Does a J.D. Turn You Into a Cougar?
October 15, 2010 by Legal Tease
If you’re the kind of person who has eyes, you’ve probably noticed that you can’t throw a vial full of Botox down an airshaft lately without hitting a cougar licking her wounds in an alley down below. Whether it’s the latest crop of is-Ashton-cheating-on-Demi rumors, or this week’s bombshell about Courtney “Cougar Town” Cox’s recent humiliation at the hands of her soon-to-be-ex hubby, Hollywood news has no shortage of commentary about famous cougars. But starlets aren’t the only targets when it comes to cougar conjecture. Even here in Big Law, the hunt for so-called cougars has been steadily on the rise.
In the past six days alone, I’ve heard not one, not two, but three anecdotes from or about lady lawyers and their brushes with cougardom. The ages of the women in question ranged from 41 to—wait for it—25. Not one is married. Not one is dating. Not one is what you might consider on the prowl or overtly sexy. All have law degrees. And they’re certainly not the only single female lawyers on the unwitting receiving end the “cougar” treatment. Everyone from yours truly to, yes, the newest ladies of the SCOTUS bench, that notorious hotbed of sexy-time shenanigans, have been slapped with the cougar card lately—whether earned or not.
Which raises the question: Does having a law degree automatically make you a cougar—regardless of your age or personality? Well, if the guys keeping score in and around Big Law are any indication, it looks like the answer, like it or not, is hell yes.
Let’s take, for example, the conversation I had last Monday night at a downtown dive bar with my writer friend, Linus, a distractingly hot, single, 28-year-old Texas transplant. Linus was telling me about his recent night out with a mutual acquaintance, a white collar litigation lawyer also in her late twenties. Apparently, the sparks were flying from both sides all night but when I asked Linus if he wanted to see her again, he demurred. Why? And I quote:
“I just don’t think I’m up for the cougar thing.”
Cougar thing? Huh? “But didn’t you guys graduate in the same year?” I asked.
“Yeah, but I mean, she seems older.” He rolled his eyes. “Like, she has a secretary. And knows all this shit about trials and shit.”
“That’s probably because she’s a trial lawyer.”
Now he pointed his finger at me—he had just remembered the clincher, apparently. “And she was wearing a really tight suit! Or, like, the bottom part of a suit.”
“Yeah.” He leaned back and folded his arms. Case closed. Cougar.
So, there you have it: According to this enlightening discourse, if you have a legal secretary and wear skirts, you might as well be 78 years old and are probably going to be played by Kim Cattrall in the movie of your life. Assuming Courteney Cox has already thrown herself off the side of a mountain.
Now, this conversation with Linus was obviously, completely absurd—mostly because it actually happened. I would’ve chalked it up to Hot Guy Moron Syndrome if only two iterations of the same conversation hadn’t played themselves out within a week of that one. In the second one, the cougar in question was a 25-year-old IP associate at my firm whose roommate’s waiter-actor boyfriend had generously offered to set her up the night before with a couple of early-twenties-type actors from his restaurant who were “down with bagging cougars.” And the third involved a confession from a hugely successful 41-year old in-house lawyer friend of mine that her latest eHarmony date—with an unemployed guy in his late 40s—ended with the smiling reassurance from the guy “not to worry” because he’s “actually really into cougars.”
Shockingly, neither woman found the guys’ professed cougar tolerances particularly galvanizing. Probably because neither of them considered themselves to be cougars. Perhaps it’s because they, like me, always assumed that “cougar” was nothing but a relative age categorization. A woman was in cougar territory if she was dating, or looking to date, a guy at least, say, 7 or so years younger than she was. And she probably had to be at least 35 to even be considered for cougardom in the first place. It didn’t matter if she was a lawyer, or an actress or a homeless person. “Cougar” just meant “older”—or, more to the point, “old.”
But now, all bets seem to be off when it comes to categorizing cougars. If Linus and his ilk are any indication, the cougar brand isn’t just about age anymore. It comes with a little more baggage this time. Could it be that “cougar” is the new code for “successful woman”? Or is “cougar” really just a euphemism for “sugar mama”? Or maybe it just means “a sexy woman who knows what she wants”—which is to say, a sexy woman? At the very least, if being a cougar is more about being assertive or “together” than being merely “older,” well, then, sorry lady JDs out there, but you’ve already got one foot in the cougar pit, even if you’re only in your early twenties.
After all, would my hot friend Linus have dismissed the lit associate who is the exact same age as he is as a cougar if she, say, worked at the Gap and didn’t have a secretary? Or, if the 25-year-old IP associate was a waitress instead of a lawyer, would her fellow twenty-something waiters still consider her a cougar—a bagging-worthy one, much less? The law degree has to be the tipping point here. How else, for the love of God, could a woman go from “single twenty-something” to “cougar” in the eyes of someone who’s basically the same age as she is? So there you go, ladies: It looks like your law degrees weren’t worn out enough from making your asses look fat; now they’re working overtime to make you honorary old, desperate predators to boot.
If you’re harboring any doubts about the JD-cougar connection, consider my own horrifying indoctrination into the world of accused cougardom—which, like most things that end badly, starts with some ill-advised naked time on the floor of my office with a certifiable lunatic. And only goes downhill from there.
If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you’ve run across my dear old Big Law buddy Ben, who made his indelible mark on my life by co-starring in the liquor-soaked debauchery that played out on the floor of my office a while back, followed by his dispatch of a prize-worthy bouquet of whore flowers to my office, a profession of (semi-) love, and…an offer to be his mistress that ended, as one might expect, with a series of drunken, hysterical voicemails left from his now-wife’s coat closet during a pumpkin-carving party she was throwing with her girlfriends. You know, the usual.
One wrinkle of this charming story that you haven’t heard yet is that during Ben’s final mistress proposal/ breakdown, when I asked him why he thought it better to try to engage me as a mistress rather than, say, end the relationship with the girlfriend whom he clearly couldn’t stand to pursue one with me, this happened:
“It’s just that, it’s just that…I can’t. You…you…you have a different background,” he slurred, closet-bound.
“Yeah, how’s that, Ben?”
“It’s just that I’ve only been with [the girlfriend] and, like, one other person. And and and I mean that’s okay, right??” Borderline sobbing now.
“Sure Ben. It’s great.”
“But you come along and you’re like this big cougar from I don’t know where and you have this amazing apartment and it’s— it’s— it’s not REAL, you know? I can’t. I don’t know.” By now he was fully sobbing. Or maybe his phone just got tangled in a parka in the closet. I couldn’t tell.
I would relay the rest of the conversation, but it just gets stupider from there—if that’s even possible. I only bring it up now because, of the (many) (disturbing) things that stuck with me from that whole Capra-esque slice of my romantic history, Ben’s calling me a cougar stung the most at the time—especially since he wasn’t saying it to be mean; he was just stating a (perceived) fact. But still—a cougar—no, wait, a “big” cougar?? WTF?? I was 27. Ben was 25. How could I be a cougar with those specs? Because I’d “been with” more people than Ben in my lifetime? Because I had a “nice apartment”? It was a slap in the face. I’d dated guys who were a year or two younger than me before; no one had ever accused me of being a “big cougar” then. But then again, I didn’t have a law degree back then.
Of course now, long after the days of the Ben drama, I’ve been called a lot of things that you wouldn’t want to send home in a card to mom—and cougar doesn’t even scratch the top 10. At least I can say that I’m in good company, though. Because if you’re a lady with a law degree, you’re going to be slapped with a lot of labels over the course of your career. Nerd. Bitch. Workaholic. Snob. Prude. Bore. Whore. Downer. Classist. Purist. Narcissist. Some will be mostly false; most will be partly true. And yes, it looks like you can now also add “cougar” to that list, even if you’re barely old enough to drink. Sure, you can try to ignore it, you can try to embrace it, but there’s no use fighting it. At the very least, given the latest crop of connotations attached to it, you might as well consider it a compliment.
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