“Life is more fulfilling, joyful and easier, with a younger man”

When her husband left her for a woman 20 years his junior, Jane Costello didn’t know how to face the world. Here, the best-selling author explains how dating younger men taught her to laugh again.

It was an electrifying date by anyone’s standard. He was flirtatious, charming and had a torso usually reserved for toy soldiers and Abercrombie & Fitch models. It was difficult to believe I’d been so worried, vexed to near-insomnia the night before as I worked out who’d been in the charts while he was doing his GCSEs. The problem was this: he was younger than me. By 11 years. And three quarters.

I know that dating a young man is no new thing (and I bet Cameron Diaz never lost sleep over), but this represented a complete about-turn for me.  One I came to recognise as the start of my path back to happiness – a state that usually came naturally. Until I hit 36, I never thought I’d be happy with a younger man.

My first boyfriend was older (by three years). The man I married and had children with was older (by eight years). Even when I dredge the depths of my memory for the very limited number of blokes I’d snogged in dingy corners of student nightclubs, they invariably had a year or two more.

So how did I come to be here, laughing, drinking too much and squirming at compliments from a guy in jeans whose crotch touched the sides of his knees? It was a revelation. Not because the date turned into anything more than a short-lived fling. But because it was exactly the tonic I needed, a reminder that happiness was within my grasp, no matter what life threw my way.

My marriage, to a man I was with for almost a decade, had crumbled a year earlier when he left me for someone 20 years his junior. Although my children, parents and friends were unstinting sources of love and support, in the immediate aftermath I was bruised, disillusioned and wanted nothing to do with anyone with a Y chromosome.

Eventually, there came a point where I knew I had to put on my dancing shoes and head to that place they call “out there” again. I never set out to date younger men. It wasn’t a policy decision. Yet, they suddenly became attractive in a way that hadn’t been the case in my twenties.

I have several theories about the reason for this. It wasn’t just about the delicious novelty of going out with someone with their own hair. It was about how I’d change as a person. A decade earlier, I'd consider myself mature for my age and was drawn to men who were older, supposedly wiser; men in more senior jobs, who usually earned more than me.

Things were difficult by the time I reached my mid-thirties, when I had a successful career of my own, two lovely children and an impending divorce under my belt. My predisposal to older men had got me nowhere; all it proved was that maturity – the quality I found so appealing – was a state of mind, not merely a date on a birth certificate.

After recent events, what I wanted from the opposite sex, at least for the immediate future, was uncomplicated. I had not aspirations involving love, marriage, or more children. I wanted fun, light relief – a simple brand of happiness that reintroduced me to the exhilarating rush of physical attraction. In that context, it was the younger men who stepped forward, to my surprise and, I can’t deny it, delight.

But it wasn’t an unmitigated triumph. I could never shake a slightly uneasy feeling and the term “cougar” was enough to give me palpitations.

On one occasion, during a first day with a 26-year-old, he announced that he’d “always gone out with older women”. Once I’d recovered the ability to breathe after realising I fell into this category, I asked him why. “Younger women are more…” he scrunched up his nose, searching for the word.


“Fussy,” he concluded.

In the event, my Joan Collins phase turned out to be just that – a phase. It came to an abrupt and spectacular end when I met my current boyfriend and fell head over heels in love.

I’ve quite simply never been happier than I am now; life is more fulfilling, joyful and easier than ever before. Though I should confess that he’s 34 – nearly four years my junior. I suppose with some things in life, there’s no going completely back.

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