, some a little younger, some several years older. And I saw a pattern begin to emerge: Whenever I was with an older man, all those societal dictates about male and female roles would creep into my subconscious. I’d start acting like the little woman, and then my behavior would make me sick and I’d rebel by staying out at nightclubs until four in the morning. I knew what I wanted—an equal, balanced relationship in which both members could shine, a union in which I’d have a partner as opposed to a provider—but I couldn’t find that until I let go of the idea of the guy who looked right on paper. Of course, equal partnership is something many women want, and they find it in all kinds of forms. My fellow cougars and I found our footing in relationships with younger men.

And by the way, our men don’t usually resemble boy toys. What I have yet to see is a real woman choose a younger man because he spent six hours a day at the gym trying to sculpt his abs. Instead, I see guys who are supportive, loving, admiring and eager to do their half of the child rearing. Indeed, the very fact that a man is open to being with an older woman suggests that he doesn’t give a hang what other people think of him. More likely, he’s confident, open-minded and willing to make his own rules. All of which just happen to be qualities that, much more than a great six-pack, make for a great relationship.  

Originally published in the September 2009 issue of MORE.

Check out Candace Bushnell’s new four-part webseries for MORE, The Broadroom, a humorous look at women in the workplace. To visit her site:

Why did MORE create The Cougar Café? Find out here.

But you don’t have to be a cougar to enjoy Cougar Bait: 32 Younger Men We Love.


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