06/06/2013 03:41 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2013

The 'C' Word

I'm a 40-something-year-old, happily divorced woman. I like to think that I have the basic principles of my life in order: I take care of myself in the ways that matter most (physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc.); I have a career that I love; three beautiful, well-behaved children; and a nice, carefully-selected circle of friends on whom I know I can rely for anything that I dare ask should the need arise, and vice-versa.

As a result, in my dating life, I'm more and more frequently approached by men who are anywhere from 5 to 15 (sometimes 20+) years younger than I am. I've actually been approached by men as young as 21.

In speaking with some of these gorgeous examples of nature's ability to produce beautiful things, it would seem that a woman in my physical, social and sometimes financial position is apparently attractive to the 20- and 30-something-year-old male who professes to have grown tired of what he perceives as the "needy" social and emotional traits of the 20-something-year-old female -- a female with a biological clock that ticks ever louder as she approaches her 30's.

Yet, the very thought of dating a man that much younger than myself triggers a title that I'm not particularly fond of: "Cougar." Who thought that up, anyway? I despise that word. It conjures up images of a wrinkled, chain smoking, badly aging woman with skin that more closely resembles a catcher's mitt than an epidermal layer. "Old school" cougar trolls the bars and pubs where her prey (the "cub") is most likely to be found, desperately trying to hang on to whatever youth she has left by snagging herself a man who was born in the '80s. In reality, your 'typical' garden variety cougar has evolved well past that God-awful stereotype.

The "cougar" of years past has actually evolved into a stunning woman who's got her physical, financial and emotional :stuff" together, and who is smart enough to realize that she can date anyone she damn well pleases. She's tired of watching men her age running after women half her age, and today's cougar chases no man; she doesn't have to. So, she has decided that two really CAN play that game, and today's 'coug' plays the game very well.

The 40+ man who has his physical, financial and emotional "stuff" together has figured out that he can date any age of woman that he wants to, so he dates what he is physically attracted to; the 20+ year old woman. And I'm not saying that he shouldn't. My motto is "If you can get away with it, go nuts." But that 40+ male's female counterpart, today's "Cougar," is no dummy. She has decided that the rules of this game should work to her advantage the same way it does to his, and she's decided to play the game by the same rules that apply to him.

As a result, our sexy cougar now has two choices; date the men that are left over once the hot, 40-something-year-old man has left the playing field for the greener pastures of "20-something-land," those guys whose physical appearance screams, "I've given up," who are nurturing what I like to call the "third trimester beer gut," OR she can go for that drop-dead gorgeous 20+ guy with the washboard abs and the great big "come get me" smile (I'm grinning from ear to ear just thinking about it).

Is there really any contest?

Historically speaking, "Left Over Guy" is the dude that the 40+ woman is supposed to be settling for. Why? Because a 40+ man who is actually in great shape, and looks good for his age, doesn't want to 'settle' for a 40+ date regardless of what she looks like, because in his mind, he doesn't have to.

And neither does she.

Don't shoot the messenger.