by L. G. O’Connor
The first time I’d ever heard the word “cougar” was well over a decade ago. My best friend was gushing over a fabulous meal she and her husband had had at an upscale restaurant I’d wanted to try, when her husband walked by and interrupted, “the bar was crawling with cougars.” His unflattering tone gave me a hint that whatever it meant wasn’t good as images of prowling zoo animals crept through my mind. My uncomprehending stare prompted him to roll his eyes and blurt, “You know…older, divorced women in their 40’s on the hunt for single, young guys.”
Unflattering? And then some. I’ve hated the term ever since then. As a mid-30’s single woman at the time, not only was I offended on their behalf, but it sent a shiver of fear down my spine. Rather than a romantic choice, it was presented as a shameful act of desperation by mercenary, sex-starved women…or at least that’s how her husband made it sound. It prompted me to wonder if my own appeal was slowly wearing thin and carrying an expiration date tied to my 40th birthday. Then what? Did life stop? What happened once I turned 50? Would I be forced to trade in my sexy shoes for orthopedic flats?
When I was in my late 20’s, someone said to me, “You’ll know you’re old when young men call you ma’am and no longer find you attractive.” What they didn’t tell me was I’d still feel like I was in my late 20’s as I aged. Granted, I’ve given up miniskirts for good reason, but I don’t feel a ton different. Still, I don’t think anything prepares us for the extra pounds and lines that appear on our faces and deepen as we age – married or not.
Speaking from some experience, it’s not like our need for love and romance disappears as we pass over the threshold into our 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and beyond, yet, women are judged more harshly on appearance than men of the same age. And yes, that opens a whole well of insecurities about our continued desirability. For me, those insecurities were always amplified in relationships where I’d had a younger partner.
With over twenty years of dating experience under my belt, I met my husband when I was almost 40. My first thought the night we met was: “Oh my God, he’s probably too young for me.” On our first date, I was afraid that when he found out I was pushing the Big 4-0, he might want to find someone younger who wanted children. As irony would have it, we both harbored the same fear. It turned out that he’s the older one…by four months. When I think back, I’ve struggled with these issues as far back as my early 30’s when I dated a man who was ten years younger. The cultural divide between us felt enormous. It was fun while it lasted, but we were just in two different places in our lives. We maintained a friendship for several years until his life took him and his live-in girlfriend out of New York City.
One morning (way post-40), I woke up and thought, “Is this it? Has it happened?” If I were single, would a younger man look at me with interest, or would he dismiss me as too old? (Discounting financial motivation, of course!) Not that I’d want to date someone a lot younger, but I wouldn’t mind if he were hot and sexy (just sayin’!)
Those feelings were the impetus behind CAUGHT UP IN RAINE, my May – December romance between a 40’s romance writer and a troubled 20’s landscaper/bartender working his way through college, who she drafts into being the cover model on her next book. I wanted to write a story, giving my heroine an almost unexpected second chance at love with a much younger man who proves to be her perfect match. Tapping into those insecurities I mentioned earlier, and throwing in the societal biases heaped on top of a woman in that position, formed the core of the story. But I challenge those biases by demonstrating age is just a number.
We all dream of love. That doesn’t end. It may change, but it doesn’t end. Adding in the severe lack of heroines over 40 in romance, I wanted to not only fill that gap, but to do it with a sense of defiance and hope that doesn’t play into the cougar stereotype. Jillian isn’t looking for Raine—he happens to her. Their lives intersect and together they heal and find the love they deserve. That’s my kind of happy ever after…
I still believe dreams can come true, and there are men like Raine. Whatever you’re age, if you’re looking, may you be lucky enough to find one.
L.G. O’Connor is a member of the Romance Writers of America. A corporate strategy and marketing executive for a Fortune 250 company, she is the author of the urban fantasy / paranormal romance series, The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles, and debut romantic women’s fiction novel, Caught Up in RAINE, which launched April 18, 2016. CUIR, set in suburban New Jersey, is the first book in her Caught Up in Love trilogy which follows three women on their road to redemption and their second chance at love. Raine MacDonald, her hero from CUIR, appears monthly on Joyce Lamb’s USA Today Happy Ever After blog where he shares his favorite recipes in the column Recipes from Raine’s Roost (aka Jillian’s Kitchen). A native Jersey Girl, she lives a life of adventure, navigating her way through dog toys and soccer balls in Central New Jersey. When she’s feeling particularly brave–she enters the kitchen. lgoconnor.com.
As an avid book lover, she enjoys connecting with readers.
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“This story is both beautiful and haunting…I loved every second of this sexy, sweet and romantic book!!!” ~ The Romance Reviews, Top Pick, 5 stars
“For all the contemporary romance fans out there, this book is for you.” ~ Night Owl Reviews