Being a “cougar” in college—where age is definitely more than just a number


by Victoria Valenzuela

I’m channel surfing the other night and I come across a show on TLC that I’d never heard of before—“Cougar Wives.” Intrigued by the title, I decided to give it a try. Little did I know I was about to embark upon the next 40 minutes of pure discomfort. Actually, it was more like 25 minutes—I couldn’t stomach the rest.

If you haven’t seen or heard of “Cougar Wives”, the premise is what you might think. “Cougars” are typically referred to as older women who are in pursuit of relationships with younger men—sometimes, much younger. One of the couples had a 32-year age difference—the man, or should I say boy, was 21. The woman?  53. This particular pairing had to keep their love a secret, as the guy’s parents didn’t exactly approve of their son’s girlfriend. Understandably so, since the way the two interacted was downright creepy. She was literally old enough to be his mother.

Turn this scenario around and it might not seem so acceptable, where Hugh Hefner types are picking up on women half their ages in a twisted father-figure-turned-lover scenario (ever heard of the term “sugar daddy”?)  But in reality, there are many people out there who find love connections with people who are nowhere near their age range. It’s not that uncommon to find couples who have a 10 or 15-year age difference, and they are happy as can be.

When it comes to dating, age can definitely be a factor when deciding if two people connect on a variety of levels. It is directly linked to life experience and how much each person has had that influence the choices they make. Because of this idea, I have always lived by a certain cardinal rule. It’s all about playing the range game—I typically won’t date anyone younger than me, and the age of older male pursuits are capped at no more than three years above my own. Picky? A little bit. But there is a method behind the madness.

Sometimes I feel like a cougar at 24, a mere six months from the big 25, still dating in and around the college scene where there are scores of 18 and 19-year-old boys. It’s kind of unfair, actually. It’s like being in a candy store with so many delectable treats lining the shelves but knowing you can’t actually reach for one and take a bite. I’ll see a cute guy on campus, but the chances of him actually being in the ball field of the mid-twenties are slim to none. Or I’ll meet a guy that I totally hit it off with just to find out he lives in the freshman dorms. Can you say “red flag?” I’m not exactly looking to rob any cradles here.

I tried to pursue something with a younger guy once. Back during my not-so-distant frat party frolicking days, I met a really cool guy who I later found out was 18. We instantly clicked. He was cute, funny, charming, and had a sweet boy-next-door charm that I found to be incredibly endearing. At the time, I was 22 and seemingly willing to overlook the gap in our ages in order to find out if there was potential. He even took me on one of the sweetest first dates I’d ever been on—literally surprising me with a trip to a local drive-in for my first time ever definitely made me swoon. Soon enough, though, it was clear that our certain experience levels and life situations were different—he just on the cusp of his college career and me looking towards leaving mine behind. I realized just how much I wanted someone who was more on my level, someone whose maturity level matched mine and whom I could refer to as a man instead of a boy. Needless to say he couldn’t accept being just friends with me after I broke this news and I haven’t heard from him since. Next.

Here’s a little scientific theory that I’ve made up—similarity breeds connectivity. I’m a firm believer that the more in common you have with someone the more likely you will be able to connect with them. This is no different when you’re sorting through dating prospects. You’re better able to understand a person when you’re on a similar wavelength. This first starts with where you’re at in life. Life experiences guide your thoughts, judgments and attitudes, and make you view the world differently than someone who has not been in a similar situation. Hence, a disconnect forms, leaving room for misunderstanding and a lack of appreciation for the other person. Okay, science lesson over. Back to the point.

The difference in age doesn’t even have to be so drastic to become a problem. You’ve heard of that couple where one is of legal drinking age and the other isn’t, leaving one person behind while the other relishes in their 21-and-up status. Lonely alcohol-free nights lead to disappointment, resentment—you know what happens next. That gap becomes an inevitable problem one way or another.

You might say, As long as you love each other, age shouldn’t matter. You’d be right—it shouldn’t. But it does. Deny it, look past it, bury it as best you can, but it’s there lurking beneath the surface of your blissful state of love, ready to rear its ugly head at any moment. Dating is hard enough. I say make it a little easier by eliminating all initial barriers from the start.

As for me, it’s a good thing I’m graduating soon and getting away from the college dating scene. I wouldn’t mind a real man sweeping me off my feet. That is, 24 and up.