Cougars, older women who date younger men, on the rise, but can true love survive a large age gap?
High-profile couples such as French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte are proof the older woman/younger man couple can work, but they remain a rarity in Hong Kong and Asia – unlike sugar daddies
You are guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows in Hong Kong if there is a significant age gap between you and your partner.
It is not just the age difference that makes people curious; many are sceptical that two people with so many years between them can have anything in common. The popular assumption is that the relationship is based on purely material gains.
Most people’s perception is that the older partner is more settled and financially well-off, and therefore spoils their younger lover with gifts as a way to keep them happy and sustain the relationship.
But the phenomenon is becoming more commonplace. Besides your typical sugar daddies, there is a rising trend of mature women in their 40s to 60s going out with men who are at least 10 years their junior. These women are popularly known as cougars.
The numbers of cougars are growing as many modern career women, who spent their prime years focusing on their jobs and neglecting their romantic life, start looking for serious love. Some might have had marriages or long-term relationships ruined by that same career-focused mentality and are now pursuing a second chance in love.
Jacqueline Chia is managing partner and co-founder of Meet Mozaic, a matchmaking service for mature Hong Kong residents. She says age should not be an issue in any relationship as long as both parties are happy and fulfilled.
“In the world today there are many kinds of relationships and as long as the people engaging in the relationship are happy, why not?” she says. “Everyone has different needs.”
Chia says that couples with more than a 20-year age gap have a 95 per cent chance of divorce. She agrees that many people’s first impression is that the younger partner is probably material- or money-driven, but a number of high-profile examples of these types of relationships show there is often more to them.
“We can use French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte, or movie star Hugh Jackman and his partner Deborra-Lee Furness, as examples of stable long-term relationships with cougars. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas are another prime example of a relationship with a significant age gap. These appear to be long-term, loving relationships and have stood the test of time, so it clearly can work both ways successfully,” Chia says.
She warns, however, that there are pros and cons in these kinds of relationships.
The negative aspects include dealing with the social stigma, difficulty in socialising with partner’s friends due to the age gap, a lack of common interests, different personal histories and experiences, financial discrepancies, and different career paths and status.
Another negative factor is family aspirations not being in sync, as the younger partner may wish to start a family while the older one may already have one and not wish to have more children. The older partner may also be quite controlling and feel as though they are in the driver’s seat of the relationship, Chia says.
Positive elements include having an older, more experienced individual, who is likely to be more financially stable and is able to mentor their younger partner and share life and business experiences with them.
Chia adds that there is another plus to consider. “The older person may be more relaxed and stable emotionally, and therefore able to accept and adjust to challenges in the relationship. The older person knows what they want in life and the younger person brings youth, vibrancy and vitality to it. Some people would argue that young women are more mature than their male counterparts in the same age groups and so make a perfect match for an older man.”
Carol DeCandido, who co-founded Meet Mozaic with Chia, says the cougar trend seems to be more socially acceptable in the 21st century. “More people divorce nowadays and may choose a younger partner for their second relationship.”
She explains, though, that this acceptance varies depends on the community or culture. “The concept of the ‘cougar’ is taboo in many non-Western countries. Some older women in these countries are embarrassed to date after being divorced or widowed as they don’t consider it socially appropriate. They feel they could embarrass their family members and friends. ‘Sugar daddies’, however, seem to be more accepted worldwide.”
This underlying bias is noticeable in Hong Kong and Asia.
“The sugar daddy relationship is acceptable in Hong Kong and Asia in general, in terms of the wealthy older gentleman dating a younger attractive woman,” DeCandido says. “It seems a relatively common phenomenon, especially in high-profile wealthy circles. The idea or desire for a trophy wife, girlfriend or mistress is prevalent. Many young, beautiful women are also happy to engage in this type of relationship.
“On the contrary, the cougar relationship may be less socially acceptable and definitely may open the woman up to gossip and social commentary, and intense scrutiny by her peer group.”
DeCandido gives some pointers on identifying the signs that a significantly younger partner is genuinely into you.
“Ask yourself: do you have a common bond? Can you spend intimate time together without having to provide perks like an expensive dinner, expensive gifts, new handbag or trip abroad? Are they happy just getting takeaway and watching Netflix at home? Think of something that doesn’t involve spending money, like a walk in the park or cooking dinner at home; have you done any of these things together?
“Are they genuinely interested in your life? Do they remember things you’ve shared with them in the past? Do they initiate romantic gestures? If you don’t feel that they have this level of interest in you, they probably are not genuine. And you know what to do next.”
Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post