28 Dates Later, by Willard Foxton: Part Ten, the Cougar

In which Willard dates an older woman.

Back when I was starting the blog, I asked friends to email me any strange dating sites they might have seen or been on. Obviously, this was all on Facebook, and a huge list of dubious dating sites presented itself fairly rapidly—especially from my more, erm, alternative friends. I can't even remember the name of the most disturbing one, but it definitely was for people who get turned on by smothering each other in baked beans. But this was suggested by a man who lives year-round in a camper van and has a proudly open relationship. I mean, normal people don't do that sort of thing, do they? 

Thus, I was rather surprised by one very stylish older lady who I once worked with suggesting "Have you thought about CougarDate.co.uk? Lots of the divorced women at Jessamy's playgroup swear by it". She claimed it was a haven for divorced London ladies who lunch—the sort of Sex & the City woman in her late thirties who are looking for younger men for a bit of a fling. Now, I'm hardly the 19 year old Brazilian bartender/model I'm sure most of these ladies are looking for (the site divides you into "Cougars" or "toyboys"), and I'm not really looking for a fling but it seemed worth a roll of the dice. For the research, like.

I'd dated older women before—notably the farmgirl recently—and one of the big issues is always children. Once, in my mid-twenties, I'd dated a woman who had a teenage daughter, and it is weird, having a person with real opinions who you befriended as you date their mum. That particular relationship had a very embarrassing moment where the mum in question asked me to do her doggy style while she watched Pride & Prejudice, which would be bad enough anyway, but then having to talk to the depressingly worldy teenager the morning after was, as you can imagine, excruciating: "I heard Mr.Darcy last night. You got lucky then?"

That said, Samantha is definitely my favourite character in SATC, so I took the plunge. I'll confess I was a little bit sceptical—most Cougar sites I've seen look like fronts for identity theft, or pure sleazy hookup sites. I've always been adamant that this is a dating blog, not a sex blog (I'll leave that to Girl on the Net), so I wasn't really looking for a one-time sex thing. That said, my ex-boss assured me it was full of women just like her, and she's totally a woman I'd love to date, if it wasn't for her sexy handsome husband. So, on the basis of "no-one who wears Laboutins & loves independent film could be wrong" , I fired it up, created a profile, and had a look. 

It's quite unusual, in that it's very location based. You can turn on a map of your local area, and it will show how many "Cougars" are around you at that given time. It's the closest I've seen to a heterosexual version of notorious (and amazing) gay hookup app Grindr. So, I turned on the map. If what my wise ex-boss had told me was true, Chelsea should have been a hot zone. I waited for the map to load, confidently expecting to be disappointed. But oh no. Once the mapping app got going, it lit up like the motion tracker in the film Aliens.

As you can see, there are literally *hundreds* of women using this in Belgravia alone. Now, it was just a matter of finding one who'd go on a date with me, rather than just pin me down & milk me inbetween the nanny leaving and her husband getting home. 

It's very clearly a fairly sex-oriented site—lots of the pictures are overtly sexual, with stockings, suspenders, and low cut tops a particularly common trope. After a morning of looking and messaging, I spotted a lady with a very artful set of profile pictures, where she'd cleverly obscured her face with a variety of large vintage cameras. I dropped her a line complimenting the photography, and we started chatting.

We agreed to meet up down on the London waterfront, at a lovely pub called the Blue Anchor on the Hammersmith waterfront. The weather was unseasonably nice for February, so we sat outside, talked and she smoked. She was very attractive, funny, and very thin indeed. She had white wine, I had cider. We talked about her career—she had a fascinating job in the creative industries, that I can't really talk about as it would identify her all too easily. She had seen a bunch of the documentaries I had made, so I treated her to a couple of tales from the good old BBC days, which had her "laughing until her face hurt".

We talked about previous relationships—she'd read the blog, so asked for the full details on my disastrous previous form, and I filled her in on the details. I asked her how someone as successful & lovely as her had managed to dodge the wedding bullet. She was in her early forties, so well within the bracket of maybe a bad "starter marriage", or a long relationship with a guy who wouldn't commit. You know the sort, the 33 year old "professional saxophone player" who has been with her since she was 23, and has never held down a real job, because "he's an artist, man".

She said no, she'd rarely had relationships over six months long—and that usually the bloke ended it because she didn't want kids. She then said her smug married friends had always been taunting her that she'd change her mind as she got older, and she was enjoying proving them wrong, and watching them get divorced. 

We talked about how the people we'd known at university had aged, got married, had kids, got divorced. I am just entering the phase of the first round of friend's divorces, but my facebook newsfeed if printed out would be pretty much a wedding-baby-wedding-baby montage for about 14 feet. It's got so bad I've recently installed a thing called "Unbaby me" which replaces images of children with images of the Associated Press' best photographs of the day.

This occasionally leads to disasters when I see a friend has posted a photo of a man skydiving into a volcano wreathed with lightning, comment "awesome pic!" and they say "I know! She's just got her third tooth!". The Cougar found this idea hilarious, and I sent her the link to it there and then. We got onto the thin ice territory of why she didn't want kids—she fairly matter-of-factly said she liked the *idea* of children, but thought as someone who'd struggled with anorexia all her life, she'd find it impossible to go through pregnancy. It was something that as a bloke with a healthy (probably too healthy) relationship with food had never occurred to me as a reason not to have kids, but I totally get it.

She really liked me, and we emailed & texted a bit over the next few days. She is a bit put out that I didn't want to "lead her on" and do more romantic dating with her because I want kids. She said something that made me feel very sad, when she said "Good men always want the meat, only dogs get left the bones". We've chatted more since, and agreed that because I wanted kids, and she didn't, it probably wasn't going to work as a romance, but we are on very good terms, and have seen each other since.

She's exactly the sort of woman I could see myself with if I'm single and 50; but, sadly, I'm single and 32. It's just a shame we want different things. What can I say, I'm a sucker for a woman who knows her way around a Leica:)

 

The other type of Cougar. Photograph: Getty Images

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.