The XX Factor

Demystifying the Cougar

Kudos to model-turned-writer Léon Bing for her essay in the August issue of Vogue , about her relationship with a man 20-some years her junior. Bing’s measured description of her life with Gareth-36 to Bing’s fifty- or sixtysomething-does good work to dismantle the cougar meme that has become insipidly familiar of late.

Bing’s method is simple: She calmly and frankly details the specifics of her relationship, demonstrating in the process that an older woman and a younger man can have a partnership in which the power balance is no more creepy or perverse than that of a more traditional relationship. If anything, the relationship Bing describes seems to prosper because both partners genuinely know and understand their own needs-the wisdom of age and experience. As she says:

The truth is, aside from the gulf in years, we’re pretty much like any other couple. We like the same kinds of music-Bach partitas and barrelhouse blues, and there are times when all we want is a few cuts of vintage Luiz Bonfá. … We prefer separate bedrooms. Let me back up on that one: We live in rather large quarters. He likes to sleep early; I do not. Late night is my favorite reading time.… We’re together from afternoon until after dinner; we enjoy a little cable TV and any other activity we feel like. Then everybody goes his or her way, and everybody’s happy.

While a younger woman might feel angst about the message that separate sleeping quarters projects (I know I would), Bing is unapologetic and unreserved about what works best for her.

I also admire Bing’s attitude toward the realistic limitations of her life with Gareth. He wants children; she can’t give them to him. His mother cannot warm up to her (and is unlikely to once she reads the portrait Bing paints of her in this essay). Many of her cultural references are lost on him. But her remarkably Zen response to those advice-givers who caution her that her relationship is ultimately doomed would be well-taken by anyone embarking on a love affair, no matter what the age difference between partners:

Of course I know [that the relationship will end]. The same way I know that change-all kinds of change-is inevitable. My choice is not to dwell upon that single point, what with all the great stuff we have going for us in the present. Why would I want to ruin what we have now with dismal musings about a future I can’t reasonably predict?