The Cougar

Holly Stewart ’11 and Grant Jessup ’13 are dating. And yes, those are different graduation years attached to their names.

Graphic by Chiara Pucci ’12

Among a minority of Staples upperclassmen girls, Stewart is a self–proclaimed “cougar.” By definition, the slang term “cougar” refers to heterosexual women who prefer their male partners to be of a younger age.

But in the high school setting, this term is more loosely applied to girls who date, or even “prey on,” boys in younger grade levels.

And it seems that as of late, this trend has been increasingly on the rise.

“She came onto me at a concert,” Jessup said, with an infectious smile, of his girlfriend of three months. “At first, I was intimidated, but then I got to know her.”

Jessup clarified in saying that he no longer felt an age barrier after he discovered her youthful love of Disney Channel – and her insistence on playing with his dog when they hung out.

Stewart agrees that she doesn’t think of him by his grade. “In 10 years, no one would think of it any weirder,” she said. “Age is but a number.”

Still, the two agree that they are occasionally hassled by immature kids in both of their grades. For her, it is often senior boys who taunt her for dating an underclassman; for him, many of his friends will refer to him as “whipped.”

Stewart said that her mother was confused at first, too.

“She thought I was desperate,” Stewart said. But her confusion might not have been mixed with shock, as elder sister Amanda Stewart ’10 is also dating a younger boy.

Even though Amanda Stewart is now away at college, she has remained in a relationship with the current Staples senior who she has been seeing since the fall of 2008.

“I don’t really think about the grade difference; it doesn’t really affect us,” Amanda Stewart said. “It was kind of hard at the beginning, dating someone a year younger, because both of our friend groups would have separate plans.”

Contrary to her younger sister and her boyfriend, Amanda Stewart insists that other high school students rarely frown upon this practice.

“I don’t think there is much of a stigma about older girls dating younger boys,” she said. “I know so many girls who have had some sort of relationship with a younger man.”

It seems that many other students agree that “cougar dating” poses no problem in the high school world.

“I think that girls date older guys all the time, so why isn’t it acceptable the other way around?” Chloe Baker ’13 said.

Whitney Andrews ’11 agrees. “I think it’s fine,” she said. “You like who you like, and if he happens to be two years younger, that’s hot.”

Matt Lev ’12 expressed similar sentiments, concluding that if a relationship works on both ends, it’s simply “fine.”

Another senior girl who has relationship experience with younger boys is Alexa Senia ’11. “He was really immature and naïve,” she said, admitting that as a junior last year, she was incompatible with her then-sophomore boyfriend.

“His friends were like, ‘Oh my god, you’re dating an older chick, that’s like, hot.’ It was mostly physical for his friends, whereas mine cared about my feelings,” Senia said.

But she acknowledges that not all relationships with younger boys are similarly doomed.

“Sometimes age is a factor and they really need to grow up, but in my experience, some [younger] boys have been more mature,” Senia said.

For Lucy Stanley ’11, she also factors in her young age when considering the possibility of having a relationship with a younger boy. “I’m supposed to be a junior, so I guess that wouldn’t be so weird [to date a junior], but I couldn’t picture dating any of the sophomores,” Stanley said.

In fact, Holly Stewart and Jessup were apt to point out that due to his early birthday, they are only a little over a year apart in age. Senia also pointed out that the age difference is not always apparent in regards to physicality.

“If you’re only a year apart, it can sometimes even look like you’re the same age,” Senia said.

After a nudge from his girlfriend, Jessup was also reminded that by pure coincidence, his favorite animal happens to be a cougar.

He struggled to explain his affinity for this species, but he was able to point out a few comparatives between his real–life cougar and his furry friend.

“I guess they’re both fierce,” Jessup said. And with the same infectious smile, he added that they both also bite and jokingly pointing to his neck region. “I’ve had a couple marks myself.”