Maybe it's time to troll for tadpoles
July 21, 2003

Paul McCartney (60) and Heather Mills (34). Eric Clapton (56)  and Melia McEnery (25). Michael Douglas (57) and Catherine  Zeta-Jones (32). Depending on your gender, your comment could be  "Ahhh" or "Ewww."

Dating a P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) has been a popular sport  in male circles for decades. But guys aren't the only ones with a  penchant for cradle robbing. Ladies, start your outboard engines!  We're trolling for tadpoles.

You've heard the old saying, "You have to kiss a lot of frogs  to get to a prince?" A growing number of women are trying younger  amphibians.

"Tadpoling," as the sport has been nicknamed by Miramax  Film's V.P. of Publicity Tom Piechura (in conjunction with the  release of the comedy film "Tadpole"), is a hip spin on an old  theme.

A "tadpole" situation is generally defined as a woman dating  a man approximately 10 years her junior. Remember "May/December"  romances? Same thing.

"Middle age used to be 35," reports Susan Winter, noted  researcher and co-author of the book "Older Women, Younger Men."  It may have been the norm in the '60s to be married with kids and  dressed in a housecoat by then. But now 40, 50 and 60 are  considered prime time.

"Funny, the older I get, the younger "older' gets," I once  wrote.

Today's age-defying women are in beautiful physical shape,  taking up yoga and body building, botox and silicone. Add personal  growth, extended education and career development, and women have  more freedom than ever from the archaic apron-only days. Mates are  selected for love instead of financial security.

"I prefer younger men," relates my mom, who often needs a  younger beau to keep up with her. "When they are devoted," she  continues, "they make you feel so special."

"Tadpoling is a great idea," exclaims my friend Kat. "Younger  ones are not as set in their ways. And besides," she adds, "what  they lack in age related wisdom, they more than make up for in  enthusiasm!"

More than just an ego boost, Winter says tadpoling works  because a younger man doesn't need to compete with you. "Younger  men," she points out, "don't like to share the spotlight." She has  personally found that younger men are proud and supportive of  women like herself (47) because, "Each successive generation is  more open-minded than the next."

But why? As 34-year-old Scott relays from his Internet dating  experiences, "Women in their 40s are real. They know what they  want, and they aren't confused."

Winter's findings confirm Scott's observations. "In their  20s, women can get mad, and they can't explain why. In their 30s  they're more concerned with career development. But in their 40s,  they've passed the midway point." They declare, "This is who I am  and what I want, and I have nothing to lose by being honest."

Although tadpoling is not a breakthrough concept, it's not  yet widely accepted in our P.C.-tiptoeing society, either. Winter  calls the discriminating double standard toward women "social  censure," such as interracial couples in the 1960s and homosexual  partnerships.

Why such prejudice from supposedly enlightened people? Winter  debunks three cobweb-crudded myths. The first is that tadpoling  never will work, since it is just about the sex. She found that  most cases were not short-lived affairs, but instead were long  term (10 years or more) committed relationships with an average  age difference of 13 years.

The second falsehood is that a tadpole will leave his elder  woman for a young urchin. Again, not true. Winter discovered that  the majority of breakups were actually initiated by the mature woman.

And last, people think that older women are the  manipulative seducers of innocent fledglings. OK, so an online  survey by National Tadpole Week's indicates 13  percent of the men (of 521 surveyed) lost their virginity to a  woman at least 10 years older. Even so, Winter notes, in the  majority of her research the men pursued the ladies. Trash the  tired "Mrs. Robinson" stereotype.

Hollywood celebrities usually set the nationwide pace of  change, since they skirt the norm on a regular basis. Madonna may  have shifted the traditional feminine archetype perceptions with  her "Boy Toy" concepts, but the idea of Cher cruising the  playgrounds for pubescent mates (recall "Bagel Boy") still makes a  lot of people uneasy.

"She's old enough to be his mother," some would say. "Cher  took the hit for all of us," refutes Winter. Meanwhile, the press  doesn't make a joke out of actor Ralph Fiennes' love for his  16-year-older wife.

Whether for love and/or sex, tadpoling is a trend that makes  practical sense to Kat. Not only because biologically, a younger  man can match sexual peaks with those of an older woman, but also  for a more practical reason. "Since men statistically die earlier  than women," she jokes, "tadpoling means you're more likely to die  with your spouse."