The Harsh Reality Of Being A 'Cougar' After Divorce (As Told By One)

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woman looking out

This cougar doesn't think the prowl is all it's cracked up to be.

I finally got to binge-watch Bravo’s new series, Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce. It made for a fun, cozy weekend, and I loved seeing myself and other 40-something women dating after divorce represented on TV as the focus of a show.

As much as I enjoyed it, some details in the storylines are still bugging me.

My main gripe is that the main character, Abby, has her first serious relationship out of her marriage to Jake with a much younger man, landing her with the label of a "cougar."

Pause: Why don’t the younger men in these scenarios get called by some condescending label as well? Why are these women called anything other women? But I digress.

The myth being retold here goes like this: A man in his 20s spies a 40-something woman and becomes mesmerized. He has no sense or concept of her age. Society has made him so highly evolved that all he sees is her beauty, sensuality and intelligence.

She blows him off. He remains enchanted and pursues her with a passion. Finally, he proves his honest attraction and their perfect compatibility.

His friends don’t find it weird at all. He loves her kids and they love him. They have the best sex of their lives because they are both in their sexual prime. Age is just a number, women live longer than men anyway, and everyone lives happily ever after.

In reality? Not so much.

I am a 41-year-old divorced mother. I had my own cougarcringe!experience.

My divorced friends had theirs. We all had fun, but not one of us has ended up in a relationship with our dashing young lad.

When I started online dating after my divorce, I was definitely surprised by the number of messages I received from younger men. There were a lot.

Honestly, I don’t believe the messages I received could be classified as expressions of sincere romantic intent. These men-children know full well the cougar-finds-true-love-with-a-younger-but-just-as-wise-man fantasies we're fed. 

They're doing with them what an unfortunate number of single men do: present a false appearance of who they are and what they want in order to achieve their actual goal: getting laid.

Sometimes one of these mini-dudes would contact me while I was feeling particularly snarky and I would engage them in dialogue. I have a knack for getting people to open up quickly in conversation, so once I knew they had relaxed I would ask them to answer me honestly about their reasons for contacting women my age.

Time after time I heard the same answer. They “know” older women are more experienced, have a high sex drive and express their sexuality more freely than younger women. They only reach out to older women they do find attractive.

And they feel that we, the chosen elder few, have a right to feel pretty darn flattered.

They believe that older women are all cool with casual sex, wouldn’t try to pressure them into a relationship.

But aren't all cougars thinking they wanted to come play soccer with them and the kids every other weekend?

Out of this constant barrage of messages, there was only one 20-something that intrigued me. After a month or so of fun bantering back and forth I agreed to go out with him for a drink.

From the moment we sat down in the bar we chatted away easily. We were liked-minded on many levels and found each other funny and engaging. He was the perfect flirt/gentleman combo. It was a great date.

As for the sex, I’m not going to lie. A 20-something body is a beautiful thing. He was fun, enthusiastic and all of those great things.

That said, the depth of intimacy you can find with someone at your same stage of life has its own compelling beauty that cannot be beat.

We saw each other once or twice every few weeks for several months. It wasn't exactly what you would call dating, and it wasn't casual sex either. We would talk for hours and hours about love, work, politics, friends, family, etc. Then I met a man my age whom I started to see seriously.

I cried when I told my young told man I wouldn't be able to see him anymore. I knew it could never become more and I was ready for more.

The surprising part was when we broke up, he completely defied my expectations. He played a part in helping me stand my ground, insisting that I recognize how much better I deserve.

Of course, right then he met a woman closer to his own age, and a year later now they are still going strong.

I couldn't be happier for him. We still text now and then to say, "Hi."

We've talked about how, in some parallel universe where we are the same age, we could have had something big.

We filled a need for the other at the time, and it has remained a sweet, innocent connection. He will make an exceptional husband and dad someday. Even if he had wanted me to, I wouldn't have wanted to take that from him.

And that pretty much sums up the sordid cougar tale of every divorced woman I know.

I am sure there are stories of women my age who have found a meaningful relationship with a man in his 20s. I am all for love working out between any adults regardless of age, gender or the like.

Because really, most of us aren’t J-Lo. Or Katie Couric. Or Real Housewives. Well, we were real housewives once, but now we’re just trying to make it as working single moms.

We aren’t cougars. Or pumas or jaguars or kitty cats. We’re just women looking for love like anyone else.

No labels necessary.

Have a question about dating after your own divorce? Thinking about a divorce but worried the dating scene will be a mess? Email Arianna to schedule your personal divorce coaching session at


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