My young mate Gaz whipped into the house the other day. "Do you mind if I get changed here?" He was halfway into my bedroom with his bag, clearly in a hurry. "Do you want coffee?" I called through the closed door. "Haven't got time," he yelled back.

Minutes later, he was out the door and on his way.

I had no idea why he needed to get changed at my place but I knew I'd find out next time I caught up with him - and his gorgeous wife.

It was only a little later that I wondered what the neighbours might have thought.

Advertisement

Here I am, a woman closer to 50 than 40, home alone during the day while the husband is at work.

There he was, a fit young thing yet to turn 35, walking into my house and disappearing later in a different set of clothes.

The chaps over the road at the RSA might think I'm a cougar, I thought to myself, snickering at the very idea of it.

The thought of a much younger man doesn't really appeal to me - although I most certainly hope that if I did take up with a toy boy, he'd stay a lot longer than the five minutes Gaz was inside the house.

I read French writer Colette at an impressionable age and she penned a number of short stories about older women being spurned by their (much) younger lovers.

Her stories scared me off thoughtless young men, but if I was to decide to trade in the Irishman for a plaything with chiselled abs, I wouldn't be alone. These days, I could hunt with the pack as the number of cougars prowling New Zealand is on the rise.

A cougar is a woman who pursues men younger than she is and only wants them for, well ... let's just say she's not particularly interested in their minds.

As a general rule of thumb, if you're with a man and your age difference is such that you could have once babysat him or given birth to him, you're a cougar.

Advertisement

Urban legend has it that Canadian men in the 1990s coined the term to describe middle-aged divorcees who would go to bars and take home the young men who were left at the end of the night.

Of course, this is not a recent phenomenon. Older women and younger men have been getting together since the dawn of time.

But in these days of information-gathering and number-crunching, researchers can do studies on just about everything and now cougars have come under the spotlight.

Statistics New Zealand demographer Robert Didham and social researcher Paul Callister have compared relationship statistics from last year's Census with those from three previous Censuses.

They found that in 1986, 3 per cent of 40- and 45-year-old women in heterosexual relationships had a male partner at least five years their junior. But by last year, that number had more than doubled to 7 per cent.

Interestingly, the number of middle-aged men dating much younger women has fallen.

In the 1986 census, 34 per cent of 50-year-old men had a female partner at least five years their junior. By last year, that had fallen to just 27 per cent of men.

The researchers posited that women have a greater ability to earn their own keep now, reducing their need and desire to trade their firm young bodies for financial security.

I don't know that researchers are going to be able to explain the mysteries of why we love who we do. When the attraction is genuine and mutual, ethnicity, gender and age are utterly irrelevant.

But you needn't lock up your sons around me. I've been indelibly scarred by Colette and my old boy will do me.


Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, Monday-Thursday, 8pm-midnight.