I have a hunch that the stamps in my passport have contributed most of my insights, and prompted most of my questions.
I am NOT a cougar. I am a normal modern woman of the new millennium with a husband who is 15 years younger. I am a woman of the '60s sexual revolution who expects equality with men, and that includes sexual equality -- and women on top.
Many of my girlfriends have husbands 20 years older. Are these men called gorillas, panthers or raccoons? Who came up with this ridiculous title?
My own path to "cougardom" has been what I call "The Great Reversal," which I seriously recommend to all the women of the new millennium. First husband older, second husband younger. Call it what you want.
I call it SMART.
My first husband was 13 years older. He was the perfect match for me in 1964. Back then I was a 21-year-old on her first job, a costume designer on a film in Paris. Meeting an experienced man of 34 who could teach me about the finer things of life was a dream come true.
My first husband, Ron Berkeley, was from Hollywood. He was a great athlete, a famous make-up artist and a gourmet chef. He had been a bartender in his youth in Malibu and could host a great party. Ron was perfect husband "material," as the older man-younger woman has been a tradition throughout time. No one was shocked! All his friends accepted me. One pal, an older actor who played the bad guy in movies, even tried to steal me away. Ron's family welcomed me into his family. His dad was also in the "business." He was the exclusive set decorator to Errol Flynn. Ron was the exclusive make-up man of Elvis and the Burtons. I married into Hollywood royalty. The only downside to this marriage was that I would be wife No. 3.
When our marriage failed after 2 children and 21 years together, it failed primarily because of our age difference. I was 40 and no longer naive. My husband was a rabbit, and I was not a bit like our mothers and grandmothers, women who would have accepted his bad behavior and kept their mouths shut and their legs crossed.
If I was to have a cheating husband, I wanted a "French marriage," where we both have an arrangement of the Chambre 5 a 7, (the afternoon getaway sex pad ). My husband would not accept this. He actually became violent when he caught me kissing Mikhail Baryshnikov at my publicist, Yanou Collart's wild Parisian party for director Milos Forman.
Mikhail was 37, five years younger than me and almost 20 years younger than my husband who was then 55. That kiss was to me a magic moment, an epiphany moment when I realized that I was moving on and in picking the desirable age of my next mate, I was moving south.
Here are a few definitions of a cougar:
- Wikipedia defines a cougar as a woman who dates a man 8 years younger.
- An older woman who searches clubs for a much younger man.
- A divorced woman in her forties on the prowl for a younger man.
Of course none of these definitions apply to me as I met my young husband, a boat captain, on a fishing boat in Key West. He was the one who wrapped his arm around me to help me reel in the big fish. When his bare body touched mine (near naked in his little shorts) we were one from that moment on. I was 44; he was 29. We moved in together the next day. We've been together now 25 years.
Who caught who?
Titles aside, I seriously recommend to all my lady friends alone at mid-life that 8 years younger is the perfect age for your new man.
Women have a longer life, eat healthier and age better. We have beauty salons, spas, yoga, makeup and hair dye. We have creams, injections and facelifts that many men refuse.
At my recent 50th high school reunion at Bethesda Chevy Chase Maryland High School our class of 1961 met and danced all night, and we also took our class photos. When the photos arrived, I was shocked when I saw so many men who looked 10 years older than the glammed-up women. They looked like our fathers! Of course there were a handful of men who aged better than others, but 98% did not age well -- and sadly the handsomest man from the previous reunion had died of a stroke.
However, in my long marriage to a younger man, there have been a few downsides:
1. Musical taste disparity.
Music has a different vibe for each generation. He missed out on your music and may not get it or it may remind him of the generation gap. You'll end up listening to his music in the car and in bed. Movies, books, video games have also changed in 10 years, but shared music seems to be the most important of all for great romance.
2. Conflicts with the kids.
Your children, if any, are very angry at first at any new man, especially the younger new man and they need lots tender loving care. You both must recognize your new man is not their dad. Humor here is important! My teenage sons bonded with my new husband watching porno together on French TV. Seriously, France hard-core sex is on the main TV channels after 10:30 p.m. They also shared manly sports, going deep sea fishing together and shark fishing at night.
3. Friend awkwardness.
Your old friends will not go out with you and him and many will not invite you to their parties as their older husbands cannot bear seeing a young man threatening their happy little world. Don't get mad at them. You make new friends and learn new dance steps. I went from going to The Red Cross Ball in Monte Carlo and dancing with the royalty in London to doing the Texas Two Step in the Ft. Walton Beach's Live Western Music Club and dancing jive on the bars in New Orleans on Bourbon St.
4. Welcome the opportunity for new social circles.
You need to move on and make new friends that are younger, which is not a bad thing. You have to go out with his young friends and this will keep you in a younger groove. (I happily kept all my girlfriends but see them only for lunch or sometimes dinner if I'm alone in their town). I try not to carry on about my very different life but try to listen to their stories with love and interest.
5. Keep up with the fashion.
Fashion is the tell-tale, be-all, end-all problem! Did he change his look? Did you change your look? Are you both the same person you were on the day you met or are you changing your persona so you will be "what he or she wants"? I write about this in my book "It's All About the Dress" in my chapter on the morphing of Jane Fonda and how she even admits in her memoir that she willingly becomes the desired vision of her new lover. Her many marriages prove that morphing does not work to keep a lover.
When the younger man glams up, the relationship is doomed. When he wears the same shorts and flip flops that he wore the day you met, he is not there for your money or your world, he is there for you.
Of course, the only big problem I see is when I'm 90, my younger man will be 75. Living that old with a much younger husband needs a good plan. By then I'll be past any fashion or make-up tricks and probably will be really only interested in chilling 24/7. I came up with a solution. I imagine my husband will prefer to remain on our glorious farm, so I plan to return to Paris and eat and drink French until I die.
Then again, my younger husband could surprise me and age much quicker. Then I will improvise. In my first marriage I had a plan to paint until my death in our 16th-century mill house in Normandy. I even built a painting studio above the garage and asked my first husband to have a rail built so I could go up the steps when I'm 90. Yet it was not to be.
My plans may change again, but there is only one thing that will not change and that is that older men are no longer my cup of tea.
Vicky Tiel began designing clothes 40 years ago in Paris and still owns a boutique there. See Vicky and her new collection on HSN and online. Her couture is available at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, and her perfumes are carried in Perfumania. Her memoir, It's All About the Dress: What I Learned in 40 Years About Men, Women, Sex and Fashion was published by St. Martin's Press in August 2011.