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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An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com