The XX Factor

I Have Been Inside the Cougar Den

Guest post from The Big Money reporter Chadwick Matlin :

Sarah , your clarion warning to men everywhere is too late. The cougar invasion has already begun. I found myself mingling amongst the mythical women a month ago, when, in the interest of journalism, I served as cub bait for a Slate piece on the cougar phenomenon . That piece, written by the estimable Troy Patterson, has already recounted most of the evening we spent with the cougars. But it didn’t discuss the cub-cougar dynamic, one that felt very different from that of the typical night-club courtship. (Admittedly, I, as a slightly neurotic homebody, am not especially familiar with said dynamic. But I digress …)

The party was part-PR stunt, part-meetup group, designed to host “confident, successful women 40+ and the younger gentlemen (21-35) who adore them!” Upon walking in, it was clear that the evening was about the women. They were the ones with wisdom, savvy, and game. I was the one (ostensibly) looking for a mature woman different than the normal Manhattan dating scene. The advantage was theirs.

The cub-cougar dynamic appears to run on power. Cougardom seems most attractive because of the spin it puts on the normal male-female dynamic. It is the men who are objectified; who are referred to as “boy toys” because of their youth; who are often treated as flings to make the women feel young again. When speaking with Shalah, a 40-year-old Pakistani woman, she told me that she once dated an NYU student more than 10 years her junior. She liked that she was his sugar mama, his caretaker, his overseer. She was the one in control; she was the one with the power. He was the one along for the ride, waiting for her to tire and move on.

Of course, it’s difficult to maintain any relationship that features a power imbalance as its defining characteristic. Which is why of the three cougars I interacted with at the party (there weren’t many more than that; the club was sparsely populated) all of them were still looking for a long-term relationship. It was clear they weren’t going to find one that evening.