a cautionary tale about cougars.

(the following was printed in the fall 2009 issue of stir magazine and represents the first time i received payment for a piece of writing)

this is how they do it:

they make some benign comment about men their own age. for instance, in passing, she’ll mention the high-ranking executive with whom she’s recently broken up and how at dinner he once told her she’d look better with more makeup. before you have time to respond, she’ll emit a sound of disgust and say that he lacked spunk and wasn’t spontaneous enough for her.

it’s difficult to look at someone close to your mom’s age and tell her, straight out, that it’s her fault she remains single. you want to suggest that maybe if she tried applying some foundation to brighten her skin and subtle eyeshadow to emphasize her eyes, which, admittedly, are really nice, her problems would disappear; perhaps men her age become more rigid because she meets them for dinner with hair disheveled. it’s not as if you believe in anachronistic roles for men and women, you just think it’s polite to look like you put effort into dressing up when you’re eating an expensive meal with someone whom you are affectionate toward. for now you’ll conceal your values and reply with a knowing nod that betrays your youth and tell her that you think she looks fine just the way she is (and, anyway, it’s true).

look at this from another angle though. for a moment, take the view that the woman who is asking you about her appearance is not only close to your mom’s age but is hypersexual. suddenly you’re no longer merely giving her relationship advice. instead you’re playing an awkward game of cat and mouse where the mouse (you) is blind and the cat’s house smells like cheese (i know, it’s a terrible comparison and worse simile, but work with me on this).

by day, she works as a physician or lawyer or widow with inherited fortunes (she’ll let you know which is the case as soon as you begin talking with her), but at night she wears as a dress a piece of clothing that was originally sold as a shirt. it’s extremely form fitting and features a combination of writing about dark subjects, with cyrillic thrown in for good measure, and images, including at least one of the following: hawks, swords, religious iconography, or skulls. she talks quickly, with a kind of chirping cadence, in order to confuse you and appear much younger than her years. in short, she is on the prowl.

i’ll tell you that all older women do not look like demi moore. but, then again, you yourself are no ashton kutcher, even if you did once bring a picture of him in to your hairstylist. maybe you’re still intrigued. as is said, appearances are not always what they seem. for instance, maybe you don’t realize that two of the toes on mr. kutcher’s left foot are fused together (yeah, i read an unauthorized biography, but not because i’m obsessed with him or anything).

i’m still going to attempt to dissaude you from continuing when she denounces men her age, not because i necessarily think persuing her is a bad idea, but, more so, because i like assuming the role of the voice of reason. in the future, simply tell her to keep putting herself out there, sooner or later she’ll find someone who can match her spontaneity and overall lust for life. it’s not you, though, so excuse yourself and walk away. do not, under any circumstances, stick around as she tells you she lives in the same building as your friend and then suggests that you knock on her door the next time you visit.

whatever you do, don’t joke with her. she has no time for humor. don’t tell her that one of the biggest draws of your friend’s apartment is that he has a drum set and ask if hers has similar amenities.

she’ll smile, the wrinkles around her mouth and eyes resembling a map of tributaries leading into the mississippi river, oh, so you’re looking for something to bang.

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