Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Original "Cougar": Catherine the Great

I'm married to a much younger man. Lalalala.

I'm old enough to be Dave's mother. But if I really was his mother, I would have been one of those irresponsible teenage moms who would leave baby home with grandma all the time, claiming that I was just nipping out for some Pampers and smokes, then not come back home till four o'clock in the morning, drunk.

The thing is, I recently read an article in a back issue of Bust magazine about women of a certain age who call themselves "cougars" cuz they're always on the prowl for fresh young man meat. I kept rolling my eyeballs as I read, which made reading very difficult indeed, as these old birds went on about how they only date young men because they're such studs and how it's so easy and fun to pick them up.

I think the Bust article was supposed to fill readers with sisters-are-doin'-it-for-themselves admiration for cougars, but to me, the women they interviewed came across as supremely dissatisfied, restless and shallow beeyotches. Are we supposed to be happy that women have now commodified love and sexuality the same way that Hugh Hefner does when he gives open-call Playboy auditions for his new girlfriends?

You see, I'm very special and perfect, because when I found Dave I hadn't gone shopping for him. No, I found the love of my life as one should, meeting him when I least expected it then flailing about uncertainly as I tried to figure out what I was getting myself into and why I felt so powerfully attracted to then repulsed by this guy I couldn't get out of my mind.

Anyway, cougars aren't all that new. For centuries, women who've managed to accumulate power and money have gone after young lovers, just as men do. Catherine the Great is a classic case. When her burning passion for her older boyfriend Potemkin died down, he stayed close to the empress by helping her find beautiful young men to play with. And the older Catherine got, the younger her "favorites" got. She would keep them around for a year, have crazy sex, grow bored, retire them with a severance package of jewels, castles and serfs, then move on to the next boy toy. She thought she was in control.

Then, when she was 50, she met 21-year-old Alexander Lanskoi. There was something beautiful, sweet and feminine about him, like a teen idol. And he loved the Empress, really truly loved her. Catherine had grown used to choosing her lovers from among the cynical courtiers and cavalrymen who guarded the palace in Saint Petersburg. But Lanskoi was a pink-cheeked lad from the countryside, a tender young soldier who had gained entry to the palace’s royal guard thanks to his good looks and adoration of his country's ruler.

When Alexander met Catherine in 1779, he was eager to learn from her, loving her private tutorials on art, antiquities and gems. Poorly educated but hungry for knowledge, he read what she read and learned to speak French – badly. Catherine took great pleasure in playing private secretary to Alexander, calling him her General and taking dictation for the letters he wrote in French, correcting his mistakes along the way.

Then, after a year or so, she grew bored and found a new favorite. But unlike his predecessors, instead of just going away, Lanskoi freaked out. He came to her chambers, crying, and demanded to speak her, telling her he couldn't believe that she could just walk away from a love that made them both so happy. Catherine was stunned and powerfully moved by Lanskoi's passion and took her baby back into her arms, loving him another four years until her baby grew ill with diphtheria and died at the age of 26.

"I am submerged in the most acute sorrow and my happiness is no more; I thought that I myself should die from the irreparable loss which I suffered a week ago of my dearest friend," Catherine wrote in a letter to a confidant. "I had hoped that he would become the support of my old age: he studied, he profited, he had all my tastes; this was a young man who I was bringing up, who was grateful, gentle and sincere, who shared my grief when I had any and who rejoiced at my joys; in a word, between my tears, I have the misfortune to tell you that General Lanskoi is no more."

R.I.P. General Lanskoi. May every cougar get her mind blown by her own personal Alexander.


lisanne said...

Hey Ms. and your hubby look alike!!!

Leela said...

My old roommate Seana wrote a song about Catherine the Great. It contained the line "Hoist the horse up, and I will love him".

Definitely, not new. How many dissolute queens are there in the past, playing with beautiful young men? Didn't Gala Dali also have a thing for boys?

Joyce Hanson said...

Gala Dali--oh boy, now there's a bad girl for the ages. First she was married to the Surrealist poet Paul Eluard, but she got bored with him and their daughter, so she dumped them in France and ran off to Spain to live with Salvador Dali. Odd choice. Dali was a self-mutilating, possibly gay, definitely demented sexual freak who feared women. Which may be why Gala managed his career, but when it came time for crazy monkey sex, she went out on the prowl for fresh young man meat, cougar-style.

Anonymous said...

Great story, makes me want to be you, and not Catherine the Mediocre

MS said...

I think it's odd that I have heard women as young as 25 put in the "cougar" category. I have just read your blog for the first time and it was a pleasure. Great idea.

Lisanne said...

hey..i happened to find (lying on the sidewalk)a sweet bio on Ms. Catherine today i started reading it already and it's got me hooked...published in 1925 by Katherine Anthony, she truely was the "original cougar". I kind of hate that term but that's just me........

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