Beliefnet
Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

The cat name I can claim depends on the guy I date. If he’s younger than me, I’m a cougar, according to the latest pop culture labels. And if he’s older, I’m a kitten. A woman becomes different versions of a cat, just by the age of a guy she’s dating. It doesn’t matter who you are or how you look and feel. So I can be a cougar this week if I find a boy toy and a kitten next week by dating an old coot. Lucky me (she says with sarcasm)!

The reality show Age of Love brought the age terms onto mainstream TV. A 30 year old guy met 10 women in their twenties labeled the kittens because they were younger than the bachelor. And there were 10 women over 40, labeled cougars—because they were older than him. This bachelor got to choose between them like a little boy tasting candy in a store and then selecting the one to eat.

Now there’s an E! show called Hottest Hollywood Cougar Tales. Women who were with younger guys were discussed as women on the make for boy toys, looking for a good looking guy to have fun with, like a cat on the prowl for younger meat. I know that TV shows need to sensationalize issues to attract and keep viewers. But it’s insulting to women! Why are women judged in graphic terms when they date someone younger?

Men are more likely to date women who are much younger, but don’t get the kind of scrutiny that we do.

Men go out with older women and they’re just men. They go out with much younger women and are still men. Yet women are put into categories when they do the same thing! I’ve always dated men who are younger than me. My energy level is high and I don’t look or feel my age. My interests are also more youthful than many people in my age bracket. So I tend to date guys who are a bit younger.

But I’m not some cougar on the prowl for a boy toy to service me, as some assume about women who date younger guys. Nor would I reject a great guy because he was my age. I just tend to end up with younger guys, and enjoy them. Our interests are usually more in synch. Guys my own age are often clueless about things I’m passionate about. But does that make me more than a girl who ends up dating guys who are younger? Must I live up to the cougar label?

People didn’t flinch (not much anyway!) when Jack Nicholson had a relationship with actress Lara Flynn Boyle. He was thirty-three years older. Thirty-three!! Yet when I’ve dated someone 10 years younger I’ve been teased as a cradle robber. A much bigger deal is made of actresses who date younger guys, even if the difference is only a few years. This reflects the subtle yet pervasive double standards that still haunt women who empower themselves or try to break out of old molds.

I was once interviewed for an article in Cosmopolitan magazine about why women date older men. The examples were mainly of men dating women at least 15 years or more younger. They did a shorter corresponding piece on women dating younger men. They mainly had an age difference of 5-10 years. Yet much more is made of a woman with a younger guy than a guy with a MUCH younger woman.

All of these labels and double standards can undermine progress for being a self-empowered chick.

If your self-esteem isn’t strong yet, it’s harder to go forward when labels make you uncomfortable. DoorMats want to please and get scared that dating someone out of the traditional box might alienate people. That can make you pass on potential partners who’d make you happy. I made an effort to avoid feeling ridiculed or being questioned about my motives when I felt less secure and was more of a People Pleaser. If I was questioned about a guy I dated, my insecurity increased. So it was easier to date “the norm.” Back then, being called a cougar would have made me cringe.

Now I laugh. I don’t think it’s fair to be put into a category, but now I know who I am and don’t care about what others think. That’s a hard place for many women to reach.

Building up your sense of self helps you ignore the dumb things people say. We have a right to date people who are younger or older or whatever rocks your boat. My focus is on being happy. People who tease or label often aren’t and look for what to pick on in others. So let them call me a cougar, since I’ll probably be with younger guys. It can’t hurt me unless I let it! And I won’t let it anymore. Grrrrrrrr… ?

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