15 April 2011

The cat lady and the cougar

I'm a *coughmumblefortysomething* year old woman, and I'm single. Broadly speaking, in my experience, this means I'm expected to fall into one of two categories: the cat lady, or the cougar.

I like this cardigan, ok?
Ah, the cat lady, in her shabby clothes, filling the loveless void in her life with feline company. Surrounding herself with "furbabies", those whiskery substitutes for actual human babies. Disappointed by the fickle love of men, she opts for the (arguably just as fickle) love of her moggies. She's covered in cat hair, and she doesn't care. Cats on every surface, cupboards full of tins of tuna.

And the cougar. Originally exemplified as Sam Jones from Sex and the City, now with Courtney Cox carrying the torch for the younger man. A sexual predator, intent on luring toyboys into her boudoir, matching her experience with their enthusiasm. The Mrs Robinson for a new generation, rejecting her paunchy peers for the eagerness and firm muscles of youth.

Two very different stereotypes – curiously, with a common feline theme. Both pretty insulting if you think about it.

The cat lady is pretty obvious. Sad, lonely, nothing left in her life but cats.

Cor! Ooh, young man!
The cougar is, on the face of it, perhaps more empowering and liberating. But there's still an underlying current of disdain. Is there a male equivalent of a cougar? Not really, because an older man going for a younger woman is 'normal' (whatever normal is). Sugar Daddy, perhaps, is the closest, but that's not quite the same thing; the implication there is that the man is still the one in power, thanks to his money, and the woman's exchanging sex for a luxurious lifestyle. The cougar is a figure of fascination, and titillation, but there's still a whiff of desperation about her, a frantic fight against time and age, and validation through notches on the bedpost.

Now here's where I have to 'fess up to a couple of things. I have two cats. And I've been out with younger men.

Yeah, I'm fond of the cats. I put photos and videos of them on social media. When Murphy, the older, female cat, had cancer, I was devastated, and threw a lot of money at making her better. Same goes for when Teddy, the younger, male cat, needed serious surgery. (Wait a minute...older female and younger male? I'm beginning to see a pattern.) I even talk to them in a stupid voice. (Look, you try talking to a cat without ending up using a stupid voice. Go on. Try it. Bet you can't.)

I don't, however, consider them baby replacements, or man replacements, or any kind of replacement really. I don't buy them Christmas presents, or knit jumpers for them, or like a catsitter of mine, set up a "wedding ceremony" for them and take photos of them in their finery (yes, really). They're my pets. Beloved pets, but pets.

As for the younger man thing, well, that's been more by accident than design. I've never intentionally gone for younger men. It's just kind of…happened. My date on my 40th birthday was 25 years old. My last boyfriend was 13 years my junior. I didn't go out on the prowl, preying on young flesh. It just so happens that the people I've met when out and about and to whom I've been attracted have been younger (maybe a numbers game; you don't meet many single men my age when out and about, and as for internet dating – well, that's a story for another time). Bizarrely, I've been congratulated sometimes when I've had a younger man on my arm – as though it validates me, that I've "still got it".

I sometimes joke that I'm a cat lady. I sometimes joke about the younger man thing. Why, when arguably I'm perpetuating it by doing so? I guess as a defence – get in there first and make it a joke before someone else does. Maybe then I can send up the labels by confounding expectation.

Both labels are reductive. Labels are easier. Single women – and in particular, single, child-free women of a certain age – can make people uncomfortable. As I'm asked more often than I'd care to recall, why am I still single, after all? Have I given up (cat lady)? Have I chosen sex over relationships (cougar)? Well, neither. Life doesn't fit into neatly labelled (litter)boxes, and neither do I.


  1. Very eloquently put - I love it!

  2. Love this, I have a cat and am happily single. May try the younger man thing once I've finished crocheting Poppy's waistcoat!!

  3. Excellent reading. I can talk to cats in a normal voice, same applied to babies if I have to, can never muster a James Corden squeal. Saw your original Twitter question too late but would say you should definitely bounce around topics. If you want a hobby horse then set up a separate blog e.g. cars parking on pavement photos as one press insisting Jessie j from Essex as another, hey that's an idea!

  4. I think that older men with younger women are generally assumed to be wealthy so rather than empowering the 'man' he's actually belittled. After all, the assumption is that he'd never be with the woman if it weren't for his wealth. While I accept that it doesn't bode well for the woman either, apparently she's a gold-digger, but it's not all going the man's way either. The guy is also going to get congratulated on his partner's attractiveness as a indication that he "still has it" while those saying it are almost certainly thinking "it's just the money/power/whatever".

    I can't see anything offensive in being told that you "still have it", I don't think I ever had it ;)

  5. Thanks for your view, Anon2 - you make an interesting point! I still think that in that relationship, the man is still the one exercising the power - and the golddigger (certainly no manipulated innocent herself) can always be ditched for a younger, prettier model. I think that the dynamics are still in favour of the man in the case of Sugar Daddies.

  6. Do you think that the dynamic is not in favour of the Cougar in the opposite scenario? The toyboy is equally as disposable *if* the older woman's interest is primarily age and not the individual who happens to be younger. I think what's missing here is the individual objectives from each relationship.

    I think it's probably more common to see older men with younger women who are 'trophies' which is really an indictment of the insecurity of the older person. It's almost certainly equally applicable to any relationship involving an older person using a younger person to make themselves feel better whether male/female, female/male, male/male or female/female. That's about individuals, not gender.

    While such a situation, whether as the older or the younger, may not suit you it does suit others (in both roles). The only issue comes when one party is not clear on the intent of the other and that's deceit which is another issue altogether :)

    That's my 2p worth and I respect and accept your viewpoint also.

  7. Thanks Anon. 2ps always welcome! :-)

    In both the sugar daddy and the cougar/toyboy scenario, the woman is trading on her sexuality, and really only that, and I guess that's what I was trying to say. This is why I think there's more sneering at a cougar than there would be at a sugar daddy. They're portrayed sometimes as sexy but also as scary, or a figure of fun. A sugar daddy is still in the driver's seat because he has something to trade on besides sex - namely, money and power. To me - and I could be wrong here - there's a desperation about the figure of the cougar, because one day her sex appeal will go. Wealth is wealth forever.

    I agree with your point that the 'toyboy' could be just as disposable as the sugar daddy's woman, and that choosing a partner because of his or her age is a sign of insecurity regardless of gender.