When I first met my boyfriend’s mother, I lied about my age. It doesn’t matter, though. She still thinks I’m a pervert. For the record, she is older than I am, but not by much.
My boyfriend, Robert, is a 46-year-old man who is capable of making adult decisions. I am a 60+ woman who’s always been with younger men for the simple reason that they can keep up with me. My energy level usually scares off men my own age.
I first heard the word “cougar” about 10 years ago and found it amusing, but quite silly. A cougar is a carnivore who feasts on the flesh of slower animals. Somehow the words “monogamous romantic relationship” do not manage to insert themselves into that sentence, which shows how backward and crude people can still be. Robert and I have been together 12 years and I haven’t eaten him yet.
Sure, we face daily head-banging issues like all couples, but not the ones you might imagine based on tabloids and popular films.
Here are some real challenges, which might serve to widen your eyes.
The often-jealous one is him, not me
The conventional wisdom about older women/younger men is the the man will develop a roving eye, and find himself obsessed with firmer bodies and more youthful chin-lines. A prime example being Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.
Demi and Ashton were 15 years apart, and split after Ashton’s dodgy hot tub session with a young starlet. The I-told-you-so vibe was so thick it was sickening. Or think of the archetypal Patricia Neal character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s who simply must lose her younger lover to the fresh-and-dewy Audrey Hepburn. How could she not?
In truth, I am never jealous of Robert, and Robert knows a lot of younger women. Conversely, Robert at times becomes jealous of me because he prizes what I offer him and he understands that the “package” has improved with age. (Wow. That sounds so arrogant, but that’s only because I’m a woman. Imagine I’m Michael Douglas or Warren Beatty saying that if that helps.) In any case, Robert is getting better about it. He is, dare I say it, maturing.
I know things he doesn’t know and I force myself to shut up about it
I’ve been hanging around on this earth longer, and I’ve been paying attention. I can read a situation based on past experience. (“That guy with the beard, he’s never driven that thing before. You watch. . . Oops! There he goes!”)
The tricky part here is that the male ego can be quite fragile. Being the “one who knows” means a lot to a man. I watched them construct the Berlin Wall. I saw the Beatles on TV when they were unknown. But to paraphrase Dale Carnegie, “Sometimes, shoving your superior knowledge in people’s faces is not a good way to win friends and influence people.”
He listens to music that isn’t really music
It is really a hoot that millennials and Gen Xers love listening to classic rock. If my boyfriend comes home and I’m playing air guitar, he mostly gets that I have good taste and he understands he was (barely) born and reared in a decade of greatness. Maybe he was on the way to first grade when he heard a good blast of Blondie or Talking Heads, after which point music withered and died. Case in point: When Robert tries to connect the words “musician” and “Mark Wahlberg,” I become ill and need to lie down.
I forget my real age, which isn’t always practical
When I look at my younger boyfriend, I see a freshness lingering in the corners of his eyes. He can stay out late without showing signs of troll-face the following morning. He can lift heavy objects. He is my mirror; he makes me feel age-proof. Together, we ping with energy.
This is great, as long as I absolutely never look in a real mirror. When I do catch sight of my cosmetic-free visage, I sometimes think, “What on earth is this? What just happened?” It can be like bad sci-fi, until I (maturely) pull myself together. It’s why Robert and I both favor muted lighting around the house. It works well. The cat likes it, too.
Sometimes we fail to notice other people’s discomfort
The first week Robert and I were dating, I felt as if people were staring at us. Now, I never think about it. People can write whatever convoluted mental narratives they like about why we’re together.
The fact is, people do draw conclusions. I personally love the assumption: “That lady is very rich. She buys him Jaguars and trinkets.” Some people cannot wrap their heads around the idea of “true love without Botox,” so they scan and scan for other crudely mercenary possibilities.
When Robert and I check into hotels, I sometimes feel that the manager is working harder-than-normal to be polite and neutral. At this point, I want to say, “Don’t worry. I’d feel awkward also if I were in your position.” But to say anything at all would make the situation even worse. A hotel receptionist once forgot how to speak English in our presence and said, “Breakfast is at nine o’clock last night.”
People can, and do, think what they like about Robert and me. We are mostly fine. And, if anyone dares call me a “cougar” to my face, I’ll just bat my eyes and tell the truth: I’m a vegetarian.
Stephanie Brush is a New York Times Bestselling author. Born in the U.S., she now resides in the Czech Republic where she works as a teacher, writer and actress.