I was walking and talking with a friend, R, one morning after dropping the rug rats off at school. We were chatting about women we know and telling each other funny stories. Fine, we were gossiping. Anyhow, as I listened, I realized that at one time or another, both she and I had found ourselves embarrassingly associated with a pack of Cougars getting their prowl on. The Urban Dictionary defines a Cougar as “a 35+ year old female who is on the “hunt” for a much younger, energetic, willing-to-do-anything male. The cougar can frequently be seen in a padded bra, cleavage exposed, propped up against a bar… waiting, watching, calculating; gearing up to sink her claws into an innocent young and strapping buck who happens to cross her path.”
My Cougar association was unintentional. In R’s case, she knew what she was getting into because she gets invited on an annual weekend-long “girls’ trip” with a particular group of ladies, and has elected to go on several of them. Though R herself is in no way a Cougar (and neither were a couple of the other women on her trip), she pretty much knew what to expect and was even a little fascinated watching some of these ladies sink fully into their “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” personas, regardless of the fact that they were in Phoenix or Dallas or San Diego.
My story goes like this. One Spring night last year, I found myself suddenly free on a Friday evening when my kids got an impromptu spend-the-night invitation from their Grandma. It’s not even really necessary that she ask me whether it’s okay that they come over because the answer is an automatic “yes” as far as I’m concerned. So the kids took off, and I started casting about to see what my options for the evening might be. About three calls in, I found myself striking out amongst my friends in the not-so-fast Mom crowd that I run with, spontaneity being nigh on impossible for most of them. But I am nothing if not persistent, and I was determined to find someone to hang out with, because since Steve was already tied up with his own plans, about the last thing I wanted to do was sit around planless and pathetic in my quiet house.
I tried a divorced friend of mine whose kids were with her ex-husband that night to see what she had on tap. She said she was going to go have drinks and dinner with a girlfriend (whom I knew as well, didn’t love, but could tolerate) and a couple of her friend’s friends (whom I didn’t know at all) at a Mexican restaurant in Buckhead, and encouraged me to come along. I had never been there and didn’t know anything about the place really, but a margarita and a patio sounded like a good plan to me, so off I went.
I showed up at the appointed hour, and a quick glance toward the packed patio coupled with the fact that it took the sweat-soaked, frantic valet a full five minutes to get to my car so I could hand over the keys as I waited just feet from the door clued me in that this place was clearly a scene for the young singles in the area. See, I’m usually home wrestling my way through the bedtime routine with the kids by seven on a Friday night, so I had no idea that this restaurant was a typical booze-soaked first stop for the young professionals trying to secure that night’s hook-up. The bar thing was never my scene when I was young and single, so being in the midst of one as a married 40-year-old left me immediately feeling a little weird. But I pushed through my wariness and met our group at the bar.
Perfunctory introductions were made while we waited for the bartender to notice that we needed drinks and learned from the hostess that it would be at least 45 minutes before a table was likely to open. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of our happy little group: me: 40 and married; my friend: 38 and divorced with a serious boyfriend; my acquaintance: 40-plus, aura of bitterness, unmarried and REALLY wanting to change that (I’m fairly sure I know why that hasn’t happened yet); her friend #1: 40ish, recently divorced, on a mission to find a replacement; and her friend #2: 40-plus, single and pleasant, and definitely looking for a boyfriend. Aside from my unremarkable outfit, the “uniform” of the group was mostly trendy sandals, tight designer jeans, and clingy shirts with plunging necklines. Mostly I passed the time just talking with my friend while the other ladies talked to each other without making any actual eye contact because they were busy scanning the faces of every guy who walked by.
We finally got to our table, which to the delight of at least sixty percent of our party was directly in the middle of the patio and completely walled in by a sea of people throwing back margaritas and shots and chatting loudly. It was fantastic people watching. I watched the slow turning of the heads of the prowling contingent of ladies at our table as they visually swept the room flashing eager smiles while sipping their drinks, chair-dancing to the beat of the background music, and sizing up the male potential, or avoiding the gaze of those males whose potential they had some history of having already sampled and found lacking. With dawning realization, I felt the blood start to creep up my neck and face as it occurred to me that I had managed to secure myself a seat at what definitely looked like a table full of Cougars. Sweet Jesus!
I mentally smacked myself for not recognizing the situation sooner, and promised to get out of there as quickly as was politely possible after eating, which as it turned out took more than a full hour. Why, you ask, was this making me wish with all my might that I had powers of invisibility that I could invoke at that very moment? I mean, relax, right? Well, if you know anything about Cougars (e.g. any episode of Real Housewives of Wherever), watching women who are past their prime roll up into a bar and try to compete with twenty-somethings for the attention of men is just plain cringe-worthy. Their perfume, a combination of desperation and trying-way-too-hard, swirls around them and announces their presence to the room. And they are almost always oblivious to the fact they are being laughed at rather than laughed with. Oh, and because the younger women usually attract the “prime” quality men in the room, the douchebags are drawn to the older, hungry ladies like a devoted cheapskate to a 1/2 price sale at the dollar store. This night was no exception I realized as I watched one of the women at our table happily being chatted up by this guy that I recognized from high school. He was a d-bag back then, and it certainly appeared that nothing substantive had changed in the 20 years since I’d last seen him.
So, yeah, I was embarrassed because I just didn’t want people to look at our table and take me (a happily married, trying-to-age-gracefully, average 40-year-old woman) for a Cougar. When I finally got out of there, I went home and told Steve all about the evening. He laughed and in his typical good-natured way gave me some funny angles from which to view the evening. And in that moment, I thanked my lucky stars that I was married to this great guy and that I didn’t have to navigate the tricky waters of dating in my forties. And lest you think I am a complete jerk, let me just say that I felt for my friends and acquaintances that night. I can’t believe they really enjoy the effort it takes to try and bag a new guy at that age any more than I imagine I would.