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*Editor’s note: Names of some of the interviewees have been changed for privacy.Annette Wheeler* didn’t recall the exact moment she first heard the term “cougar,” but she did remember dashing to her computer to look it up.To her shock and bemusement, there was a new term to describe what she had been doing most of her life — dating younger men.Wheeler, a fiery redhead who lives outside Baltimore, leaned back in her chair and sighed. “I liked younger guys even when I was in high school — like a year or two younger.I was a cougar before there were cougars.” Indeed, Wheeler’s pre-marriage and post-divorce dating history reads like a steamy screenplay.
“It’s definitely considered creepier for women to go out with younger men,” admitted Junie Smith*, a 52-year-old cougar who lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
“For a 70-year-old guy to go out with a 40-year-old woman, as opposed to a 70-year-old woman going out with a 40-year-old guy?
A 70-year-old woman going out with a 40-year-old guy is considered creepy.” Why the double standard?
“They’re looking for companionship, sexual contact, and someone good to talk to and spend time with.
So be it if the relationship goes further.” 'A Badge of Honor' While women aren’t exactly shouting their cougar status from the rooftops (“Women never want to be called a “cougar,” because it implies they’re older,” Mercer explained nonchalantly), men aren’t shy about their relationships with older women.