Zipporah Irungu*, a 41-year-old marketing executive in Nakuru, has everything going for her: she is sassy, ambitious and financially independent.
She is also a hunter, and the weekend provides the perfect hunting opportunities – not for clients or business deals, but for energetic young men.
“I do not find anything wrong with it,” she says.
However, Zippy – as she is popularly known – has not always been a cougar. “I never dated a man younger than me until one and a half years ago. I used to have a partner who was my age. He was a good man but, unfortunately, he was extremely lousy in bed. I tried many times to re-ignite the spark but things never improved.”
Then one of her friends introduced her to the world of younger men.
“At first, I was reluctant. I did not want to be called a sugar mummy or to be associated with that kind of relationship. But then I craved deeper and more fulfilling intimacy and I began to cave in.”
Her friend arranged for a rendezvous for her and a week later, on a Friday evening in April 2010, Zippy hooked up with her first young catch.
“It was as though I discovered something that I had not experienced before. Afterwards, my partner found out about my sexual excursions and we broke up. Though I might miss his care and tenderness, I feel compensated by what I have going on in my love life.”
In the 18 months since then, Zippy has dated five men, all of whom have been younger than she is.
“Whenever I go out, I subconsciously find myself looking for someone young and full of energy. Every single outing is like an adventure that I’d previously denied myself,” she says with a chuckle.
“Unfortunately, to get what I want, I mostly have to go against the social grain and visit places like clubs that I would otherwise not visit.”
Zipporah’s story echoes the perceptions of many of today’s young women regarding cougars. The Saturday Magazine spoke to a few young women between the ages of 18 and 25 to ask them their opinion on cougars like Zipporah, and they believe that these relationships are all about a deliberate, pre-meditated sex-in-exchange-for-money arrangement, and that love does not feature anywhere.
But cougars beg to differ. Florence Mwatela*, a 40-year-old financial analyst, says that cougars do not always get young men on purpose:
“You don’t choose to be a cougar. Being older, intelligent, smart and aware of what you want, you will sometimes find yourself falling for someone who’s younger than yourself. You hope that things will work out, and when they don’t, you get all the labels and judgments.”
Florence is in a four-month-old relationship with a man 10 years her junior.
Nancy Nduta, a counselling psychologist based in Nakuru, says the cougar stereotype has everything to do with perception.
“The image most people have of a cougar is that of an extremely rich, lonely and overweight woman. But today’s women are healthy, fit and able to take care of their bodies better than before.”
Zipporah says she would rather live with the labels than live an unhappy and unfulfilling sex life: “Some years ago, women stayed with men out of necessity. Things have since changed, and today’s woman is able to find ways of fulfilling her desires.”
Cougars do not hop from one young man to another intentionally. Fridah Aluoch, a 38-year-old banker, has dated three young men unsuccessfully; her young lovers leave her when the grass becomes greener on the other side of the cougars’ fence.
“Sometimes, the relationship will end not because of your wrongdoing, but because it has been undermined by other cougars,” she says. Asked if her choice of younger partners is deliberate, she says “yes”!
“It’s always a deliberate choice. In fact, it is dishonest of a cougar to say that she does not choose her younger partners deliberately. I for one cannot stand the baggage that comes with dating men older than me. I have dated older men before, but right now, the last thing I need is a father figure for a partner.”
Nonetheless, Fridah says that the reasons why a cougar will pursue a younger man vary from one woman to the other.
“There are those who do it for sexual pleasure, but I don’t think that sex by itself is a premise on which a long-term attachment can be founded,” she says. “There are others who do it to boost their egos, too.”
Zipporah agrees, saying that the fact that a cougar is able to date a younger man goes a long way in enhancing her ego. “An older woman will deliberately date a younger man only because he makes her feel desirable.
If she breaks up with one, then she will look for another who will continue to do the same.”
“No woman wants to kangaroo from one man to the other,” says 43-year-old Isella Adhiambo. She adds that unfortunately, nobody will understand this, and instead people will view a cougar as a woman who takes advantage of naive young men.
Toy boy experience
According to Isella, an investment consultant, there’s more than just the cougar-toy boy experience. “At the end of the day, what you are looking for is a healthy companionship without the concern about age.”
She explains that age never came up in her discussions with her young boyfriend.
“A cougar does not have her age stamped on her forehead. In my case, we only mentioned it at the point where we were ready to date. He was 12 years younger but we discussed it and agreed that we could work with it.”
Six months on, Isella says she has the most wonderful and loving relationship she could dream of.
“Just because I am older, richer and single is not a reason enough to disqualify me from dating anyone, younger or older.”
- Names have been changed