Life Advice



Single File: Cougar?

Susan Dietz on

DEAR SUSAN: I'm not fond of the "cougar" appellation myself. I've been called one, but never by anyone who knows the real me -- or at least not to my face. Anyway, my husband is 31, and I'm 51. I've dated other men -- meaning men my age -- but I've always gotten along better with younger ones. Younger ones are likelier to be spontaneous and fun. And honestly, older men aren't particularly interested in me, either -- maybe because they're looking for younger women. To sum it up, my husband and I are perfect for each other, and his parents agree. -- From the "Single File" blog

DEAR BLOGGER: Agreed. The "cougar" term is predatory, as if the poor, unsuspecting younger man is being considered a meal by some ravenous larger (and smarter) animal. Somehow, the fiction goes, the naive young'un doesn't realize he's looked upon as prey -- to be emotionally devoured by a senior female turned on by his younger flesh. The "cougar" term brings with it all sorts of derogatory meanings that in most of the relationships in which the woman is chronologically older are patently untrue.

The truth -- if I may be so bold as to encapsulate it -- has more to do with the spirit of these men than their toned muscles. Younger men generally are not locked into sex roles and therefore are willing to give a woman more latitude in her actions and, by extension, her take on situations. Born into times of greater freedom, they have no problem with a woman who wants to exercise hers. (That may explain your mother-in-law's wholehearted approval of your relationship.) So the relationship between an older woman and a younger man seems quite natural and normal -- when the emotional charge (aka societal disapproval) is removed. Besides, a man matures sexually around the age of 18, whereas a woman peaks somewhere around 30. It seems society has yet another area in which it needs to catch up with the facts.

European lovers have bought into this kind of relationship for eons. But -- it seems to me -- the emotional element of the pairing between an older woman and a younger man is the stronger influence. The freedom European men offer quite naturally to their woman is part of their upbringing, not an affectation. And they can learn from their woman, who is more seasoned about life than they themselves. There are many solid reasons for the older woman-younger man relationship to endure and thrive. None of them has to do with prey or predator.

DEAR SUSAN: Without exception, every woman I've dated starts out cheerful and cooperative. But it isn't long before she feels she must "correct" some flaw or "change" some defect in me. Under the guise of "just talking," she will correct me on the way I wash my dishes, the way I cook the meal, the way I dress. There is no end to the ways a woman feels she must improve a man. I'm willing to let much of this go, as it's difficult enough to blend different lives into a meaningful relationship. But there comes a point when such assertiveness becomes too much. Perhaps such women should step back and ask themselves whether they'd want to date a man who exhibits the same traits they find so admirable in themselves. Do they want someone who is insistent (i.e., nagging), forceful (i.e., belligerent) and strong-willed (i.e., opinionated)? How nice it would be if they could learn that men want to be considered equals, not some project that needs fixing. Just a thought. -- From the "Single File" blog


DEAR BLOGGER: Your thought is a good one, taken at face value. Some women saw a henpecked father in their childhood home and went on to relate to men as dear old sweet mom did. Without therapy and rigorous self-examination, most of us tend to copy what we saw as children (with the same disastrous results, except that now divorce is not unthinkable). I would tend to say that holds true for you, too -- that you unconsciously attract women who become fixer-uppers with you/men. That is their pattern with men, and that is yours with women. Of course, this is Psychology 101, based only on your letter (and a zillion others over the years). But the sad bottom line is that you end up with no woman, no mate, no live-in friend. Your attitude (and the women you choose to confirm it) consigns you to lonely bachelordom, and I wish you better. Chances are that a peek into your psyche would quickly reveal a nagging mother, a nagged father and a lonely childhood. But that's all conjecture, with no proof and not much material to consider. But if you agree with me that one session with a trusted therapist would do no harm (and perhaps lead to a happier life), consider taking action. And if you need a booster shot of resolve, remember that I'm here for you. Always.


Have a question for Susan? You can reach her directly at We've uncovered another treasure trove of "Single File" paperbacks -- in perfect condition, signed by Susan, ready to enjoy. Send $15 and your address: Susan Deitz, C/O Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.