The Thorny Topic of a Woman’s Age (pt 1)

Am I a MILF or a cougar? I’m probably both! But as a strong and empowered mature woman, I feel entitled to assert my identity in my own right, not just as a fetish or object of male desire.

I am not object but subject, and agent of my own destiny: I have things to do, experiences to claim and challenges to face. This was my mindset when I began this online dating journey in the second half of my life.

It may come as a surprise that MILF is the fourth most popular search term on the world’s most visited pornography website, Pornhub. (Pornhub Annual Report 2016)

More worryingly, ‘step mom’ is the top most searched term. In the article ‘The Emancipation of the MILF: Does sexual freedom belong only to the young?’ journalist Kim Brooks describes the relatively unchartered territory of mature female sexuality, especially that of women who are also mothers. (Kim Brooks ‘The Emancipation of the MILF: Does sexual freedom belong only to the young?The Cut May 2017)

“The exploration of a mother’s midlife sexuality might not seem groundbreaking,” she says, “until you think about how few people are doing it.”

When I Began This Online Dating Journey, I Believed That Time Was Running Out For Me

How sad is that? I believed that my life was almost over and it wasn’t even halfway through! I wasn’t going to lose any chances based on someone’s preconceptions about age – and they are abundant. I was ready to grasp life and sex and touch and joy and laughter by the lapels and embrace them. Live it to the full. Seize every opportunity because, in the harsh spotlight of reality, who knows how much longer I have left? Not even in the sense of pure biological aging, but in that most profound sense: who knows when life will be snatched from us, when we have so much more to give and experience?

In the time since I installed that first dating app, I have done a ‘complete threesixty’ on my attitude to and feelings about the concepts of MILFs and cougars.

It hasn’t been easy, because I’d imbibed the subtle messages that surround us, as women, that once we reach a certain age our lives become less interesting, less important and certainly, less passionate.

I like the way writer Claire Dederer describes the “natural ebb and flow of desire, an inevitable turning outward after the all-consuming, inward-looking early years of motherhood.” Her book, Love and Trouble, a Mid-life Reckoning charts her journey as a middle-aged mother stepping outside the boundaries of polite, middle-class domestic life to explore passion and sexuality. Dederer asserts that a woman might be a mother and also a person with unruly, lively and even promiscuous sexual desire.

“…A mature woman’s love life might be every bit as sensuous, tawdry, complicated, and overflowing as that of any women in her twenties,” she says. (Claire Dederer Love and Trouble, A Mid-life Reckoning 2017)

This image of the powerful and emancipated MILF is in direct contrast to the dominant ideology western society likes to periodically regurgitate.

British journalist, Deborah Orr wrote a scathing article about the mainstream media’s reaction to the murder of a 51-year-old British author. “Must we really believe that at forty-seven, a woman is going to grasp at whatever excuse for romance she can get…sections of the media seem perfectly willing to reiterate that the grand old age of mid-forties renders women sad creatures who are pitiful and spent, almost inevitably unlovable and easy prey for psychopathic fantasist conmen. If anything makes ‘middle-aged women’ vulnerable, it’s falling for this ghastly negative reinforcement themselves.” (Deborah Orr ‘Helen Bailey and the Lethal Darkness Behind This ‘Middle-Aged Woman’ Myth’ The Guardian 25 Feb 2017)

The freedom to take possession of my own desire is a meaningful way to describe my motivation behind how I have approached the conspicuous issue of age in the world of online dating. For that I have Claire Dederer to thank for giving me a vocabulary to understand my own submerged and opaque feelings about my body, my sexuality and my rights to satisfaction.

I now claim the title ‘cougar’ with full knowledge of the emancipating role it plays in empowering mature female sexuality. For too long I was ashamed of being a woman over 40, a woman who’d birthed children. I now see the connection between claiming my sexuality and claiming my age and stage – and giving the finger to society’s subtle propaganda that my needs don’t matter.

Are Our Bodies Ever Good Enough?

In a blog that turned viral, Alys Gagnon writes, “after all, what woman does not feel that her body is somehow not good enough?”

Not being good enough is a common theme in my mind, and it’s one that I work hard to combat. Like many mature women, I lug emotional and physical baggage that is the inevitable result of growing children inside my body, which only compounds my unresolved fears that I am not lovable because I am not a size 10 model (size 6 for you American readers). (These days a size 10 AU might even be considered ‘fuller figured’).

“There’s a mythology that exists that fat people will never know love or will only be loved by other fat people who don’t deserve the love of a thin person,” Gagnon writes. “It’s built around the idea that thin people are ‘good’ people and that fat people are somehow morally bankrupt, unable to control themselves, lazy, stupid and ill-disciplined.” (Alys Gagnon ‘Fat Woman Shares What It’s Like Being Married to a Thin Man’ Kidspot Health, June 2017)

Thankfully, many men find curvaceous women desirable. In fact, “tall men and curvy women both have more social connections online than their opposites (shorter men and slender women).” (‘Online Dating Industry Facts and Statistics’ 25 July 2017)

Next article I will discuss what dating site data says about women and aging, and more about cougars and our sexy little market niche!



The Illusion of Endless Choice in Online Dating

In the article, ‘What If I Never Find Love?’ Phillippa Perry examines the answers given by the Google search engine, and many pertinent points are revealed.

“Humans fear making the wrong choice more than they fear not making any choice at all, and with so many more alternative potential mates to choose from, people appear to be more reluctant to make that commitment. Instead, they keep on searching for an unreachable perfection. What we need to realise is that perfection is not love.” (Phillippa Perry ‘What If I Never Find Love’ The Guardian July 2015)

She (and Google) suggests that it may be time to change the ‘what if I don’t find love?’ question into ‘so what if I don’t find love?’ – arguing that love is often not what it’s cracked up to be and having a plan B is a reasonable option.

In her article, ‘Why Having So Many Choices Could Be The Worst Or The Best Thing About Online Dating’, Elyse Romano also confronts head on the issue of too much choice.

“Instead of making your life easier, online dating might be making it more stressful thanks to a psychological phenomenon called the ‘paradox of choice.’ The more choices you have, the more difficult it is to actually make one. Instead we consistently feel unsatisfied with our choices, or simply refuse to choose at all.”

Add to this our insatiable consumerist culture that constantly tells us that we need more and better ‘things’ – including people – as we search for instant gratification and that elusive satisfaction. (Elyse Romano ‘Why Having So Many Choices Could Be The Worst Or The Best Thing About Online Dating’ February 2015)

Maybe choice, or the confusing nature of what seems like too much choice, is one reason for so many people believing that dating in the modern era is terrible.

“An endless string of high hopes and dashed expectations, countless hours spent browsing photos on various sites and recurring nightmares of winding up alone…” is how Julia Rappaport describes it.

She recommends though that we should apply some common sense investigative skills such as: “knowing a few details about a person before meeting them can better prepare you to really listen to the good stuff”, and “part of earning trust with someone …is not just listening but also offering tidbits about yourself – be interested, ask; be vulnerable, share.” (Julia Rappaport ‘Love Story: When Journalism and Online Dating Combine’ The Writer 13 Feb 2017)

I know I have fallen into the trap of endless checking to see who’s new on a dating site, and collecting men on my list in the hope that one will stand out or several might be fall-backs. The grass always seems to be greener according to so many people dating these days – why should they settle for one not-so-perfect person when there might be someone better on the app screen later tonight? That’s such a destructive attitude and falls right into the consumerist mindset I described earlier.

The other point to note here is that the size of your city or area definitely has a big impact on how large your ‘pool’ of talent is likely to be online. Sure, if you live in New York you might have thousands of potentials (and also thousands of competitors), but if you live in a small city you might have less than 50. That is my lot and believe me, I have railed against it at times. It’s so frustrating to see so many more options in other states or cities, and what feels like a desert in mine!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and how it has affected your search.