Monday, September 14, 2009

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson...

Ana Aragón

A classic cougar in American cinema was Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, which begins as Benjamin Braddock returns from college somewhere on the east coast to a party in his honor at his parents’ home in Pasadena, California. Benjamin is a lost soul and has no idea what he wants to do with his life. Mrs. Robinson, his mother’s best friend, asks him to take her home. Offering him a drink, the still-attractive Mrs. Robinson opens up her life to him, exposes herself and offers to have an affair with him. He flees her home, only to return a few days later. Who can forget the hotel room scene when Mrs. Robinson unrolls a stocking down an impossibly long, shapely leg as Benjamin watches in shock? As he and Mrs. Robinson begin a torrid summer affair, his parents and Mr. Robinson hound him to date Elaine Robinson, which he finally does.

I was much too young to see the movie when it first came out in 1967, but have seen it several times since, beginning with my film criticism class in college. The male professor’s discussion began with a question on the inappropriateness of Mrs. Robinson seducing the young Benjamin. At the time, I can remember being quite disgusted and landing on the side of those who denounced the idea of May-December romances, even while I sneaked a peek at historical romance novels with explicit sex scenes (for the times) pairing older men with young girls barely out of their teens.

Benjamin ruins everything by falling in love with the younger Elaine, enraging Mrs. Robinson. He’s threatened by her father and Elaine is sent away. When Benjamin learns she is marrying someone else, he embarks on a desperate drive to stop the wedding. Arriving at the church, Benjamin frantically begins banging on an upper window and screaming “Elaine” as the groom bends down to kiss her. The movie ends with Elaine and Benjamin catching a bus, their smiles turning to enigmatic, uncomfortable gazes as they realize their predicament.

The Graduate is an American classic film, selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1996 as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film. So why is it that, culturally, we have no problem with a May-December romance between an older man and younger woman, and yet cringe at the thought of an older woman with a younger man?

The list of May-December movies with an older man almost doubles that of movies with an older woman in the romance, and I would venture to say that, like The Graduate, the chances of the cougar romance ending in a happily ever after or HEA is even less likely. So if it isn’t a cultural “taboo” then why the discrepancy?

Do you know of a movie or book where the feminine version of the May-December romance has an HEA ending? Please share your thoughts!


Debbie Kaufman said...

Gosh, Anna. I can't think of one at all.

Marilyn Baron said...

No examples come to mind, but I did enjoy your post. I WAS old enough to watch The Graduate when it first came out. As a matter of fact I worked the concession at a movie theater (my first part-time job) when the movie was first released so on every break I sat in the theater and watched it.

Marilyn Baron

Cinthia Hamer said...

Excellent post, Ana. I, too, was much too young to see a "trashy" movie like The Graduate when it first came out. But, I've seen that little snippet you mentioned hundreds of times over the years. I'll admit that for a long time (when I was just a young thing), I was rather grossed out by young Benjamin choosing to have a sexual relationship with an older woman. How gross, I thought. Old people don't have sex. How's that for an LOL?? :)

As to your question about sucessful May-December romances: One is a recent book made into a movie for Lifetime television. Flirting With Forty, by Jane Porter.

CiCi Barnes said...

I, too, am sitting here drumming my fingers on the desk trying to come up with a cougar movie with an HEA. No luck so far.

I saw The Graduate, but wasn't put out about the subject at the time. Of course, I was a teenager and subjects on sex and seduction were of interest.

Great post Ana.


Sandy Elzie said...

Good morning Anna,

Okay, got one. Ever seen I Could Never Be Your Woman? It's a cute romp between Paul Rudd and Michelle Pfeiffer. You'll enjoy it.

"Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd star in this hirarious romantic comedy for the ages. Pfeiffer is a 40+ successful-but-divorced TV producer and single mom who falls for the charming new 29-year old acter on her show. When their relationsip gets hot and heavy, she must come to terms with the not-so-easy reality of dating a younger man."

Enjoyed Mrs. Robinson and enjoyed the reminder today of an earlier time when life...for some reason...didn't seem so hectic.


Maxine Davis said...


Great post! Yes, I saw it. I just remember thinking: he wants an older woman? Then I realized he just wanted the woman but loved her daughter.

Cynthia, I loved Flirting With Forty and was pulling for them. Of course anyone that looks like Heather Locklear would not have any trouble attracting any man!

Cyrano said...

At first I couldn't think of one single book or movie where a May/december ended in a HEA. I was pissed to realize they're so few and far between.
But then I read the comment log from this post and Cynthia reminded me of a wonderful M/D-R with a HEA.
Flirting with forty was great! The hero was young, incredibly hot (and I mean HOT) and he was totally into the heroine who, as the title implies, was flirting with 40. It was an excellent made for TV movie. I highly recomend it.
I mentioned in a prior post that a Susan Brockman book (Gosh, I still can't remember the friggin title. It was one of her SEAL novels - That narrows things down, huh.) contained a M/D-R and it was great too!!
In both works, the much younger hero was completely into the more mature heroine, even though she had doubts about compatibility and a lasting relationship. I guess that was one of the reasons I enjoyed the two stories so much - the hero wanted the heroine, body and soul, and didn't care a fig that there was an age difference.
Even though I'm very happily married, to a wonderful man, the M/D attraction is a nice fantasy.
It happened to me once a few years ago and though I discouraged the young man (He was 12 yrs younger), told him I was very happily married and wasn't interested, I was secretly flattered.
Getting back to your words, I want to say that the industry needs a change. A female M/D-R can be just as compelling to read as anything else. And, I'd like to see more of them out there.
Geesh, I wrote my own post here. Sorry bout that Ana.
I really enjoyed your post, as always.
Have a lovely afternoon!

TerriOsburn said...

This topic seems to be all over the place lately. Tawny (your recent guest chef) it talking about this on the Bandits.

I wasn't born when this movie came out *ducks flying food* but I did see it many years ago and loved it. Didn't squick me out at all, though I remember being a bit annoyed that Benjamin was such a namby-pamby of sorts.

The only movie I can think of is Prime with Uma Thurman as the older woman, but that one doesn't have a happy ending. Which irritated the dickens out of me when I got to the end and started yelling at my television.

There is Jenny Crusie's Anyone But You. The heroine is 40 and the hero 30. Great book and it has all these issues, especially the heroine dealing with knowing he's been dating these pert 20-somethings and she's not to pert anymore.

I did write a short story with a heroine 35 and hero 25. That was great fun.

Linsey Lanier said...

Great post, Ana!
I remember all the buzz and whispers over the scandalous Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate" when it first came out. It's one of those flicks I never got around to seeing (despite Simon and Garfunkel's reminder, LOL). I'll have to rent it, but I'm sure by today's standards it's tame.

I can't think of a cougar book or movie with an HEA either. Glad Cinthia mentioned Jane Porter's "Flirting with Forty." She's an excellent writer.


Carol Burnside said...

Great reminder of a terrific movie, Ana. Unfortunately, I can't think of any successful M/D romances, but I'm taking notes to see those others are mentioning.

Janga said...

The Graduate is one of my favorite movies. I've had some great discussions about the meaning of the ending--a great exercise in interpretation.

I read Pam Morsi's Red's Hot Honky-Tonk Bar last week and loved it. The heroine in that book is fifteen years older than her hero, who is one of my favorite characters of the year.

Susan May said...

Great post. There was a movie on Lifetime -don't know the name-but it was good. Blond actress off Spin City and she is a mom of two, divorced, who goes to Hawaii on vacation and meets a hunky surfing guy. They fall for each other. The ones with the problem are her friends-jealous, and husband, I believe the same.

Ana Aragón said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by! I thought I was all set up to use my little handy-dandy mini-laptop, but forgot the thingamabob that gets me access to the internet (it's a no-no to use school property!) Anyway, I'm so glad the post sparked some interest!

Ana Aragón said...

Debbie...I stumped you? NO WAY!

Marilyn, I was 14 when the movie came the time I was 15, I was working in a movie theatre, too! I got to see Midnight Cowboy...and that was SO risque!

Ana Aragón said...


I've never seen Flirting With Forty, but I did read the book. Good example! I'm sure glad I got over the "old people having sex is gross" idea as well!


You were way ahead of your time, huh? The sex scenes were highly interesting, but to see a young guy with an older woman...

Ana Aragón said...


I've never seen I Could Never Be Your Woman...but that's another I'll have to pick up one night.

Why does it always seem that life used to be simpler in the "old" days?


I, too, wanted to believe in an HEA for Benjamin and Elaine, but that final scene has been critiqued to death over the years and many people think that Benjamin went from the frying pan into the water...and poor Elaine! Thanks for stopping by!

Ana Aragón said...

Hey, Tamara,

Thanks for your musings! Maybe you can take this topic and expand on it some more! If you can remember the Suzanne Brockmann book title, let me know. I'm sort of hung up on this now...grrrr!

I've had younger guys in my adult classes be fascinated that I know so much about sports and would love to be in a relationship with someone whose idea of a nice evening at home includes the TV with three different sports playing at the same time (yesterday was great--football, baseball and Nascar!)


Ana Aragón said...

Hey, Terri, thanks for stopping by. I have read Jennifer Crusie's Anything But You and loved it!

How did your short story turn out? Did the heroine get her man?

Ana Aragón said...

Hi, Linsey,

You will have to watch The Graduate and let me know what you think of it--I wonder if someone seeing it today would look at it differently than those who saw it in 1967. It really raised a ruckus back then!

Thanks for stopping by!

Ana Aragón said...

Hi, Carol,

Thanks for stopping by! I hope the post got you thinking...maybe you can write the next blockbuster M/D romance!

Sally Kilpatrick said...

I could think of a couple--Tanya Michael's latest Superromance was about an older woman and a younger man--very nicely done.

The only other one I can think of is How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and we all know how that one really turned out for Terry McMillan.

Oh, and let's not forget about Demi and Ashton. I'm still rooting for those crazy kids.

Great post, Ana!


Ana Aragón said...

Hi, Janga,

Thanks for the heads-up on Pam Morsi's Red Hot Honky-Tonk Bar. One of your favorite characters of the year? Now I've gotta go pick up a copy!

Ana Aragón said...

Hi, Susan...wish I could think of that movie, too! I remember reading a book that was similar...she was from the Pacific Northwest and went to Hawaii. Her friends and ex were not supportive...wonder if the movie was a take-off on that book? I just remember it was the first time I'd ever heard of a bikini wax!

Thanks for stopping by!

Ana Aragón said...

Hey, Sally,

I've never seen How Stella Got Her Groove you recommend it? (I'm woefully behind on watching movies ever since I started writing!)

And Demi and Ashton...gotta love them! I want that romance to last forever!

Thanks for stopping by!

Anna Steffl said...

I just watched The Graduate for the first time this year. At the end, all could think was:

1) What did Mrs. Robinson see in Benjamin other than youth?

2)What did Benjamin see in the daughter?

Benjamin and the daughter came off as two lame characters who deserved each other.

That's OK. The film isn't a romance.

Saw Cheri with Michelle Phifer. An older woman, younger man set-up. It is a complicated relationship. Neither character is "good." It ends tragically because society (not themselves) can't accept their relationship.

Why so few HEAs? Fertility? A younger man (usually, in the end, wants to procreate.

Great post, Ana.

Tami Brothers said...

Great thought provoking post, Ana!!!

I didn't see that movie, but I have heard a LOT about it. The only show like this I can remember is about a high school kid pimping himself out to all the moms and career women to earn money (I think he was originally a pizza delivery guy and it all went from there). I can't remember the name of it but he ended up with a fellow high school girl. Don't know if that counts or not...grin... but it's all I've got.

Have a great day!


Ana Aragón said...

Hey, I left Anna S. and Tami comments and they didn't post? What the...?

Totally agree about Ben and Elaine...but I think that was the whole point...we wanted to make it into a romance and it really wasn't!

Wonder about fertility...although it doesn't bother some guys (Ashton and Demi are going to adopt since they haven't been successful with in vitro.)

Hey, Tami, thanks for stopping by! So the pizza delivery guy wound up with a high school girl...probably an HEA for him, don't you think?

J Perry Stone said...

Fabulous post, Anna.

I'm disgusted, especially after reading though these posts, that we can come up with so few examples.

I even Googled "May/December romances in movies" and EVERY MOVIE on the list was one where the man was older than the woman.

Come on! Are we that narrow?

Ana Aragón said...

Perhaps the media hasn't kept up with the times! Thanks for stopping by!

TerriOsburn said...

Hey Ana! My short story was an Erotic Romance and it ended with a Happy For Now type ending. When the story only covers 24 hours at the most, it's hard to create a convincing ever after.

Sally Kilpatrick said...


Honestly, I didn't watch or read Stella, but I did see Terry McMillan on Oprah, Dateline, something like that where she was talking about her husband's revalation of homosexuality. I knew she had based the novel on her relationship with him, so the whole thing was quite embarassing for her, and she was ticked. I keep meaning to pick it up because I enjoyed Waiting to Exhale, but I have a TBR stack that stretches to the sky.

Ana Aragón said...


Yeah, that's pretty much what erotic romance allows in a shorter story. Is it published?


I did not know that about Terry McMillan! Waiting to Exhale was a great book--I read it several moons ago, and the movie was great.

Mary Marvella said...

I think an older woman should be allowed to wear out as many young guys as she can. If they can't keep up with us, too bad.