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Ethlie Ann Vare Headshot

All Cats Are Gray in the Dark

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Technically, "in the dark all cats are grey" was Benjamin Franklin's 1745 endorsement of older women to a horny young man. They can hold a decent conversation, he noted, won't get pregnant on you, have learned a couple of tricks in the bedroom over time... and it's better to make an old woman happy than a young one miserable.

As my ex-husband (the British ex-husband, not the Texan) put it, "They don't tell, they don't smell and they're grateful." Yes, Ben Franklin and my ex-husband were both arrogant blowhards.

Now, I was a cougar before it got the name. My tradition was to celebrate my birthday by sleeping with someone precisely half my age. I don't play that game any more; they have to chase me now, and they have to bring something to the table other than their youth. But I have given my former behavior some thought, and I have some opinions.

By the way, don't waste your perfectly good umbrage on my opinions. I change my mind all the time.

Here's my theory: Haven't you ever wished you had a chance to go back and do high school right? "If only I knew then what I know now!" No more getting shanghaied onto the debate team, or caught sending embarrassing notes to the math teacher. This time you'll be prom queen, teacher's pet and head cheerleader all hayrolled into one. That's what being a cougar gives you. The lowliest grind is suddenly exotic and glamorous and sexy. There's nothing as enviable on a young man's arm as an experienced older woman... and she knows it.

Oh, she's smooth, our jungle cat. She doesn't make the naïve moves and embarrassing blunders that haunted our teen lives. Been there, done that, and doing it better this time. It can be very healing.

Are you commitment-phobic? Incapable of real intimacy? Perfect, because so is your average twenty-something male (Of course, the cub will grow out of it. You, maybe not so much.). Also, his attention span is about the same as a mayfly's. By week four or six, when you tell him little fling isn't going anywhere, he's already had a memorable long-term relationship and is ready to move on. Now who's grateful?

I'm always happy to hear from cubs about what they like about older women. It can't just be the easy sex; all sex appears pretty easy these days. I do notice that younger men who are interested in older women are interested in older women, period. It's not that you're so hip and hot that he believes you're his own age, much as you'd like to think so. Trust me, I have had a crestfallen moment or two meeting the previous (or subsequent) inamorata of a cub to discover a woman as old as I am. How depressing is that?

According to anthropologist Helen Fisher, "The younger man is just as eager to find the older women as the older woman is to find the younger man. Women become more fascinating with age -- they know more people, they've been more places and they've read more books." We're also considerably more orgasmic, although Dr. Fisher is too proper to mention that. She does quote a recent study showing that 69 percent of men have dated an older woman, with 27 percent of those relationships having an age gap of 10-20 years.

Are cougar/cub relationships a sign of love or sex addiction? Only when they're addictive cougar/cub relationships. If he's lying and manipulating just to get laid, he might be a sex addict. If she's fooling herself into believing they're destined to stroll hand in hand into the sunset, she might be a romance junkie.

If you're having the same dead-end relationship over and over with different faces, trying to recapture that first hit of infatuation... if you're confusing romance with the desire to rescue or be rescued... if you're forever dwelling in the past or obsessing on the future... well, that has nothing to do with how old you are or how young he is. That's just your garden-variety minefield of love and fantasy.

That's right, MILF.