Q&A: Claudia Opdenkelder, Founder, "Cougar Life" Dating Service
It had to happen: now there's a cougar dating site. Cougar Life is for "Women in their PRIME: independent, sexy and wildly successfull" who "enjoy men that are youthful" -- and, of course, for those youthful men who like the idea. It's the brainchild of Claudia Opdenkelder, 39 years old (she told us, we didn't ask), who also runs Canadian promo firm Professional Promotions, has modeled, and as a devoted dater of younger men (she was once connected with a Backstreet Boy) won a Ms. Cougar radio competition in 2006, which got her thinking about starting this unique service.
We were naturally curious, and questioned Opdenkelder about the service, the way people use the word "cougar," and how she hopes to change that.
How's the site going?
Going fantastic! We have over 200,000 members already and the site launched in February.
Yikes. How has word spread?
We have the commercial on ESPN, on Ellen, on Sirius Radio on the Howard Stern Show -- I'm actually doing his show on December 16 -- so we're getting a lot of exposure from that, as well as all the media.
There are a lot of people who find "cougar" an offensive term. It seems you've taken the "ownership" route with it.
We're trying to reinvent it, revamp it if you will, and make it an easier term to embrace than what the old-school term used to mean. Whoever invented it -- I'm sure it was boys! -- they had the connotation that it was older women in their 80s trawling the bars. We're trying to take that thought away from everybody and make it about a 35-and-older, sophisticated, successful woman who knows what she wants, knows how to get it, doesn't need a man to get it for her, and enjoys the company of a younger man.
To be honest, I haven't had any negative response at all,. And I have quite a few cougar girlfriends who are on Cougar Life who are now successfully dating cubs, so to speak. I've always dated younger men.... I started Cougar Life because I had so many friends in their 30s say to me, "Where are you finding all these loving amazing relationships with these amazing guys?"...
Because I'm revamping the word, I think people are embracing it. We're saying, "It's a fun word. Don't get so upset by it, everything in the world has labels on it, why not make it light, make it fun, make it something we can be cute about instead of being so serious?"
People do have fun with it, but not always in a good way. We recall some months back, Katie Couric was seen to be interested in a younger man, and the New York Post ran a "Katie Cougar" story and a graphic of her head on the body of a cougar, leaping as if after prey.
Because it was something that was created so long ago, it's tough to revamp something that people have stuck in their heads about cougars as animals out for prey. We are not technically on the prowl. I can see how there's be a "cougar effect," because the women are so strong and they're often the first to approach, That may be why people seeing it as preying. But they take it above and beyond, they poke fun of it, just like they do with anything else. They always poke fun of something that's different. Older men have been dating younger women for eons and no one bats an eye at it. But with what's going on in the Hollywood scene -- Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston-- we accept it and hope they'll stop poking fun of it.
Are you dating a younger man now?
I'm actually living with my 25 year old boyfriend, and have been for a year and a half. He models and he owns a landscaping company. I'm 39. We're 14 years difference. I've never dated someone my own age.
What was your first relationship?
My first relationship was with my high school boyfriend. He was two years younger than me
That's a start.
[laughing] Yes! I went from two years' difference to 14!
Good for you. What was the first relationship where people noticed a disparity in your and your boyfriend's ages?
Nobody's ever really noticed, I guess because I look a lot younger than my age and have this zest for life, huge energy, and I take care of myself. I think women are more and more taking care of themselves, and know better how to stay young and vibrant.... I don't think that people really notice.
That begs the question of why we need a cougar dating service. For you and others, it isn't really an issue for the people who are involved. You just meet somebody and you happen to be of different ages...