Can cougars form lasting relationships?
Tara Oosterhuis and Quintin Colyer-Long.

Whether it's the slightly unhinged seductress Mrs Robinson in The Graduate, or the famed new wealthy and independent "cougar", an older woman with a younger man has always attracted its fair share of attention.

Cher, Demi Moore and Madonna have all given this once-taboo relationship a glamorous edge, and statistics show that between 1996 and 2006 there was a 23 per cent increase in the number of women choosing a younger partner.

But do these relationships last, and if so, for how long?

Sexuality and relationships expert Gabrielle Morrissey said a combination of sexual liberation and financial independence brought about by a higher divorce rate and less pressure to get married in their 20s meant more older women were dating younger men.

"It's really a natural extension of what happened with relationships in general," Dr Morrissey said.

"With an increase in the breakdown of long-term relationships, many of these older women are independent and are in a fantastic life space, so they opt for a younger man.

"When it comes to being successful in the long term, these relationships are like any other, there needs to be enough common ground there to make an interesting relationship work. Relationships last because the people in them want them to."

Communications professional Tara Oosterhuis, 33, and Quentin Colyer-Long, 25, are set to marry in March. Despite small doubts about their age gap, they both knew within three months that the relationship would become long term.

"I had been in a couple of relationships with someone younger which hadn't worked out and I was a bit wary of how this relationship would be perceived," Ms Oosterhuis said.

"Apart from lots of jokes, it's been very well accepted by our families and friends.

"I love his energy and I'm quite young for my age. I find guys my age are really quite old in their mindset. Life is more of an adventure with a younger guy."

Mr Colyer-Long said he loved his partner's maturity and sense of independence.

"Everyone's been really supportive, my family loves Tara," he said.

In Gwenda Owen's case, the age difference between her and husband Ezio has never been an issue, apart from some initial uncertainty from his family.

"When we met Ezio was only 22 and I was 32, so he was quite young," Ms Owen said.

"He had not been in many relationships and so there was some concern that he was too young.

"We met on a river cruise - I played down my age and he played up his. By the time we knew exactly how old the other was we already knew we wanted to be together."

They met in 1990, were married in 1991 and had a son in 1993.

"The key is loving each other, but not owning each other," Ms Owen said.

The West Australian

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