I was Youtube surfing when an 80s playlist came up with an Amrita Singh song. It made me want to read, listen, watch and know more about her relationship with Saif Ali Khan. And why not? I am an older woman who was in a committed (and what I thought for awhile, was loving) relationship with a younger man. I was an established professional in a field that he had just entered awhile earlier. And I had already achieved the things one tends to want and moved on to something else. These are the kind of things people usually wonder about when it comes to a relationship of this sort.
I’m finding this episode of Rendezvous with Simi Garewal rather interesting. It was shot in 1999, right in the middle of their relationship.
Amrita and Saif both talk about the concerns (expressed by everyone else) on Saif getting married at 21. Saif says,
“If you’re looking for reasons to stay in a relationship, there are a thousand. If you’re looking for reasons to get out of one, there are a thousand.”
That really struck a chord. I know my Mr.Everyday really, really did not want to fall in love, did not want a relationship and did not want to get married. But it happened. I didn’t push it, I truly didn’t. I was the one to say, let’s take some time to think about it. He was the one to suggest getting engaged if we were together in a year, the one to say let’s do this, the one to propose. At the worst of times between when we discussed marriage with our families and the time he actually proposed (eight months later), I held back my fears, my feelings because I thought he needed time. And I wanted to be sure that it came from him. Not out of ego but because I knew there was ample space for the relationship to turn into a bitter war of “You dragged me into this, you coerced me, you pushed me into commitment before I was ready.” He was the younger one after all and the man. These are things one comes to expect from men, from younger people and well, I recognized those behaviors from my own in my earlier years.
I wrote last week about missing respect in my recent relationships and realising that from meeting one man with whom I’ve had a happy, mutually respectful relationship. I’ve been told often that I get stuck in the past and that I refuse to move on. Maybe that’s true. But I am also realising that I’m the kind of person who needs to process and live through every drop of what happens, especially things as deep as relationships, in order to move on. Maybe the reason my relationship with that first boyfriend is so peaceful is because we acknowledged that there was affection (still is) and that there were differences and that it was best we transitioned from the relationship label we had (boyfriend-girlfriend) to a new one.
I think I keep boomeranging between extreme venom and tenderness towards Mr.Everyday because everything is unresolved. I know we had issues and the magnitude of many of them is overwhelming. But I have no real idea why it ended when it ended and how it ended. We have also not been able to have an adult resolution by which I mean, accepting that there was love and fondness once and it isn’t anymore. All I’m left with is a lot of ugly question marks.
Question marks can be ugly when they’re leering at you saying ‘He never really loved you’, ‘It was all just a joke to him’, ‘You suck; you’re a horrible person and men will always treat you that way’. Resolutions are important precisely because they give you and the other person the space, freedom and ability to lay those doubts to rest and move on. Else, there is just an endless echo chamber in your head which is always going to reflect back the nastiest memories and most brutal things you said and did to each other.
I learned recently that he is back in town and the thought hit me with absolute panic. Why? He is not a stalker. I do not want to be with him anymore so I can’t put it down to that nervous feeling of being near someone I haven’t gotten over. But I really don’t know how to behave when he’s around. Act normal? What is normal? I’ve smiled like a lovestruck idiot at him. I’ve thrown things across the room at him. I’ve argued politics, film, books and life with him. I’ve discussed grocery bills, medical expenses and maid problems with him. I’ve made love to him and I’ve fallen asleep next to him, before him, after him. I’ve cleaned him up and mopped up his puke after a drunken night (and he’s done the same for me). I’ve yelled and said and written angry things about him and to him. There is a staggering range of what constitutes ‘normal’ between us. Where is our new normal?
I don’t know and I am not able to find a satisfactory answer to that on my own. A healthy resolution really, really needs both people for it to happen. And this relationship, as with a number of other messy ones in the earlier past, has me left holding the baby. Only it’s an ugly, dead baby that neither of us wants and it died because neither of us wanted it. I just wish he’d do me the courtesy of giving it a proper burial. Ugly or otherwise, we created that together and it deserves a funeral.
This is something the boy called me on my second date and laughed when I frowned. Awhile ago, it popped up again in a conversation and sparked off a wave of laughter. I glared. He grinned and said,
“But the cougar is a beautiful animal!”
No, the man just did not get it.
Here are some of the descriptions I found of the word, on Urban Dictionary:
“A 35+ year old female who is on the “hunt” for a much younger, energetic, willing-to-do-anything male. The cougar can frequently be seen in a padded bra, cleavage exposed, propped up against a swanky bar waiting, watching, calculating; gearing up to sink her claws into an innocent young and strapping buck who happens to cross her path.”
“An older woman who is past her prime & who is attracted to younger men, often as an act of desperation or as a last resort.”
“A Cougar is a female, usually between thirty and fifty years-old, who enjoys the sexual company of younger men. Cougars are only usually interested in men under the age of twenty-five. Also, Cougars are non-committal, choosing to move from mate to mate without ever settling down. It is not uncommon for the same Cougar to attack (sleep with) many different men in the same group of friends.”
I struggle with labels and for one single reason – because they rarely evolve as human descriptions should and often stay limited to the associations that they started with. This is also why I’ve never liked most popular descriptions of men for women, notably one that reminds me of a fluffy, yellow-feathered bird.
A cougar describes an older woman and one who it is acceptable to see as a sex object. This much is actually fine and inoffensive. But overlaid on that are perceptions of desperation, of cheap behaviour, of non-committedness and a generally predatory aura. While some of those may seem appealing within an erotic fantasy, no one (man or woman) wants to be described in those terms.
There is an almost tangible movement in popular culture today, pushing the idea of an independent woman acquiring male attention from the always most attractive age group – the 20s. That prototype has existed for years (think Hugh Hefner surrounded by nubile bunny-eared beauties). This is no more than a female version of the same archetype and it’s not pushing sex or freedom, it’s about power.
As a recipient of all the benefits of women’s liberation and empowerment, I enjoy financial independence, the virtue of fabulousness, the heady high of choices and control over my own body. My only problem with this, is that it’s cold when it gets into the realm of relationships. I don’t like the idea of treating human beings, male or female as acquisitions or status symbols. Whether men have been doing it for decades or not doesn’t change things. I can’t see how a relationship that is about exchanging power for money/fame can have anything to do with love, trust or any of those things that make a relationship great.
To come back, that’s why the description of cougar stings. If the original thought be true, it shouldn’t matter what
gender a person is, for them to be appealing to a large number of the opposite sex (younger or otherwise). It’s not an age no-bar situation. Age and experience have after all molded one into a person of confidence, ease, polish and independence. Attraction is flattering when it happens because I’m me, not because I fit the current fashionable norm of appealing. So yes, ask me my age by all means. But don’t call me a cougar.
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