What a ridiculous term by the way – “cougar”. 🙄 Where the hell did that come from? I’ve been googling around to find out how a woman who pursues relationships with younger men has come to be known as a “cougar”, but no one seems to know. I even looked up some facts about the actual feline known as “cougar”, also known as puma, panther, or mountain lion, depending on if you live in Texas, Florida or Wyoming. I found no evidence that the female cougar prefers younger male cougars for mates, but did find reference to adults being more or less solitary and meeting for one reason and one reason only – mating. Perhaps this is the basis for the terminology – hunting for a mate, then going home alone. I know, it’s a stretch, but aside from that I got nuttin’ !!!
A survey conducted by AARP asserts that 34% of women surveyed responded indicating that they were dating younger men, thereby fitting the definition of “cougar”. The survey is 6 years old at the time of this writing. Spurred on by high-profile romances such as that of Ashton Kutscher and Demi Moore, I imagine that statistic has only grown in the intervening years.
Guess what? There was a time when I fit the “cougar” definition, too. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – I was cougar before cougar was cool 😉 I once calculated it and came up with a startling statistic – I am older than 80-something percent of all the guys I’ve ever been involved with. Age differences have ranged from 3 months all the way up to 8 years.
(As an aside, I also calculated that 80-something percent of all the guys I’ve ever dated and/or married were also Jewish. Yes, we detect a pattern here. No, I haven’t really tried to analyze it. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Queens, so I’m not shocked that I’ve got an affinity for Jewish guys).
I began my auspicious career as a cougar circa 1975-76. Harry was in 9th grade and I was in 10th. He was exactly my height, sandy brown hair, blue eyes, with freckles. A class-clown type, Harry really knew how to make me laugh, and he was just adorable. Soon after we met, he got his braces removed, a fact which relieved him no end. I’d privately thought that they only added to his adorableness factor.
We were both in the high school chorus, and both had 5th period free, during which time we ran errands for the people working in the guidance office. One day, the student body decided to stage a “walk out” during 5th period over some (no doubt) burning, socially relevant issue, and Harry and I decided to walk up to McDonald’s instead of hanging out in the guidance office. I guess that was our first “date”.
Soon after that, he proposed to me amidst the melee that occurs periodically each day at every high school across America – otherwise known as the break between classes. We were passing on the staircase. I was trapped in the throngs heading up, while he was heading down. There’s no stopping when you’re in the crush of humanity on the staircase in an over-crowded New York City public school. He was looking for me; he saw me and thrust something rather sharp and pointy into my hand. As the crowd swept him away, he hollered over his shoulder, “Marry me!”. I opened my hand to find a copper-colored paper clip, bent pretzel-style into the likeness of a ring. Despite the fact that the ring eventually left a greenish tattoo on my finger, I was da shit for the duration of the school year. A boy, a CUTE, nice Jewish boy (all my friends were Jewish – I was the token shiksa) had proposed. With witnesses! It seems like half the school was on that staircase during the first (but not last) proposal of my life. This is how I came to be the sensation of the 10th grade that year.
I received my first-ever kiss – with tongue! – from Harry. I suspect it was his first as well. We were riding in the back of a car driven by the senior boyfriend of one of my pals, on our way to a party. The sun was shining on a fine spring day, and the Beatles crooned All My Lovin’ as we practiced our exploratory maneuvers, entirely neck-up, on each other. Thereafter, just walking down the halls or ambling hand-in-hand down the street, one or the other of us would spontaneously burst into All My Lovin’, while the other harmonized. To this day, when I hear that song all I can think of is Harry and soft, first kisses in the warm sunshine.
When my friends threw me a girls-only Sweet 16 party, Harry and some of the guys from our crowd crashed. The hostess was my friend Denise, God rest her soul. She was rather put out, but I was delighted. They came bearing gifts. One of the boys gave me Wings At The Speed Of Sound and another Endless Summer. Only, they were LPs! You actually needed a record player to play them! These remain staples of my music collection. Harry, however, chose to come bearing jewelry. He’d petitioned his grandmother for funding and presented me with a tiny, perfect sterling silver cross. This was a grand gesture coming from a nice Jewish boy and his bubbie! 😉 I treasured it and wore it always, even after we moved away, which ended our relationship.
Fast-forward one year, which can seem like a thousand at that age. I was a junior at my new high school and a senior asked me to accompany him to his prom. The day after the prom, we went to see a show on Broadway in NYC, and who should we bump into outside the theater but Harry. It seems a senior had asked him to the prom too, at our old high school. We were ecstatic to see one another, but that made our dates antsy, so we had to be brief. A year had made a huge difference – I could tell he was now officially WAY taller than I was, and he was even cuter, if that was possible. His parents had relocated him, too – to California. We wrote to one another a few times, but as often happens with young love, one or the other of us stopped writing and that was the end of that.
I don’t know what became of the “engagement ring”. It probably disintegrated and went to paper clip heaven. But I do know what happened to the silver cross. Fast forward another year, to the magically golden summer of 1978. Our town sponsored an outdoor summer theater workshop, and during rehearsals for a dance number, the chain I wore the cross on somehow got caught on someone else. The chain snapped and it all went flying into the night. Several people helped me look for it. We found the chain, but the cross was lost forever. I probably would have been inconsolable, had it not been the magically golden summer of 1978 and That Boy.
Oh, and the show we were doing? Fiddler On The Roof – OY! 😉
NEXT TIME: His name was Jeremy…
Further reading: Here’s the article that inspired me to explore my inner cougar 😉