Two summers ago, I dated Connor, a big, blonde, Golden Retriever of a guy. I was twenty-nine. He was twenty. After our first date he asked, "So, Rach, what exactly are you doing dating a twenty-year old?"
I didn't have a good answer, so I said, "Well, what are you doing dating a twenty-nine-year old?"
He nodded — touché — and we left it at that.
"I told my sister about you," Connor soon reported.
"And?" I prodded.
He gave me a look, then said, "She thinks you're a cougar."
Technically, I don't think I'm old enough to be a cougar. The consensus seems to be that cougars are "mature" women — in their forties or older — who date and dote on men who are significantly younger, as in a decade or more. Confirmation of the cougar as cultural phenomenon comes online at Gocougar.com, a dating site for older women and younger men, and at Urbancougar.com, a resource guide that every week features a profile of a particularly hot cougar, usually accompanied by somewhat disturbing shots of her in lingerie. There's even an article on the AARP website with a photo of a seventy-something redhead in a tight dress, brandishing a Cosmo, entitled "Cougars and Their Cubs."
Perhaps a woman in her late thirties who dates a guy in his early twenties we could consider a precocious cougar, but I think that we're casting the net a bit too wide when I could be emblazoned with the scarlet C at the tender age of twenty-nine. I prefer to think of myself as "having range."
At twenty-nine, it seemed to me equally appropriate and acceptable to date men either in their forties or their twenties, but when I met Connor, way too young was the thought that came to mind, a mantra I practiced as a college English teacher. Despite the gravitational pull I felt toward him, I discounted Connor immediately as a potential beau — he was not just twenty, but downright boyish in his flip-flops and designer hoodies.