Being a “Cougar” May Be Popular, but is it Good for Your Health?Happiness
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Have you seen the article about rapper Curtis Jackson, more commonly known as 50 Cent, who has admitted to having a ‘thing’ for actress Helen Mirren, who, at 73, is 30 years his senior?
Of course, as the article mentions, Ms. Mirren is happily married, so the question of ‘what if’ is more rhetorical than anything.
But it did get me thinking. How common is an age gap in boomer dating where women are the older half of the couple? And are there any health implications that boomer women should consider before dating someone who may be decades younger than they are?
It turns out that ‘older woman, younger man’ relationships are more common than I had thought. In fact, there is some evidence that almost one-third of women between the ages of 40 and 69 are dating younger men – with ‘younger’ being defined as 10 or more years.
What about us boomers, specifically? A recent poll indicates that for those of us over 50, almost one-sixth prefer to date men who are in their 40s.
So, this phenomenon of ‘cougars and cubs’ – popular slang for women who like younger men and the men they date, respectively – is clearly not going away. In fact, it will continue to become more prevalent as such couples become more socially acceptable.
What Are the Health Impacts of Dating Younger Men?
There are both benefits and drawbacks for female boomer health when it comes to dating a younger man, and they will depend, to a certain extent, on our existing health, outlook on life and personal age preferences.
So here are some things to consider before making or accepting a dinner invitation from a ‘cub’:
If you happen to be in a relationship that isn’t accepted by your family, friends or society as a whole, this can create stress. And of course, stress can impact your health in ways you may not have considered.
Stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, all of which carry their own health risks. Of course, if you’re the kind of person who thrives on stress and can turn it into a positive, then you’re in good shape.
If you are the kind of person who places much importance on other people’s opinion of you, then you may want to reconsider your cougar fantasy – this is real life, not a television series, after all.
One study found that engaging in a taboo kind of relationships can bring about poorer health, lower self-esteem and depression as well as engaging in riskier behaviors such as smoking, drinking too much or having unsafe sex.
Impact on Lifespan
Unfortunately, while being in a relationship with a younger woman tends to increase a man’s lifespan, the same may not be true for us women. According to research, being in a relationship with a younger man does not increase our probable lifespan, and it may actually shorten our lives. How much?
A study conducted in Denmark estimated that women who are in a relationship with someone between 15 and 17 years their junior had a 40 percent chance of dying earlier.
If you’re between seven and nine years older than your beau, your risk decreases – but only to around 20 percent compared to a woman in a relationship with a man her own age.
So, a younger woman helps a man live longer, and a younger man can put us in a grave earlier. Yes, this is terribly unfair. If it’s any consolation, the same study also showed that having an older spouse is detrimental for both sexes.
Assuming your partner leads the kind of healthier lifestyle you aspire to having, you may be more successful swapping bad health habits for good ones if he has either made or is making those changes. The same is true about increasing your physical activity levels.
This could be part of the “he makes me feel younger” or “I have more energy around him” aspect that boomer women often cite as a benefit of dating a younger guy. Unfortunately, the converse can also be true, so if your partner has bad health habits, you’ll need to be super vigilant to stay on track.
Is Being Single Any Better for You?
While conventional wisdom used to say that, all things considered, being in a relationship was better for your health than being single, that is no longer necessarily true.
In fact, research suggests that it’s getting harder and harder to make the case that being single is inherently worse for your health than being in a committed relationship.
Given the fact that more boomer women are opting for something between being single and being married or in a committed relationship, it gets even more difficult to definitively say whether married, single or in between is best.
Reportedly, we tend to gain weight once we’re in a committed relationship, which, for boomers, can carry significant health risks. Singles, on the other hand, tend to report exercising more, which has a wealth of health benefits.
Single boomer women tend to be better at maintaining relationships with friends, neighbors and extended family – another plus for the single column.
On the other hand, single people are almost three times more likely to die within three months after heart surgery. They also are more likely to develop heart disease.
As you can see, there are benefits and drawbacks of dating a younger man and of dating in general compared to staying single. And, as with many things, if you ask 10 different female boomers about their experiences and opinions, you will get 10 different answers.
Your best approach is to weigh the benefits and disadvantages on the health aspects, consider your personal situation and then follow your heart.
What do you think about the ‘cougar-cub’ kinds of relationships? Have you ever dated or are you currently dating someone younger than you? How was your experience? Would you do it again or recommend it to a friend? Why or why not? Tell us about it. Please join the conversation.
Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs, a national non-profit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. Her most recent book is Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy, available through Amazon, iTunes and bookstores.