In her book, Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, Christiane Northrup, M.D. states the following about menopause: "No other stage of a woman's life has as much potential for understanding and tapping into women's power as this one -- if, that is, a woman is able to negotiate her way through the general cultural negativity that has surrounded menopause for centuries."
There is much to consider here as to the connection between the mind/body/emotional well-being of a menopausal woman and society's ferocious label of women as cougars.
For one thing, many women may not even realize the totality of what is going on within this trifecta of the self (mind/body/emotional well-being). They might think that menopausal symptoms are limited to hot flashes, diminishing bone density, weight gain, and bitchiness. As a result, they aren't able to communicate to their partners the sum of what is truly going on.
Factor in that, generally speaking,the communication gap between the sexes remains a Grand Canyonesque chasm and that a vast majority of men and women equate menopause with old, and it is easy to see how misunderstandings and preconceptions prevail. Plus, let's not forget the ways in which we are conditioned by the media and by human weakness to focus on and be consumed by the negative. But that's a topic to growl about another day. For now let's focus on positivity and understanding the connection between menopause and cougardom.
There is much more going on during the perimenopausal/menopausal phase than the myriad of symptoms mentioned above. To paraphrase Dr. Northrop, this is the time when a woman focuses on recreating her life to accomodate the values and dreams that she put on hold during the nurturing years. During menopause, a woman "is more apt to tell the truth than ever before . . . and less apt to make excuses for others. Many women quest for peace of mind against a background of turmoil and change . . .and explore new facets of their identity." We begin to answer the creative call within ourselves in any number of ways: we change jobs or begin a new career, go back to school, write (!), take voice, dance, or acting lessons, learn crafts and make jewelry, pottery, afghans, quilts, etc., actively speak out for social justice, run for office - you get the picture. This newfound freedom to take care of ourselves and our needs often leads to self-acceptance and a shedding of inhibitions, thereby freeing us to explore and experience new heights of both our sexuality and our creative expressions. Dr. Joan Borysenko calls these years a "midlife metamorphosis."
These years are not a preclude to the winter of a woman's life, but rather, a second spring to the latter half of her lifespan. This is something to celebrate, not to fear. Men struggling in relationships with menopausal women may want to shift their perspectives and view this stage of women's lives as a positive thing. It is when we, as women, come into our personal power (at least, the baby boomer women of my generation do. Younger generations of women may or may not be as strongly attached to the stigma of the male/female voice and the gender roles that dominated the 20th century).
We finally know who we are, what's truly important for our well-being, and how we can find balance in serving ourselves while we continue to serve others. Consequently, women feel rejuvinated and excited about their futures. If their partners don't go with the flow (ironic timing for that phrase, isn't it?), their relationships will often be in danger. The cougar's prowess to achieve self-fulfillment is now maximally heightened and she will abandon her den if she must. But usually, this will occur only when her mate does not appreciate or understand that she would rather venture into newfound freedoms of expression without abandoning her den so that she and her mate can venture on this journey together. If her mate is unwilling to accept this empowered female, she will seek acceptance elsewhere.
This may be where the most common label of cougar was born, for many men over 50 are not used to the idea of women being so outspoken, aggressive, self-assured, and independant. Younger men are because gender roles have been substantially modified in the past few decades. Thus, it has become more common for women to seek the company of and partnerships with younger men. It doesn't have to be this way.
The key is for a man in mid-life to recognize that, in a way, his mate is a whole new woman - she is renewed in that she is finally whole - and their relationship can begin anew as well, on a new footing with a stronger foundation, and deeper, more exciting experiences together - in and out of the boudoir. And for those of you men who spot single women in their forties and fifties out there 'on the prowl', don't assume that we are merely looking to hook up with young studs. Many of us are attractive, strong, self-assured, stable women who are just out with the girls, or out seeking mates who are courageous enough to journey with us through our second spring and beyond.