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At first take Cougar: A Guide For Older Women Dating Younger Men seems frivolous and perhaps even sexist. Do we, in this enlightened age, even need to spend time thinking about such things? Haven't we passed the era when an older woman with a younger man will attract shocked comments and glances? According to Valerie Gibson, the relationships columnist for The Toronto Sun, and a self-acknowledged pioneer cougar, we have not.

Gibson feels that, beyond the fun of Cougar, her book is about empowering women of a certain age to keep reaching for the brass ring and that reaching 35 -- or 45, 55, 65 or more -- doesn't mean you should give up your sexuality, your vibrancy or your ability to have fun. Though "empowerment," Gibson insists, is not the right word. "That sounds almost as though it's some kind of crushing thing, which it isn't. It's about doing something in life, even if people condemn you for it or are against it. But if you feel it's right for you, you should do it."

Gibson could be the poster girl for her book. At 62, and with five marriages behind her, The Toronto Sun's relationship columnist exudes a frank and friendly sexuality that she is, if anything, quite proud of. "I'm a pioneer cougar, really," she laughs. "Because I'm quite a bit older than that age group. I tend to say I'm an older cougar teaching younger cougars the tricks."

 

Linda Richards: When I saw the title of your book I laughed and I thought it was fun, but the term "cougar" hasn't always been meant in such flattering terms.

Valerie Gibson: In the old days they weren't known as cougars and [were] never nicely known. People were very condemning. That woman, people would say. Or: scarlet woman. Slut.

There's certainly a lengthy history for cougarism.

Well, for older women having relationships with younger men, oh yes. It goes back in history. But it was hidden. Always, always hidden. Never came out, if that's the word, for someone to say: Yes, I'm having a relationship with a younger man and I want everyone to know. No one would do that. No woman. Because of the severe condemnation. Now a man, absolutely. [Laughs] Put it up in lights: I'm dating 20 years younger, aren't I clever and everybody would applaud and celebrate that. And, really, it's exactly the same relationship. Exactly the same. Older man, younger woman and younger man, older woman. There is no difference, except one thing: babies. Procreation and so on. An older woman does not usually want children; she's probably got a couple. Two or three maybe or whatever. Doesn't want to do it again and may not even want marriage.

But is there still such a stigma attached?

Yes, there is. It's nowhere near as bad. I wrote a book 10 years ago on a similar subject and you'd think I'd written something about incest. In fact there are more books out on incest -- can you believe that? -- than there is on this subject: older women dating younger men. I find that horrifying because this is two single people enjoying each other, enjoying an alternative relationship, as they're known today -- and yet they're condemned for it.

This whole book is geared towards boosting older women's self-esteem. I really get very angry that older women are sort of told that they're not valuable. They're not desirable. They're not wanted. Young, young, young. Youth, youth, youth. Beauty. They haven't got what the modern world takes in order to be valuable to society. That's absolute crap and absolute rubbish. They are valuable and older women today go into their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s looking fantastic. And feeling good and fit. Working -- some of us -- work forever. [Laughs]

You know, it's not a question that as you age you're of less value. In my opinion you're of more value and I try and tell women that. They have everything: they have experience, they have knowledge, sophistication, they've learned so much, sexual skills particularly, when it comes to younger men. These are important things and they're misused by society [when women are] told they're not valuable. Also they're told that older people don't have sex or are not supposed to have sex. I think this is, again, rubbish. Older people have sex. [Laughs] And they enjoy it [perhaps] more than younger people, because they know so much more. They've learned so much more: what they want, what other people want. The older they get, it doesn't die. This is another thing older women are told: Oh, when you get to a certain age you'll hit this and -- bang! -- it's all over. I have women say to me: Oh, when I get to that age I won't want sex anymore, will I? And I say: Excuse me, I hate to burst your bubble [Laughs] but I can tell you for sure that it goes rolling on.

Now it should be pointed out that, for men, that's not always the case. And I guess that's one of the arguments for younger men.

This is true. Mid-life can have health problems. You can have health problems when you're young, too. But you can go through mid-life and have some health problems. And men have that, which was why Viagra was so well received. [Laughs] Because they don't want to have that die on them, if you'll pardon the expression. They don't want to be non-sexual. And neither do women.

Most older men, if they're single at mid-life, are dating younger. Or they're married. And so the field of relationships narrows right down. If she finds herself single, she hasn't got the field there. Why not look further and have further dating options in different age groups? Men have done it and do it all the time. They don't often look in their own age group although I've seen that happening more. So older women are coming to the conclusion: if it works for them, it works for us. So they look younger too and say: That suits me.

I think the cougars often are much more youthful than their age group. They are very vital and very active and very sensual and they tend to have groups of friends that are younger and their minds work better with younger. I find for my age group [the men are] all too set in their ways, they're not up-to-date, they're not with it, you know, they're not willing to try new things. Their attitudes are very stale and they're often jaded by life. They may have three or four children, two ex-wives and all that and -- just like the older men who turn around and see the women in that situation sometimes -- we say: That's not quite what I want. I want someone who is optimistic, full of life, got loads of stamina, very interested in sex, certainly non-jaded and looking forward to the future with optimism, which a lot of older people do not do. Cougars do. Cougars are very vital women often in careers. They may have their own companies or something: just very vital and aware and got an attitude, if you like.

Are you a cougar?

I'm a pioneer cougar, really. [Laughs] Because I'm quite a bit older than that age group. I tend to say I'm an older cougar teaching younger cougars the tricks. [Laughs] I actually pioneered -- not the name or anything, I didn't do that -- but sort of the whole concept of it. I was right in there a long time ago and thought it was the greatest. I thought: Wow! All these younger men were wanting to date me -- it's the other way around, by the way. Even though this is a fun book with this idea that the women are predatory, it's always the young men that chase the older women. The whole idea is that this book, basically, offers options to older women, I think.

Don't you think though that, for either gender, it's difficult to form a strong bond with someone a lot older or younger than you, because you do share life experience?

You're talking about a generation gap. But you see whereas a lot of people see that as a detriment, I see it as a positive. I really think it's wonderful. I love the generation gap because you get the best of both worlds. The older woman learns from the younger man a helluva lot about what's happening in his world, which could be quite different from hers. It could be very techie, it could be music, it could be anything. But she keeps really young listening and learning from him. He sees her as an exotic world of already great experience and she's so interesting and fascinating that he gets a whole lot from that and he deosn't have to put up with a lot of added things young men find when they date young women. Like, of course, the first time they go to bed: Well, when are we going to pick out the china pattern? [Laughs] And: How would you like to meet my parents? They want a commitment. They want something settled. These cougars don't. They already know where they're at and what they want.

How old is a cougar?

Late 30s to 50s, yes. It depends very much on their style; their attitude. It's all relative; if they're dating younger they tend to feel that that is what they're called. Whereas it might have started out as a bit of a derogatory term, it isn't at all. I think the women like it: they love that kind of sleek, animal, predatory, in control of their life kind of image: I'm in control of all of this. I think they like the name now.

They are generally very well dressed, very well put together and fit. It's a different lifestyle from the old days when they were encouraged -- older women -- to get to a certain point and then knit booties for their grandkids: Just disappear, please. Particularly the baby boomers are not going to disappear. They want what they want and they're moving everything from health to attitudes to sexuality and they're saying: Excuse me, this is me. I'm strong, independent and I've got my own money.

And there are strong role models now, as well. Madonna, Kim Basinger, Goldie Hawn...

Now there's a good example. And that's a long-term relationship: [Kurt Russell] is 15 years younger than her. My last husband -- my fifth husband -- was 14 years younger and it was a great relationship. I thought it was wonderful. It didn't break up for anything to do with sexuality or my age or anything. His job took him to New York and I couldn't go and we tried long distance. It doesn't work. And, in fact, the relationship between an older woman and a younger man breaks up generally at her behest because she decides. She says: Look, it's time you maybe had a family or whatever. And they say: No, no, no. Because they get terribly besotted with their older women and want to stay with them forever but there is that whole thing of babies and family and the mid-life crisis of the young man, maybe. [Laughs] Or whatever.

It always irritates me when people say: You know, she's going to get older and saggy and... I say: Excuse me, aren't we all aging at the same time? The young man is aging too. And that is not what this is about. Because, as you know, when you get into a relationship with someone and you adore them or the sex is fabulous or whatever it is, you're not looking and saying: Oh, but look at the damn wrinkles! It's not how it works. Sex doesn't work like that. Good sex and great relationships are not anything to do with looks in the end. It may start out that way, but it's all to do with a lot of other complex factors.

Three words: Camilla Parker Bowles.

Absolutely! There you are. And look at the whole condemnation of society on that. All right, I know about Diana and [Camilla] was the mistress and all of that, but even if it wasn't like that, they would still condemn her because they feel she looks like the back of a bus and she's old and why can't he have a nice [girl] like Diana? Have many of these people stopped to think: Well how come this man has had a 27-year relationship -- or more -- with this woman and he's so besotted with her? Well, she knows exactly what to do and what makes him happy. He's not looking at her and saying: Oh God, you look like that back of a bus! [Laughs]

You see, that illustrates my point exactly. When people get into relationships, especially young men when they have great sex -- or any man when he has great sex -- they're not thinking about whether or not she's got a stretch mark, they don't think about that. They're just: Oh! That was great! When are we going to have it again? [Laughs] It's an understanding of what sexuality is. Sexuality is not looks and it's not body, it's all a way of being. How you match up: compatibility and how much you like each other and get along. It doesn't matter what age group you are.

Cougars often have their own money. They're independent. They've got their own bank accounts, cars, condos, you name it: they're doing OK. All of the things that, in the old days, young women married for. That you got together and pooled your resources or he had more money, well, they've got it. They don't need someone for their money. So they find with young men who haven't got a lot of money -- they haven't reached the peak of their careers yet -- that some people say: He's just after your money. And I say: Do you think these women have worked so hard and come so far just to throw it away because some guy walks in? It doesn't work that way. She may buy him a few things, she may even consider paying for a trip or something, but they're not that stupid.

Women aren't stupid and that's another part of the whole thing: women do not get less intelligent as they get older. In fact they get more intelligent -- they learn more and so on. But there's always society saying: Well, you know, she's not acting her age, she's looking foolish, she's being taken for her money. I resent it bitterly because they don't do the same to men. They don't put down older men in the same situation. Now if a woman is, let's say 60, and is very, very wealthy and gets a young man everyone is extremely condemning about that. They just feel it's disgusting. I've had that said: That's disgusting. Why is it disgusting? And I think: Get your head together!

But the cougar, what she offers, generally, is a lot of fun. A good time.

Does she ever lie about her age?

Oh, every woman lies about her age. [Laughs]

No!

Well, OK. Let's say you were single and let's say you were 41 or something. Would you immediately say: I'm 41? No, you don't. You may lead up to it at some point. He might say: Well, you look 33. And you'd say: Well, no. I'm a little bit older than that. [Laughs]

Men, particularly of older ages, have never liked the idea of older women being in control. To be honest, this is what it's really all about. The whole of society resents women -- especially older women -- who have a lot of control. That they have control of their sexual lives, particularly, is a real taboo. You're supposed to give up and have a man take care of you or whatever. No, no, no, no: it doesn't work like that anymore. It may have had to work like that. History is full of women having to do certain things to survive, to have a roof over their heads, to be looked after, whatever. But that doesn't fit now. Women now know what to do to look after themselves. And they want some pleasure.

What kind of reaction have you had from readers?

Actually the reaction to the book has been younger men. Overwhelmingly younger men all want to know: Where can I meet these cougars? I want to meet a cougar! [Laughs] You've got to understand really that, for a lot of men, and I'm not saying young or old, their first experience -- a lot of older men have told me -- was with an older woman. And when you talk to an older man -- if they're not antagonistic towards you -- they would say: Oh my first time was with this older woman and it was so wonderful. And they hold this as sort of a dream for all of their life: Oh, she taught me everything I know. They'll wax lyrical! And then a lot of young men get into puberty and say: Oh, wouldn't I love an experienced woman to teach me everything and just enjoy her. That Mrs. Robinson bit, if you like. And they dream of it. Of having this lovely, sexy woman all over them like a rash. And so it's sort of a hidden thing, in a way, in men's lives. But they do love that whole idea of being taken.

I think the whole concept of it is really how to deal with people or situations that are difficult. In other words, how to deal with society's view of it and how they deal with you when you're out there fully promoting it, I guess. One of the major things is: How to meet his mother. You might be the same age. [Laughs] very tough! I say try and avoid it.

How long have you been in Canada?

27 years now. Long time. And I still think of England as home. Just one of those things: the British are like that.

Where are you from?

Southampton in England. I've lived all over Europe and I ended up in the Channel Islands, just off the North coast of France, and from there came to Canada. And, boy: was that culture shock!

Did you come with a husband?

No. I came for a man. [Laughs] He was in Canada and I was there and I came over to be with him. It was a wild decision because I didn't know him very well. However...

That was 1974?

That's right. It seems a very long time ago.

Were you a journalist there, as well?

Oh yes. All my life I've been a journalist. Well, mind you I was a professional scuba diver for six years. That was second husband: number two. I was an Avon sales representative for three years. I was a swimsuit model once. These were all in between while I was moving countries. I've done a lot. I was an interior designer for a while. And always writing, even as a scuba diver I used to write for scuba magazines. I was the first British woman to become a professional scuba diver in the world. No, actually that's not true. Valerie Taylor in Australia was the other one. They didn't allow women into the whole thing [then]. And even when I went for my job as a journalist I was told they wouldn't hire me because they didn't hire women. It was as simple as that: Go find a profession that was more suited to women.

Where were you first hired as a journalist?

Southampton. My paper was called The Southampton Evening Echo and then was changed to The Southampton Daily Echo. And they just said: No, it's a man's profession. And I said: Why?

But I did get in, with a lot of persuading. The lowest of the lowest of the low, what was known as a copy boy. There were no copy girls. [Laughs] I started very low on the scale. And finally they let me write up dog shows and baby shows and funerals, you know. There was no college things in those days: you couldn't go to college or university for journalism, you learned on the job. So it became sort of a long-term situation: you had to climb your way up.

When was that?

That would be 1956, something like that.

How old are you?

Sixty-two. And I don't feel it, at all. I don't even think about age. That's why when they say: Are you a cougar? I'm kind of out of the age group, but still cougaring.

You're now at the Toronto Sun and your beat is relationships?

Sex and relationships, yeah. It was the first newspaper column in Canada to do sex and relationships by a woman. In fact, I don't think any paper had ever allowed anything other than Ann Landers' advice. and I wrote very much from a personal point of view: Experience. Very honest. Used all the right names for things. Which shook up my editor-in-chief horribly at the time.

When did you start doing that?

I'm just trying to remember. Because my book came out, the old one [Younger Men: How to Find Them, Date Them, Mate Them & Marry Them] had been out for a while. I was fashion editor at The Sun for 12 years and my editor-in-chief said to me: What are you doing writing fashion? You should be writing this stuff, this is what we want. And I did. It's been great, it's been wonderful. Until recently there were really only three women sex columnists in the whole of North America. There was myself, one in Playboy, I believe and in Details, maybe. Now there are a few more.

Dr. Ruth...

Not the kind I do. Dr. Ruth is kind of done from a doctor's point of view. She doesn't write from experience, let me tell you. [Laughs] At all. And I always laugh because they really don't know. They give good advice, they're very good. But they really don't know what it's like to be out there getting involved in affairs or even being in a situation where they have to think about that or make choices in dating.

And you've been married five times so you know all about that.

And always loads of affairs. I got into a lot of trouble -- an awful lot of trouble. I gave all my husbands all the money. [Laughs] All the houses, the cars, they could keep them and I just leave and move on. Which has not been wise and that is not the North American way! [Laughs]

Do you have any children?

Yes, I have one. She's retarded. She's 41. I would have liked a lot of children. But I didn't. I must say, it's a weird thing -- and it's really just how it works out -- but I never date or have married any man with children. I guess I always thought that: You're not great with children. It is an awful lot of problems as a lot of the letters I get are from people struggling with divorces and broken relationships where there's children and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and anger, bitterness and all that. Kind of sad, really. People get so angry, so bitter that they can't see the reality or the light or be kind or anything.

I get a ton of mail. It's very popular; the column. It's also on the Canoe Web site so I get letters from all over the world. And once a month I do a chatroom thing on sex and relationships. But I find that sex and relationship advice [has] changed a lot. People today find they want to relate to [a columnist who is] real. They want reality. They want someone who understands what they're going through. I mean really understands. Hasn't read it in a chapter that says: After Divorce Emotions. Have they been through that and felt the angers themselves? Have they been approached by a young man absolutely determined to get you into bed? Have they been in a threesome at some point in their wild life? Whatever it was, have they tried it? And the answer was no: they're doing everything from books. People today say: Well, they don't know the stresses, the pressures and how different it is to be dating now or being out there in the relationship world. And it's no good giving a stock answer: What you're doing is wrong, therefore you should do this.

Dating now: is it different?

Oh yeah.

I know it's not always true, but I'm real big on the commonalties of humans and general human experience. And our experiences seem to change a great deal, but often don't very much at all. Historically, our emotional selves are essentially always the same, I think.

Well, relationships don't change. The basics of relationships do not change. Humans don't change: they want to be cherished, they want to be loved. They want a relationship that works and is happy. And they want to be together with someone. That never will change, that's human beings. But the basics of getting there: oh heavens! Have they ever changed.

How have they changed?

Well, I think that what's changed is that -- possibly -- women want more out of a relationship. They're not prepared anymore to marry someone just to be secure or just take anybody because they're a certain age or they're not pretty or this or that. They have a list and they say: Why can't I have all those good things?

The men, everybody is caught up on the movies and everything, they all want a gorgeous gal that looks like this and that even though they may not in a million years be able to do that. In other words, the expectation level has upped enormously due to indoctrination, if you like, by media in my opinion. And also the problem is they expect it to happen like that [she snaps her fingers]. This is an instant society, they want instant gratification, they meet you and say: There's no chemistry. Chemistry may not be there then, but it may be there on the third date. It takes time. And the other thing is, a lot of it is visual: Well, she's not my type. Or he's not my type. But what is your type? Well, she'll say: Mel Gibson. [Laughs] Well, hello: you're not going to be able to date Mel Gibson. But whatever it is, they've got this expectation level and men are confused: What do women want? Because women can be very tough now: They have their list and their demands and if they don't get it they'll pretty well say: Well, I'm not going to date then, I'm not going to have a relationship. Men want certain things, but they want a relationship: a life relationship.

Then you've got the whole thing, well like condoms. In the old days nobody used condoms. Now there's the etiquette of condoms: when to get them and what to do. Past sexual histories: people worry about that. There's a lot of added things now. Added pressures onto a relationship. And, again, if it's not perfect pretty well right away, people just give up. I [get] that all the time. They say: I'd rather not bother. I'd rather be with myself and my cat. [Laughs] And how sad that is. Everybody needs somebody. And ... sometimes it's the most unlikely person that is the perfect person for you.

One could argue that, five marriages in, you would seem to be an unlikely advocate for relationships.

Oh yes, because I've had a lot of them. [Laughs] But yes, some people say to me: Well, what would you know about marriage because you hop in and out of them? And I say: I know an awful lot about marriage because I've been in so many of them. And I know a lot about people and relationships because I went out there and did it. Which would you rather have: someone who'd been married to one person for 50 years having never ever dated telling you how to go about your dating life or whatever?

Yeah: My life's been pretty wild. [Laughs] Very enjoyable in many ways. And very tough. I've had a very tough life as well. I've learned a lot from it and I intend to give compassionate advice based on the knowledge that I remember when I did this and it went wrong. And you could try this: It might go wrong, but I know what it's like. I really do know what it's like.

But marriage: I guess I'm not good at it. I'm a bad wife. I'm a rotten wife.

Actually it does sound like it, I must say.

But I tend to love rather passionately. I get very passionate about things and maybe it burns down. Or what happens, like in a lot of relationships, I grow into something else and I move into a different era but they don't. When I look back on my five husbands -- or four [of the five] anyway, for sure -- they're all still in the same spot I left them in. Whereas I've long [since] moved on into at least three more careers or whatever. I'm always developing: not necessarily growing, but developing into something else and trying something else. And that is, I think, one of the things about older women and younger men: It's not just older women. It's vital older women. Older women who are full of life are the ones that attract younger men. They're intelligent and they really have that essence of vitality about them. And I think that's what it is that draws. It doesn't just draw younger men. I mean, I get asked out on dates by older men, mid-life men and really older men.

I'm sure some of our readers would want to know: Where are you meeting all these guys?

I get asked that all the time, but I never have a problem. Mainly because I like men. I really like men. I mean, I married five of them. And I think, going back to what you said about dating, I think that is a problem these days. I'm not sure that a lot of young women really like men. They want something from men: they have a list. They want a home or they want a family or they want some money or they want a lifestyle. The thing is, I like being with them. I love them. I love being with men. I love their conversation and I love their little macho ways and I just love all that. I just enjoy them.

Today, I think, [young] women don't like men: they like their girlfriends better. They'd rather be with their girlfriends. It's easier, it's not so stressful, they don't have to be this, that or the other. They can say anything they want, they don't have to play games. And men and relationships -- or getting relationships -- is a lot of work. It always has been: it's never been any different.

Do your attitudes strain your relationships with other women?

No, not at all. Funnily enough, and I don't know why it is, but I have as many women friends and fans as I do men, because I like women too. My last boyfriend used to ponder that and say: Women like you. And he'd be surprised: They shouldn't because you like men too much, you go out there spouting this, that and the other. But I get along really well with women. I like women. I think that's it, isn't it? It's really that communication. I can spend an evening with a man I have no intention of dating and this is something young women haven't learned. That you can [spend time] with a man you have no intention of having a relationship with or dating and have a lovely, lovely evening.

Can men and women just be friends?

It's difficult. That is a big question: I've written columns on it... Is there underlying sexuality always in a male/female relationship? Well, I say there is. Always. But it may never go over that boundary. Because friendship is an asexual thing: it's neither male nor female. And I think friendship is a very pure thing. You can have a great friendship with a girlfriend and you can have a great friendship with a male but with a male sometimes at some point there is something. There are some that say: No, we've never thought about sex. But I'll bet the guy has at some point.

And going back to what you said about dating today: I think women today are definitely moving more into girlfriend friendships. That is huge. And men say to me: Well, they're out in their group, how the heck do I get to meet anyone? I've told these women when they write and say: Well, I go out with my friends and we never meet guys. Hello? Go out with one friend or go out on your own and you'll meet whoever you like because they won't go into a group. Anymore than a woman will walk up to a group of men and say: I like you. So it's not difficult to meet men, they're everywhere!

But readers want to know. You said you meet guys all the time who want to date you: where do you meet them? At work? At the Laundromat? Shopping?

Yeah work. Bars. Shopping. Supermarkets. I've had guys ask me: How do you cook zucchini? Sometimes women run the other way. But I'll tell him my best recipe, while looking him up and down. [Laughs] You know, if you like men, you meet them. They're everywhere. You smile at them. They might look at you and think: What the hell does she want? [Laughs] Why is she smiling at me? There's so much fear and confusion in the relationship world. I get four or five marriage proposals a week.

You don't!

On e-mail. Not out and about, for God's sake! [Laughs] But they all have this concept of me. And they're everything from 25 to 85. I'm already in a situation that is pretty beneficial if you're thinking along those lines, but even before I did this job, I never had a problem meeting men. I was always outgoing, I think that's the thing. And I was never afraid to go up and talk to a guy who was on his own and even years ago I would ring the guy and say: How are you doing? One of [the things I hear most in letters] is from guys who fear being rejected and they hate rejection. And I say: That's dating. Dating includes rejection at every level, every age group no matter how beautiful you are. I just read somewhere that Brad Pitt got dumped by his first girlfriend. People don't understand that at all and, for her, obviously, that relationship didn't work. And what a smart girl: she didn't just keep going because he was so handsome, she just said: It's not right for me. And moved on to someone else.

Meeting people is a matter of personality and wanting to meet people. And not expecting all of them to turn into the great relationship. Everybody is looking for the one great relationship. Well, obviously, I wasn't. [Laughs] But they were all great. They were all nice people, lovely men, really. It just didn't work because... well, in my day you see that's what you did: You married. My father wouldn't let me move out of the house at all unless I was married. I had to almost basically get married to get out of the house. Only prostitutes lived in apartments or had careers or whatever.

When was your first marriage?

I was 18.

You married to get out of the house?

Well, yeah, but I was madly in love, too. He was everything the magazines said: six foot tall and handsome and a sweet person. The fact that he was bisexual has got nothing to do with it. [Laughs] He was a lovely man. And that was the father of my daughter. And the other ones, we should have lived together. You can now: you can co-habit and nobody bothers about it. But then: My God! There was one husband, it was the second, I think, his parents said either we married or they cut him out of the will. And they were quite wealthy and he was quite worried so we got married. I would have married the first one and I might have married the fifth one. We did cohabit for six years before we married but... I might have married him. And I would have had two marriages, just like everybody else. [Laughs] Instead of all those.

Are you in a relationship now?

Actually I'm dating. I'm dating two or three nice guys of all age groups.

And if they've got any sense they won't marry you, because you're a bad wife. [Laughs]

Yes! [Laughs] I don't encourage it. I don't want to get married. No, no, no. I've done my bit for marriage and the wedding cake business and all, I've done my bit. I don't want to be married. What I want now is someone who is supportive and can live with a media gal like myself. It's tough. I'm out there on TV and doing many things and a lot of guys get competitive about that. I've found that in life. That's why I like young men, actually. One of the reasons: they don't give a damn that you earn more money than they do. They really don't. They just celebrate it and say: Hey, well done! The older men always say: What? She's earning more money than me. And they get all affronted as though you've done something against them. They're competitive. In fact my fourth husband was just like that: Very competitive. And you can't have that, not [in] my life style. And the younger men are very supportive. My fifth husband was wonderful. He was so supportive. No matter what time of day or night I got back home, it was always: Was it OK? Did you have a good time? It was always great. Young men are like that: They're very confident with themselves. Older men always feel threatened. Social indoctrination or whatever by their mother or society. This is probably why I married so many times: The men I meet loved the vitality, the sexuality, the fun, the laughter, the good times, the whole vital thing of life. But the very things that attract men in the first place are the very things that repel them in the end, if they can't control them. Because I find I get married and they say: Well, now you can settle down and you won't be like that anymore, will you? And I'm saying: Hello? I don't change. And I've never changed: I've been the same all my life. And then they go: Oh. But I don't want you to wear a dress down to here because you're showing off to the other men. And he'd say: All these men are looking at you. And I'd think: Oh, I hope so. [Laughs]

Who is this book for?

Well, it's not for all older women. I mean, there's no way that all older women are interested in young men. A lot of older women want an older guy. And why not?

Is your message about female empowerment?

Not totally. That sounds almost as though it's some kind of crushing thing, which it isn't. It's about doing something in life, even if people condemn you for it or are against it. But if you feel it's right for you, you should do it. And not giving up on your sexuality. That's the whole thing. I think older women are crushed easily. The biggest critics I get are women: women are hard on each other. Men aren't. Men celebrate each other. They say: Fred's got himself a little chickypoo. [Laughs] The women tend to condemn and be difficult. The bitchiest comments are always from women about this situation. It's a shame. Why can't we be more supportive of each other? Particularly women who are aging or getting up there or mid-life or whatever. Women who should be given support if they're failing or feeling as though they're failing in self-esteem. And the underlying theme [in the book] is boosting of women's self-esteem and saying: Look, don't give in. Don't say: I'm too old. Never say that. You're never too old for anything. It's all in your head. And don't let anyone else tell you that you shouldn't because you are this age or that age or too old. It doesn't necessarily bring you happiness, but it makes you feel good about yourself and I think that's important. When you get into late life or mid-life, this is an option. That's all. There's always something better; that's how it how I look at it. It all works out eventually and something better comes along.

This is your second book?

Yes. The other one was called The Older Women's Guide to Younger Men but it was 10 years ago and it was much too soon. And it was an entirely different approach. That was very much a low key kind of flippant...

You're flippant in Cougar, as well.

Yes. There's a lot of flippant, but this is more connected. More now. The women of now. They wouldn't relate to the other one. It was different era altogether. It sounds mad: 10 years. But a lot has happened in those 10 years.

Boil it all down for me, Valerie.

You have to give love to get love. It sounds so simple, but it's a very hard thing for a lot of people to get over. They figure they deserve love, they want love, they should have love, why isn't it coming? But they don't quite see -- there's this rejection thing. You have to give it first, then make it kick back at you. If you keep giving it you will eventually hit the target: It'll work. You have to give love in life. You have to. Otherwise you'll never have anything. You'll have money, you'll have yachts or whatever people want but if you don't have love and you don't give love you have nothing. Because when you're lying there dying, your yachts won't help you. [Laughs] But the people who love you will. | February 2002

 

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fifth novel, Death Was in the Picture, is published by St. Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books.