We're not animals on the prowl, we're women in our prime! My friend Cathy's frustration was palpable as she stabbed a fork into her salad. "Do you remember when we were kids, and they used to call a man with an eager eye for women a 'wolf'?
"No," I lied.
"Me either," Cathy continued. "Now that 'Cougar' has bubbled into the zeitgeist, we've been transformed from dynamic, successful adults to fearsome predators. It's hard enough to hook up without having this image scaring guys away. It's 'Fatal Attraction' all over again."
Cathy wasn't the only one of my single friends in their 40s and 50s expressing these sentiments. Despite the proliferation of attractive actresses, including the gorgeous Courtney Cox, adopting the moniker--"Cougartown" is on its way--the title clearly has some negative connotations. A cougar's fit, lithe, cunning sexiness is hot; its talents at pouncing and decimating its prey are not. Just when Demi Moore, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Aniston, and other celebrity role models have made dating or coupling with younger adult men "acceptable", women have been tagged with this label which implies bloodthirsty sexuality. A vampire may make for a spicy rom-com, but a 'woman in her prime' may be seeking a less carnivorous and more connubial relationship with a younger man.
'Men seeking women', as Cathy ribs, are still presented with a buffet of options, including an older companion, a peer, or a growing pool of younger women from which to choose a mate. Women in their middle years, despite their youthful appearance, are often snubbed by men close in age whose gaze is directed towards the jejune. Many, like Cathy, have found affinity and kinship with younger men, whose outlook towards relationships is open, giving, and egalitarian. Having escaped from "the box" of 'sugar mamas', many women fear the 'cougar' appellation may end up driving them back into a straitjacket of limitations and stereotypes--perhaps because their maturity, skills, talents, and dynamism may be intimidating to many men their age.
I tried to reassure Cathy that, like all fads that have pounced on us, this 'cougar' wave too shall pass. But I had to agree she had an excellent point. Finding a companion and life partner, someone with whom to share emotional and physical intimacy, is a difficult enough task without pigeonholing those courageous enough to be swimming in the challenging and sometimes painful relationship waters. Single mature women seeking to hook up with younger adult men, for whatever reason, should be as free to sample the buffet of options as their male counterparts have been for generations.
On the other hand, offered my friend Diane, Cathy should consider herself lucky. The divorced mother of two teens explained, "I'd rather be a cougar than a MILF."
I sighed, grateful that my second marriage was happy and was keeping me safe from their travails, adding, "Would it be nice if we didn't have to be anything but ourselves." After all, when it comes down to relationships, acceptance and inclusion is critical to lasting lust and love. I suggest we replace these perjorative handles with a much more inviting sobriquet: "Warm, loving, hearts".
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more