The things people say and the risky business of being an aging SWF

An Italian man once said to me, “Colleen, you’re approaching the age of deterioration. You can’t live the way you’re living for too much longer. People won’t receive you as well as you get older. You won’t be as pretty, your body won’t be as fit. That’s how it is for women.” I was 35. Was he was suggesting that perhaps my relative ease in the lifestyle I choose is fuelled mainly by others’ perceptions of my physical appearance or my youth? Was his perspective a bit narrow or was he just telling me as it really is?

My subsequent collapse into my late thirties has been an interesting ride as a single, explorer-at-the-moment woman. I meet different people. I go on dates. I’ve even fiddled around with the online dating thing in recent weeks. My friend and I regularly share stories of recent Tinder dates, and for him, Grindr dates, the Tinder-like platform for the homosexual man. Sometimes it feels normal. Other times I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone. And I’ve had some very interesting conversations there. What is this world that we have normalized not only plastic food and selfie sticks, but also quasi relationships based on text messaging and the idea that sexiness is rooted in youth, physical beauty or even sex?

During one such conversation the other day, a delightful young man called me a Cougar. I was so shocked that I laughed because he really is a delightful young man and I couldn’t believe he said it. I have an image of a Cougar in my mind. She has bad hair, smeared red lipstick, leopard-print pants, a birthday at least a decade before mine. She hangs out in bars, smoking cigarettes. She’s desperate. She chases younger men for the sole purpose of sex. She’s Mrs. Robinson. Surely he was joking. I never wear red lipstick and I hate leopard-print anything, unless it’s an actual leopard. Luckily though this young man’s unintended insult didn’t completely mash my ego to a thin pulp because he followed it up by insisting that I have the body of a 20-year-old. I was relieved to hear that only my face emits Cougar-ness. “C’mon, you look your age,” he said. Indeed I do and thank goodness for that beautiful indication of my rocking 38 years in this world. I deserve this face after that much time. I was never trying to look younger, or older, or anything that required as weak a qualifier of a person as a number or the name of a wild cat.

So what is the parallel term for a man? A Stud. A Casanova. A Playboy. Equally demeaning terms in my opinion but they have much more desirable connotation don’t they? If I call a man a Stud, how is he going to take it? If I call a woman a Cougar, how will she receive it? In trying to get a handle on the socio-cultural definition of the word Cougar I looked to my Chiang Mai social network of expats and drifters, yogis, massage peeps, the young, the older, the single, the married, the undecided. A completely random sample related to the question of What is a Cougar only by mere humanness. No one opinion is more valid than another. But they were all the same: an older woman chasing a younger man for the purpose of sex. Whilst the women I asked found this word a bit derogatory, in contrast, the men I asked thought this word acceptable, “grand” even, a compliment of sorts. My methodology is far from rigorous though so my findings may be slightly skewed. It may actually be a compliment, objectively speaking.

I don’t want to fall victim to semantics but words hold enough power to invite Insecurity to the dinner table and share with it your finest whiskey whilst leaving Self-Esteem with the bill. Even an iron-clad ego can rust if chucked out in the rain. Words can also keep us searching for a nugget of truth in a bucketful of year-old lies. They can invite us to dance or kick us in the proverbial balls, sometimes on the same floor in the space of one song. Once said you can’t take them back. Perhaps that’s why texting has become the relationship rage? One can carefully craft his words from behind the security of a screen and delete entire conversations as though they never existed. Oh but the stinging sound of words spoken through clever lips can linger like cigarette smoke in a bar–the one where all the cougars hang out, naturally.

But his comment shook me more than is comfortable to admit. It alerted me to the possibility that I care a little too much about others’ opinions of me regarding things that don’t really matter anyways. People will always have an opinion. Why get so bothered by a simple word? Perhaps it reveals my own insecurities. Maybe deep down I believe he is right. Do we thank such people for helping us know ourselves better or simply disregard what they say as ignorant in order to preserve ourselves?

But this is just a recent sample of the delicious array of comments I have received over the past couple of years in relation to my age, to the fast approaching twilight of my sex appeal. One gentleman commented that I didn’t look so old as my tender age revealed and that must be because I use a lot of moisturizer. So to have dry skin means to be old? Should I just bathe in coconut oil to save myself from such pithy observations? Or shall I perish like a Christmas turkey left out overnight, like cadaver flesh. I sometimes blame myself for inviting such comments by way of the company I’ve chosen to keep for either an hour or an entire year. But I wonder if this actually has more to do with the necessary level of ignorance that exists out there in this great big wonderful world of differing perspectives, either blade-thin or wide open. Such perspectives have no age or aesthetic origin. Neither does sex appeal.

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