How Is a Puma Compared to a Cougar in Regards to Dating?

Couple hugging in backyard garden
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A puma is more than a sleek feline predator. It's also a slang term for a woman's dating life and, more specifically, the age of the partner she seeks. However, there are two conflicting definitions of a puma (as the term refers to women) and the word appears to have different meanings in the U.S. and the U.K. as it continues to change and evolve over time.

Meaning of Puma in the United States 

In the United States, a puma is regarded as a cougar minus ten years; she is defined as a woman in her 30s who prefers dating younger men. Hollywood celebrity Jennifer Aniston has long been associated with the term due to her relationships with younger men, most notably John Mayer (nine years younger).

Demi Moore, in an interview with W magazine in March 2010 (at age 47), expressed her displeasure with the cougar label and said, "I'd prefer to be called a puma," referring to her (now defunct) marriage to Ashton Kutcher who is 16 years younger than Moore.

Despite Moore's attempt to use the terms interchangeably, a puma is widely regarded as a woman under 40 who prefers younger men while the cougar label is applied to women in their 40s and 50s who seek out younger male companions who are at least 10 years younger and often half their age.

While May-December heterosexual romances are par for the course, there is often a double standard when it comes to women dating younger men, even when those women are just in their 30s. For example, actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler caught a lot of public flak when she announced her engagement. Sigler was 31 and her beau was 23.

Meaning of Puma in the United Kingdom

In Great Britain, journalist Hanna Betts describes a puma as "a single woman in pursuit of a mature partner with experience under his belt." An example is PR executive Amanda Sheppard, who at 29 years old ensnared aging pop singer Bryan Ferry, 66.

This new definition of puma seems to have surfaced with the release of a study in February 2012 -- commissioned by UK matchmaking service The Picnic Project -- on what women want in a man. According to The Picnic Project, "These 'Pumas' -- so called because they're interested in dating previously married and attractive men -- hail a new trend in women seeking experience over youth."

The idea that divorced men who have lived, loved and lost will treat their potential mates with more sensitivity, care, and understanding than younger men appears to have caught on in the UK; the Daily Mail Online, drawing from The Picnic Project's findings, concludes "more than half a million women would rather date a mature divorced man than someone younger than them. And 48,000 single British women are actively seeking men with a failed marriage behind them."

The Daily Mail cites Paul McCartney’s third wife Nancy Shevell as a puma. Shevell is 17 years younger than the former Beatle.

While the image of the puma as a single woman interested in an older, experienced and possibly divorced man seems to be growing in the UK, there is no evidence that this new meaning is embraced or even recognized in the U.S. Yet, the picture of a young, nubile woman dating a seasoned man is far from uncommon.

Bottom Line

Society continues to put labels on what women desire -- whether referring to older or younger partners. But, ultimately, women continue to push back on old taboos and seek out the romantic partners of whatever age they want.

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