By Claire Bushey
Sunday, July 11, 2010
The cougar craze--of media interest in women with younger men--boasts a gallery of celebrities, books, TV shows, movies and mixed feelings. But in plenty of couples the dynamic is simple: He just happens to be younger.
(WOMENSENEWS)--When Susan McBride started dating her future husband, she had to get over the fact that he was routinely carded.
McBride met Ed Spitznagel when she was 41 and he was a baby-faced 32.
A mutual acquaintance introduced them at a party thrown by St. Louis Magazine to fete the men and women profiled in its "Top Singles" issue, of which McBride was one. He followed up with an e-mail inviting her to a hockey game. Though somewhat unnerved by the age difference, McBride, a full-time author of mysteries and commercial fiction, was charmed by the software engineer's good spelling and proper use of the semicolon.
Eight months after they met, they bought a house together. He proposed five months after that and they married in February 2008.
Couples such as McBride and Spitznagel have been drawing attention since 2003 when the media latched onto movie star Demi Moore dating Ashton Kutcher, 15 years her junior. Pop culture dubbed women dating younger men "cougars," a term some find harmless and others insulting. Such a label doesn't exist for older men who date younger women.
McBride--who in February saw the publication of her book "The Cougar Club," about three career women who reconnect in midlife and who happen to date some younger men--embraces the term.
But not Priscilla Nelson, who says it "feels demeaning to my relationship." Nelson has been married to Ed Cohen, 10 years her junior, for 21 years. They live in Encinitas, Calif., where they raised two children and now run a global consulting firm together. Cohen calls Nelson his best friend and points out that because women live longer than men, the age gap means "I won't have to leave my wife alone on the planet. We can go together."
"It wasn't about a younger man," Nelson said. "It was about this man."
Movie and TV actress Kim Cattrall, 53, also keeps the cougar concept at a distance, though she did date a chef two decades younger than her for several years. She recently refused to pose for a magazine cover because the publication wanted to photograph her with an actual cougar.
Besides Cattrall and Moore, who has been married to Kutcher for five years, Madonna has been linked to the cougar image. She married director Guy Ritchie, who's a decade younger, and, following their divorce, dated Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who is 17 years her junior.
Last year the first Miss Cougar America contest was organized by the California-based Society of Single Professionals.
The 2009 winner, Gloria Navarro, of Redwood Shores, Calif., said in a recent phone interview that the men she's dated have introduced her to salsa dancing, snowboarding and the rock band Coldplay.
"I went from being a soccer mom listening to kids' music in the car to listening to rock bands," Navarro said. "It's a whole new discovery. I didn't know I had this sexy (side) in me or this zest for life."
The second annual event, held in June in Chicago, turned the crown over to restaurant manager Amy Roberts, 36, of Aurora, Ill. Younger men attending the event voted to award her the title.
The reality TV show "The Cougar" aired on cable in 2009 and showed younger men competing to date a 40-year-old.
Last fall ABC debuted "Cougar Town" with Courtney Cox, and in December Universal Studios released "It's Complicated," the romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep, 61, as a woman involved with both her ex-husband and a new suitor.
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