After a divorce and subsequent breakup with a boyfriend of eight years, Tamara Gilman was as surprised as anyone to find herself dating a man 22 years younger than herself."It sort of happened before I realized," said the 47-year-old mother of two.
"I wasn't looking and I never set out to date a younger man."Gilman may not fit the stereotype of a cougar -- a woman in her late 30s to early 50s seeking younger men -- but some experts in the field of dating and romance say Gilman may be more the norm than the exception.
Kim Preston, owner of Preston's Boutique in Sarasota, says that is her experience."I get hit on all the time by younger men," said Preston, 42.
Though she tends to date men closer to her own age, she finds it "cute and sweet" to have so many young men interested in her.
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The bar, he admits, attracts a much smaller number of 20-something men."We've only been open six months and it's the off-season, so we're still finding out who the crowd is," he said.
A cougar, one Web site founder says, is simply a "strong, sexy, proud to be over-40, financially independent woman who refuses to be defined by the age of the man they choose to be with."Linda Franklin, creator of and author of the book "Don't Ever Call Me Ma'am, the Real Cougar Woman Handbook," said most women labeled cougars are being pursued by younger men, not the other way around."I've interviewed a lot of young guys and they love older women for various and sundry reasons," she said.
It's not that the region has a reputation as a hot spot for cougars, but because the show was dreamed up by Riverview High School graduate Kevin Biegel, who developed the show with "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence. "There are lots of divorced women or widows who are out there looking," said one waitress at a Hillview Street restaurant.
In Sarasota, the women may be found at more upscale restaurants and bars, such as Hyde Park Steak House, Ceviche, Libby's Cafe & Bar, and New York, New York, or the Beach Club on Siesta Key.
People hardly blink when they see an older man with a younger woman or the trophy wife."Society is just starting to give women permission to do this," Nigro said, expressing hope about how "Cougar Town" will portray such women."I love Courteney Cox, and if anybody can get it right, she can.