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The clan of the cougar is really about lynx


October 12, 2006|Stacey Collins | Special to The Times

I was recently introduced to "cougar hunters" at the Manhattan Beach six-man volleyball tournament. Hundreds of players dressed in outrageous team uniforms manned the beach. One team of young men wore hunting shorts and clawed T-shirts. After some inquiries on the theme, I learned that a cougar hunter is a twentysomething guy who preys on older women (older than 35). In fact, bars exist that are known as "dens" where young men go to pursue the "cougar."

Well, raise my rent. At 38, single, living in L.A. for more than two years, this was news to me.

The theory on their incentive varies. Some say that cougar hunters hope to gain from the sexual experience of the mature woman. Others think that some guys just have a thing for older women. Maybe they're attracted to the confidence and sense of self that the little girls haven't found yet. Or do demographics explain everything? These days, for societal and economic reasons, there are a plethora of unmarried women in their 30s and 40s. This provides a whole new herd to prey on.

And what about the woman's motive? At first I thought it was the simple concept of casting a wider net. We know, statistically, that there's a smaller pool of eligible men older than 35. Is it a trend? Did Demi and Ashton help define new rules of the game? Is the liberated woman taking it to a whole new level? Throughout history, men have always sought younger women. Is the young buck a trophy, symbolizing a woman's ability to really have it all? In probing into this a bit further, I'm inclined to think it has little to do with a woman proving herself or husband-hunting at all. Rather this is all about "in the meantime."

We live in a complicated society. Gender roles have changed. Postponing marriage to advance careers is the norm these days for both women and men. More women choose to be on their own, refusing to "settle" with just any guy. Maybe she's focused on her career. Maybe she's divorced and isn't looking to marry again anytime soon but needs something to do in the meanwhile. A certain tension exists for some women today. Many long for the connection, but they stubbornly stay on their own for whatever reason. Perhaps she's hoping the "kid" will satisfy the physical and emotional needs without hindering her independence.

My theory is that women and men both crave the TLC that is found in relationships, but often their current lifestyle deters them from making a long-term commitment.

Should the in-between time before the next serious relationship be a wasteland of lonely nights? Or is there appeal for an independent-minded woman to get involved with someone 10 years her junior? The "great divide" of age provides a built-in comfort level for both parties. No need to get skittish about long-term commitments, because everyone is in this one for fun. Have some laughs and nobody gets hurt. Of course, things can get complicated. I learned of one "cougar relationship" in which the younger man surprised everyone, including himself, when he fell for her. She wasn't interested. One theory is that she didn't want to be the mother figure.

My theory doesn't count much, except for me. I do know that in 1935 my grandmother married a man six years her junior. Was she a cougar? I don't think so. But it does strike me as funny that nowadays we have to label something in order to validate it. I have a feeling that wise women will continue to find younger men.

Personally, I'm not sure if I have the courage to try a cougar den. But in some strange way, it's comforting to know that they exist.

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