It’s the call of the Wilde.
Despite a nearly decade age gap, Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles — she’s 36 and he’s 27 — recently made headlines for moving in together.
Once seen as desperate women on the prowl, cougars — the term for older women who date younger men, sometimes called cubs — are now considered confident, sexy creatures. And the guys they’re attracted to tend to be progressive and respectful of their life experiences.
They’re also having a cultural moment, joining pandemic-era dating trends such as FaceTime courtship, rapid testing before making out and “Fauci-ing” — the new expression for dumping someone who doesn’t take COVID-19 seriously enough.
On the newest season of TLC’s hit “90 Day Fiancé,” Stephanie, 52, is shacking up with 27-year-old Ryan, from Brazil. Other famous cougar-cub pairings include Kris Jenner, 65, and her beau, Corey Gamble, 40, as well as First Couple of France Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron, who enjoy a 25-year age gap.
“There were quite a few ‘boy toy’ comments at the beginning,” said Jennie Incavido, 41, who met her now-husband, Alejandro, 31, on Bumble three years ago.
The Baltimore-based couple initially struggled with the age difference — she once posted on Reddit, “his love of YouTube and video games annoys me” — before getting hitched in March 2019.
Initially, others didn’t take them “seriously,” said Incavido. “It caused me to question our relationship at times.” But she’s witnessed a recent shift in attitudes.
“I notice that there’s a lot more women who are older than their boyfriends than even a few months ago,” Incavido said.
Experts agree that the time at home has forced singles to confront what they really want out of a relationship, and that means abandoning outdated tropes, like that a dude should be the older one in a partnership.
“I’ve been hearing from my women clients who say, ‘I never realized how lonely I was, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,’ so they’re saying, ‘Carpe diem,’ ” said Dr. Richard Wolman, a Massachusetts-based psychologist who runs a matchmaking service for older adults along with his wife Peggy.
“COVID changed everyone’s thinking from future-oriented to now-oriented,” added Wolman, whose largely female clientele range in age from 35 to 90. In his experience, a five- to seven-year age difference in either direction used to be considered the norm for both genders. But “people are more open now — the old boundaries are off,” he said.
For Wilde and Styles, it’s not so much the nine-year age difference that set tongues wagging, but the fact that Styles represents an appealing younger generation of enlightened guys who respect and revere their partners. Rather than Leonardo DiCaprio fawning over a co-ed model on a yacht, women today lust after a guy who has “humility and grace,” qualities Wilde ascribed to Styles in a Feb. 16 Instagram post.
“Little known fact: most male actors don’t want to play supporting roles in female-led films,” she wrote. “No joke, it is harrrrrd [sic] to find actors who recognize why it might be worth it to allow for a woman to hold the spotlight. Enter: @harrystyles.”
Some women are enjoying a second youth with their younger partners.
“My sexuality had died during my marriage,” said Karen, a high school teacher who declined to give her last name for privacy reasons. “I was married for 20 years, and now let’s just say I’m making up for lost time.”
Karen, 59, is 30 years older than her husband Lucas, 29, an army vet who Karen stressed is financially independent. “I don’t look like Cher, or the French president’s wife. I’m just a normal person, and we have normal jobs.”
The couple, who enjoy camping, traveling and going to bars, got married last September, after meeting a couple years back while fighting wildfires in California.
Of their non-traditional coupling, Karen noted, “We’re far from the only ones.” Still, judgmental comments can be an issue. “One of our friends asked my now-husband, ‘How’s your old lady today?’ which caused quite a stir.”
Incavido, who is also on her second marriage, and has two children from her first, said, “It’s very exciting to be with him — he took me to my first musical festival, and we went to Iceland.” Still, she concedes, “It’s always odd to hang out with his friends. I don’t know the slang they use, so I just sit back and listen.”
The age gap can be apparent, too, when it comes to generational divides. “I talk about life before cell phones, and living through the ’60s and ’70s. We didn’t waste anything,” said Karen.
Her 29-year-old hubby, on the other hand, tends to pick up and put down hobbies with abandon. “First it was beekeeping, then we got cows, and now, we’re starting a sequoia forest in our backyard,” she said.
She also sometimes worries about what the future holds. “We shy away from thinking about when I’m 70 and 80, since he has serious concerns of losing me.” But for now, she’s enjoying the dynamic between her and her younger beau.
“I feel taken care of for the first time in my life, which doesn’t have to do with the age gap, but who we are as people,” said Karen.
She added, “And, of course, the sex is amazing.”