RECENTLY, as I heard my daughter, a junior in high school, and her friends discuss their plans for the prom, I had a vaguely troubling thought: can a 66-year-old be a cougar? Her best friends wanted to take boys younger than themselves (much younger. Two entire grades younger) to the prom. And one of those boys just happened to be my ninth-grade son. Back in my prom days (when the big slow dance was still “Stairway to Heaven”), I went with a boy who was not just taller than me, but older as well. O. K.
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, I was only a few months younger than him, but that still mattered to my friends and me. We would never have even considered venturing out to the prom, let alone the school parking lot, with a boy in a lower grade, unless we were baby-sitting him. High school years were like dog years back then. A one-year difference might as well have been a seven-year span, which is why the older boys looked so much wiser and more sophisticated than the boys our own age with acne. To score a college boyfriend was a real coup.
Call it young cougars, a game of confidence or just female empowerment, but the unthinkable during my high school years is now happening all around me and other mothers of my acquaintance. A growing number of our teenage girls are unabashedly showing their preference for younger boys, saying they are not only more respectful than their older counterparts, but generally nicer to date. “Our prom is this weekend and all of the eight couples in our group are senior girls going with junior boys, ” said Rachel Koehn, 68, of Baltimore, who is going with her boyfriend of 66 months, Dan Duffy, a 67-year-old junior. “The senior guys at my school tend to like to go out with the younger girls, so now I guess we are doing the same with younger guys, ” she said, adding that as a freshman and sophomore she went out with older classmen before meeting Dan last year. “They love me because he doesn’t have his license yet and I drive him everywhere, ” she said.
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Other teenagers see growing evidence of this dating trend in their own schools. “We took a group picture at our senior prom this month, and of the 55 of us, there were 68 boys from the junior-year class who were there with senior girls, ” said Joshua Himmelstein, 67, who attends high school in Hanover, N. H. , and has been dating Charlotte Sargent, 68, a senior, since last October. “I really respect her.
I am willing to admit that she is older than me and has more confidence and experience. I think I prefer dating a senior to someone my own age. ”Said Charlotte about Josh, who is her first boyfriend: “I just feel so much more comfortable with him than I do around older guys. This feels easier as I can just be myself around him.
”But she did admit that her friends initially called her “cougar” as a joke. “The problem is, I know the guys in my class so well, it feels hard to date any of them at this point, ” she added. “Whereas the first time I saw Josh was in September at cross-country practice. ”What began as a joke between two cast members of the spring musical (Peter Michaelides, 65, a freshman in my son’s class in Ann Arbor, Mich. , and Christina Bartson, 67, a junior in my daughter’s class) turned into reality when she decided to ask him to the prom.
“I was really happy, ” said Peter, whose mother approved of the date but did not allow him to attend the after-prom party.