CHICAGO — Tracy Tedesco is smart — she spent 20 years as a corporate recruiter.
She’s funny — most professional comedians are, or at least should be.
She’s hot — and she knows it.
At 41, Chicago comedian Tracy Tedesco is beating back guys in their 20s like she was giving away Xboxes.
Tedesco is the definition of an “urban cougar.”
The label used to be an unflattering characterization of middle-aged, boy-hungry single women. But as more women shed the traditional taboos about age and dating, the name has been taken on as a badge of empowerment by sexy, older professional women who prefer the physical and spiritual qualities of younger men.
Look no further than the celebrity world for proof that the movement is growing. Some of Hollywood’s hottest actresses have taken on younger mates, and a number of male celebrities in TV and music have chosen girlfriends who are several years their senior.
Also called “vets” in some circles, these women are the subject of a book by Valerie Gibson called “Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men,” and a movie in development called “Cougars,” about a divorced executive in her 40s who pursues a young stud and falls in love. WGCI (107.5-FM) DJ Howard McGee tackled the topic of older women dating younger men during his radio show this week.
In a Yahoo! Personals survey released in September, 56 percent of women and 51 percent of men said they would date someone 10 years younger than them. (To be a true cougar couple, there has to be an age difference of at least seven years, Gibson told RedEye.) The survey found that slightly more men — 52 percent — were willing to date a woman up to 10 years older than them. Several online dating services have sprouted up to capitalize on the trend. One such site, urbancougar.com, touts itself as the definitive source of cougar culture.
Co-founder and President Cash Money acknowledges that some people think of “cougar” as a derogatory stereotype–a woman who’s “old, wrinkly, desperate, hooking up with younger dudes because she wasn’t able to find a man her age.” But that’s not the case, he said: “It should be a word of empowerment.”
Cougars can be long-term lovers or one-and-dones, flashy or sophisticated, but each is “an independent woman who enjoys the pleasure of younger men because they are no longer interested in men their own age,” said Money, 29, who uses that name for business reasons.
The company president once was “prey”–young catch for cougars–and co-founded the site three years ago with a friend as a tongue-in-cheek homage to the women they dated. The site, which is based in San Francisco but has users from across the country, evolved into an online matchmaking service in 2004, he said.
“If you read the site, we’re not making fun of cougars by any means,” Money said in a phone interview. “Women love it, it brings attention and reinforces this behavior.” Now the company is developing a half-hour dark TV comedy about cougars and prey through Warner Bros. Money hopes a pilot will be completed by fall. The surge in cougar couples isn’t just a passing fad, Money said.
Barbie Adler of Chicago-based matchmaking company Selective Search agrees. Although most of her clients are men, she said “there is a swing in older women seeking younger counterparts.”
“I think older women like that younger men treat them well, are sweeter,” Adler said. “Men are definitely captivated by their life experience as well.” Conversely, many of Adler’s older male clients–“grey panthers” as some call themselves–opt for younger women because they are looking for child-bearers, want trophies or “find it refreshing that younger women have a sunnier outlook on life,” she said.
Once the attraction wears off, however, a lot of men find they have little in common with their young wives, she said.
Among cougars, Adler also cautions the marriage-minded and the biological tick-tockers to think carefully about the lifestyle. “Is this really going to last long-term?” she asked.
“There can definitely be a spark in the bedroom between younger guys and older women,” she said. “But if an older woman is really looking to settle down, they have to make sure they’re not wasting time just for fun.”
That is a concern for Tedesco.
She did not expect to be in the position she’s in–she wanted to be married and have kids by now. But after dating only older men much of her dating life, something changed when she hit 35.
People began complimenting how young and in shape she looked for her age, including young men who were starting to hit on her more often, she said. “I remember the first guy was 28 years old, walked up to me in a crowd, and I’m looking, I’m like ‘Dude, I’m 36.’ And then he looked at me like, ‘Like I care.'”
Tedesco went on a few dates with him–her first dip into cougardom–“then I realized, why do I care?”
She has dated several younger guys in the past five or six years, including one 24-year-old, when she was 37.
“On my 40th birthday, I hooked up with a 21-year-old. And my friends were like, ‘What have you done to this youngster?’ ”
Tedesco said she didn’t set out to target younger men, but reasoned that older men and women share similar traits–busy schedules, personal baggage, changing attitudes–that act as barriers to dating each other. And the well-traveled comedian said there aren’t a lot of available older men in the Midwest who are heterosexual and in shape.
“I don’t care how hot you are as a chick, by the time you’re 40, you realize that a chunk of the guys are gay … and a chunk are losers living in the basement with big huge guts. Sixty percent are married, and you’ve got a really limited group that you have to play with,” Tedesco said. “And that group has figured it out, because the accountant with the comb-over wearing the leisure suit now has an attitude.”
By Phillip Thompson
Posted February 23 2006, 9:44 AM EST