If a Cougar stops dating young cubs, is she still a Cougar?

My break up with my cub was due to several differences between us, age and life stage being the biggest. So I’ve since sworn to try to date guys over 35. On my online dating profile, under “age range looking for,” I deliberately wrote “35-51.” This doesn’t mean that if I meet a guy younger (or older) that I wouldn’t be open, but I figured I had to re-start somewhere.

The thing is, it hasn’t stopped the cubs from migrating in my direction or even pursuing me. It’s bizarre. It makes me wonder, is being a “Cougar” in the eyes of the beholder? If I’m not cub hunting – let alone even looking anymore – but the cubs are hunting me, does that mean that I’m a Cougar by default, regardless of intent?

I met a guy a few weeks ago through friends who is 26 (or “26 and 3/4’s,” he explained, as kids do). But he seems much older. He’s sophisticated, wise, and accomplished. When he told friends of mine that he’s looking for an older woman, 35-38, preferably Jewish, they sent me urgent texts: “Cougel! He’s not only a cub, he’s a Jewish cub. A Cougel’s prime target! Get your ass over to this bar right now and meet him!” So I did. My friends were right. The dude is awesome. We totally hit it off.

And yet I’m reluctant to take it further.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been recently burned by the age thing and still healing, or if I’ve wisely learned from my experience and know that practically speaking, it’s unlikely the relationship could go anywhere.

This guy doesn’t care though. He doesn’t seem put off by my reluctance. He doesn’t care how old I am. In fact, he likes it.

It made me stop and think. Is there something intangible about me that attracts younger men? Or,  is there something about younger men that attracts me, despite my decision not to go there?

As I mulled this question over, a chat box popped up on the online dating site I’ve joined (not J-date, but the free one, which is proving to be good for laughs rather than romance). It was from “BoyToy123,” description: straight, single, 24 years old. This was the third time he tried to engage me so I decided to respond and set him straight, like so:

BOYTOY123: Do you like younger men?

ME: Yes but not to date.
BOYTOY123: Ohh. Shucks. Well then what for?
ME: Why, does my profile say I like guys under 25?
BOYTOY123: No. Just figured I’d try. I’m very attracted to older women. And you have a very sexy face.
ME: I dated a guy younger than me and that didn’t work out. So I’m taking a hiatus. Sorry.
BOYTOY123: Well I’m not really looking to date..
ME: No kiddin.
BOYTOY123: …just go out a few times.. see where it goes…
ME: Right. That’s fine. But I’m looking for a long term thing.
BOYTOY123: Ah alrighty
ME: Thx for checking in though, I’m flattered.
BOYTOY123: Ok. If you ever want a young boy toy, let me know!
Yes, that happened.

I can’t help but laugh at the irony. I’m finally ready for a long term partner and open to dating age compatable men, but it’s crickets out there in the wild. Crickets, and apparently, cubs. 

Does this mean that I should stop fighting the laws of nature, and just go with it?

The Jewish Cougar loses her cub...on the Jewish New Year.

Talk about timing. Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year – a high holy day about reflection and repentance – coincides with a significant break up. Is that a coincidence? No Jew would think so.

So timing is what I’m going to talk about here.
But let me back up.
About three months ago, I got back together with my boyfriend. We had been on and off for several years, and our first break up back in February marked the start of my blog. He is ten years younger than me, hence the whole Cougel thing, but for those of you that read my blog regularly, you know that I believe “Cougarness” is much more about attitude, self confidence, and maturity in a woman, than it is about hunting down young cubs.

Is it odd that I never blogged about he and I giving it another go? I meant to, but other interesting blog-worthy events conveniently occurred so I never got around to it. Looking back, I wonder if that was no coincidence either. Perhaps I didn’t know how to share the fact that I was no longer single and “dating” with my readers; perhaps I didn’t know how to balance my private life and public one. Maybe I didn’t want to invade my boyfriend’s privacy. Or, maybe deep down I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to last.
I had posts that I started, touting the benefits of dating a younger man, that now, well, I don’t know if I believe. Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful things, but for me, there were just too many gaps – the difference in age and life experience being one of them – that we thought our love could bridge. But ultimately, like in every relationship, when that “in love” passionate feeling fades, it exposes the divide. I think we both realized that we didn’t have enough in common to bridge it.  It’s likely that we were never bridging it at all; we just stuck a big honkin band-aid over it.
Out of respect to him, I’m not going to get into detail here. But on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, he asked me a question that to him seemed benign, but to me signaled that his head is nowhere near where mine is. He looks at the world as someone in their late 20’s should, and my vantage is that of a divorced woman in her late 30’s.  It seems so obvious now that I guess we should have seen it all along.
Call it a “click” or a clarity cyclone sent from God on Rosh Hashanah, but in less than 24 hours, we went from being in a serious relationship with plans for our future, to being completely over. As in, kaput.  I feel like someone spun me around like a top. For the past few months – for the past year really – I was envisioning a certain kind of future, finally, after not having been able to for years (after my marriage fell apart). It felt good. I was building a nest again, big enough for two…maybe more. But in retrospect, it was made up of intangibles called hope, projection, and fantasy.
Am I okay? Oddly, yes. I mean, it hurts. But I’ve been through much worse. I’ve built up some serious recovery muscles, and I know that I will be fine. Divorce does that to you, in a good way. But mostly, at this point in my life, I refuse to give a relationship (no matter how happy I had been in it) where I invested my time – my precious time – uneccessary weeks of wallowing. While I agree it’s important to grieve and allow oneself to feel sad, in this case, for some reason – and it’s a power that feels bigger than me – I’m over self-pity.  Hey, depression? You can suck it.
Naturally, girlfriends and social opportunities came out of the wood-work. Maybe it’s just that time of year, or fashion week in NYC. But I got out there. Three nights in a row of drinking and partying, and I can feel the effects (as does my writing, so I hope you’re bearing with me on this one. Spell check I love you.)
A writer friend of mine took me out Friday night. Like me, she too had married her college boyfriend and split after 14 years together.  She had an idea: “Let’s go throw our sins into the east river. Let’s go do Tashlich!”  
What’s Tashlich, you ask? No, it’s not another kind of gooey Jewey noodle dish.  It’s part of the whole repentence thing.  That’s about all I knew when I agreed to go. (Mom, don’t be mad. My Jewish education was not a waste! My guilt degree has proven to be quite useful to you.)
So my friend and I bought a sweet challah at Dags and walked to the water.  I marveled at the view, the balmy weather and the fact that I was on the Upper East Side.

When she explained that the goal of Tashlich is to reflect upon the previous year’s sins and symbolically “cast them off” by throwing pieces of bread (each piece represents one sin) into a large, natural body of flowing water, at first I had no idea where to begin. Sins? I didn’t kill anyone. I hadn’t sent my exes hate bombs, or real ones for that matter. I didn’t intentionally screw someone over just for kicks. I think I’ve been respectful to my parents and I honor my neighbors (they are much easier to honor than my last).
And I was loving to – and honest with – my ex-boyfriend.  But had I been honest with myself?
First, we devoured half the challah. We were hungry, and didn’t think we had enough sins to require an entire loaf…evidenced by what I said next: “I can’t think of a single sin. Am I blind?”
And then it clicked.  I was going to start by casting off blindness.
Once we started, it was hard to stop. I thought back on the past year: my relationship with others, with the world, and with myself. And the lessons from my Rosh Hashanah break up began to dawn on me. What I needed to cast off was: Fear of making mistakes. Projecting my needs onto others. More fear (cuz that’s an easy one). Self doubt.

But mostly, I needed to repent for coercing the picture of what my future is “supposed to” look like onto someone else. 

This year, I need to learn how to let things grow and breathe – at their own pace.  Timing is indeed everything, and in this life, that’s all we have. My ex-boyfriend needed to develop on his timeline, not on mine. What’s that saying?  A cub is a cub is a cub. And no matter how much you push, he can’t turn into a bear overnight.

My question to you guys is: if I’m no longer dating cubs, can I still call myself Cougel? :- P

Mr. Good Enough (Good enough for what, exactly?)

A few weeks ago, on the heels of a break up, I vowed to immediately “get out there.” No, not in that way. I didn’t want a new boyfriend, or even a casual hook up. I wanted to try and connect with more than just the fabric of my couch. A friend had invited me to a book reading for a friend of hers, one day after my break up, and without bothering to actually ask what said reading was for, I eagerly agreed to attend. A book reading! Isn’t that something a writer is supposed to do? Isn’t that the kind of event where I can not only learn something about my own writing pursuits, but also meet other writers? PS. When I told my mother I was going to start going to these things, she exclaimed, “Good! Maybe you can meet some men who have sold books!” (the operative word being “sold,” of course. As in, for money).

I pride myself on being punctual. And I got to the Borders on 57th St. and Columbus Circle right on time, to see Melissa Rivers behind a podium, speaking to a group of women who all looked like her. This was not the kind of reading I had in mind. Luckily, I was at the wrong Borders. The one I was meeting my friend at was on Park Avenue and 57th. I was going to miss most of it. When I finally arrived, I wandered into a similarly crowded and disorienting pocket of the bookstore. Women, all over thirty five, who looked like Melissa Rivers but Jewish (the hair, not the voice…ok maybe the voice too), were beaming with adoration at a skinny blonde woman on the podium, Lori Gottlieb. She was fielding questions with messianic zeal for her new book “Marry Him. The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” as if she was Dr. Ruth, Carrie Bradshaw, or Jesus Christ. She was saying something like: “If a hypereducated, ambitious woman is still single after age 35, it’s because she’s too picky.”

You know that tingling sensation, the indescribable kind whose symptoms resemble a panic attack? The kind experienced when you’re trapped in the back row of an airplane on a seat that doesn’t recline, for a night flight, and a family with three kids parks it in front of you? The kind of fright or flight feeling that courses through you when you’ve agreed to be set up on a blind date, and the moment you sit down across from the guy, you immediately wish you were blind?

One glance at this Cougarish pack of disciples (I don’t care that they were mostly Jewesses; they appeared too desperate, and not cute enough, to qualify as Cougelish) looking to this embittered women for answers was enough to trigger the equivalent of that anxiety. Not to mention that right on cue, my ex-boyfriend of barely 48 hours, texted me just then to say that he missed me. I should add here, that my ex-boyfriend is a decade younger than me. Yes, I fell for a Young Cub. But I’d argue that it was a mutual fall, with no hunting on either side (persistence is not the same thing). Pangs of regret hit me then – did I just lose my Mr. Good Enough? Was I too picky? Did the Cougel scare away the Cub by mentioning that big topic called “The Future” (and no, not in the cool sci-fi way).

I had to get out of there. I swiftly found my girlfriend and said, “Sorry, but this whole thing? It’s not for me.” She completely understood. “Why don’t you go upstairs to the café? I’ll meet you when it’s over.” My response: “Café? I’ll be at the bar at the Four Seasons.”

Little did I know, because I rarely frequent bars north of 27th street (that includes Hurray Hill, let alone the Upper Easy Side) what awaited me there. Men. Old men. We’re talking Papa Bears who’ve raised young cubs. Salesman. Semi-retired tech guys with homes in Miami and West Hampton. Dentists. All divorced at least once, and on the prowl for young Cougels – dressed in second-hand fake fur coats and ripped jeans – like myself.

The drinks these men bought me managed to do two things: take the reading’s edge off, and influence me to give out my phone number to one or two of them (not the dentist). It also reminded me that there is a whole world out there, not just outside the den, but above 27th Street.

But still, I had no desire to go out with any of them. Not then, anyway.

When Mom called the next day to ask me how my night of “getting out there” went, I told her that I had a good time.

She said, “Really? So you met guys at the reading?”

I told her that actually no, I met them “at a place called a bar,” but that none of them were for me.

“Why not?” I could tell in her voice she was already accusing me of being too picky.

“They were too old for me, Mom. Like over 50. And divorced.”

“So what?! They’re good enough.”