When 45-year-old Andi met her husband, Dave — who’s eight years her junior — he was “immature and had no idea what he wanted in life.” “He was a live wire with no life goals,” she reflects, “no real understanding of responsibility, and he lived day-to-day.” Shortly after the Nashville-based pair got engaged, they bought a home — Dave’s first mortgage — and, from there, everything seemed to fall in place for him. “He was promoted from an hourly position to a salary management role,” explains Andi, “and within the first two years [of our marriage], he was CIO of the company. He admits that if we hadn’t met and married, he’d have continued the invincible mentality of partying and zero life planning.”
Although there’s just eight years between them, Andi believes that their age gap played a big role in Dave’s newfound determination to get his act together, so to speak. “I feel like Dave and a few other younger men I’ve been involved with are looking for maternal direction, and that’s coupled with sexual satisfaction.”
Andi and Dave are in an open relationship, and when Andi — a self-proclaimed cougar who’s been dating younger men since her early 30s — dates outside of their marriage, she tends to choose cubs (her biggest age gap has been 12 years). “I like younger men because they’re trainable,” she tells me, “meaning they haven’t been ruined by bad sex yet. I like their stamina and desire — they’re so anxious to please, and so in awe of older women.”
As well as being a cougar in her private life, Andi has cubs online — specifically, 285,000 of them. Well, kinda — these “cubs” are actually her TikTok followers (and, probably, also her OnlyFans subscribers). She’s part of a burgeoning trend on the platform, which sees cougars offer tips on how to bag an older woman, post thirst-trap videos and show off their sexy cougar lifestyles. Some coupled-up cougars and cubs are also taking the opportunity to share what age-gap relationships have taught them, with many reflecting on how the cub has evolved during the pair’s time together. Some even offer more ostentatious claims about how much the cougar has transformed the cub’s life — a common theme appears to be women giving houseless men “a chance,” “cleaning” them up, buying them gifts and marrying or entering into committed relationships with them.
Men being interested in older women is nothing new. Just look at porn: “MILF” and “mom” are two of only three terms that have consistently topped Pornhub’s search lists for the past seven years. Recent studies suggest that straight men are particularly attracted to so-called MILFs or cougars because of the dominant role they supposedly play in sex. When it comes to the romance side of things, though, there’s less scientific pontification to draw from. Psychology Today suggests that younger men might feel more of a sense of “relational equality” with older women, while anecdotally, via Today, some young men have said they’re attracted to older women’s “sharp intellect,” self-assurance and “confident attitude.”
Nonetheless, many cougar-cub partnerships appear to be reporting (even if just via TikTok) that the relationship is helping the cub grow into a big, strong lion. Xiau-Ling, 30, and Max, 24, are one of the couples who’ve recently started making cougar-related content on TikTok. The pair, who live in L.A., have been together for nine months and have an age gap of six years (which, according to wikiHow — the definitive guide to relationships — isn’t quite enough for the relationship to be considered cougar-cub, but Xiau-Ling still considers herself one anyway). Since they started dating — and moved in together seven months ago — Max says he can tell that he’s “grown emotionally, become more connected with my [feelings] and better at communication.”
When I ask Xiau-Ling whether she feels like she’s invigorated this growth — whether consciously or unconsciously — she tells me, “I’d say I’ve encouraged it by sharing and practicing what I’ve learned from my past serious relationship. Because of this, I’m definitely more patient compared to when I was in a relationship in my early-mid 20s.” But, she adds, she’s “only willing to be patient with Max because he learns fast and puts in the effort,” adding that she “wouldn’t want to waste [her] time on a younger guy who has little experience if he doesn’t keep up.”
Andi feels she’s made more of a conscious effort with her cubs’ growth encouragement through “open discussions about future goals and current [life and job] status.” She also thinks the sexual experience of older women galvanizes younger men to improve, not just sexually, but in all aspects of their lives. “They’re eager to learn what impresses me,” explains Andi, “and they want to achieve it. And because the sex blows their minds, they tend to become very attached and infatuated quickly.”
Still, the benefits aren’t only for the cubs. “Both an older woman and younger man get ‘fed’ emotionally and sexually in this dynamic,” says Andi. “I’m more patient and willing to teach a younger man because you can’t blame them for not knowing anything, right? And they treat me with respect — almost like royalty. There’s a fine line between an attraction to the maternal element, coupled with a very strong sexual attraction. It may seem a bit Freudian, but I can’t determine a better way to explain it.”
However, it seems this dynamic doesn’t necessarily work unless both parties are willing to commit to it. Fifty-one-year-old Patsy — who’s known on TikTok as Hella Cougar — first “started noticing” younger men in her late 30s, but didn’t start dating them exclusively until four years ago (so far, the biggest age gap she’s had in a cougar-cub relationship is 25 years). But unlike Andi and Xiau-Ling, who’ve entered into proper relationships with their cubs, Patsy has kept her encounters casual so she doesn’t “have to caretake or entertain.” Because of this, she hasn’t seen much growth in them, nor the desire to grow.
“Due to the prevalence of porn and the fetishization of older women and the stereotypes we see in media and film — like Stifler’s mom in American Pie — younger men often come to older women with a certain expectation that that’s how it is in real life. They expect sex to be a certain way, and they expect to be taught — but only about their own pleasure. (I incorrectly assumed going into this that they would want to learn about how to please women.) Often older women are a bucket list item — a one and done.”
Nevertheless, Patsy does think these cubs are more willing to open up to older women — whether consciously or not. “Often I become an emotional support cougar for life’s ups and downs and a cheerleader in pursuing their dreams,” she says. “[Even with one-night-stands], many have come back and said they really appreciated having real, substantive conversation — something they don’t always get with women their own age. I also get feedback online from time to time where my advice has made a difference in a young man’s life. One of the missions of my brand is to encourage a better, more healthy generation of younger men — and I think older women can hold a sense of possibility for them, serving as an example of how to live or not live a life.”
Max believes it goes both ways — that cubs aren’t necessarily changing because of their cougar, but rather that “older women are attracted to younger men who already want to better themselves.”
Of course, all of this isn’t to say that people in same-age relationships can’t encourage growth in one another — nor that younger people can’t motivate older people to better themselves. But there does seem to be something about cougars that inspires men to grow the hell up. And that can only be a good thing.