Karen Heller | Dating 40-year-olds? Horrors!

"Age of Love" suggests it's a fate worse than death, so women better shape up.

Posted: June 20, 2007

Poor Mark Philippoussis. Tall, dark and requisitely handsome, the Australian tennis star, age 30, onetime swain of a pop star, a model, and L.A. County Prisoner 9818783 (that would be Paris Hilton), he's now forced to travel well outside his comfort zone. On national television, no less.

"I think he realized that he had to go into this with an open mind," said tube buddy Mark Consuelos. "He was really making some decisions, some really level-headed decisions. I couldn't believe it."

Mark C is not alluding to enlisting in the Iraq war or volunteering in the inner city but - gasp - dating older women. In their 40s.

On the Monday-night debut of NBC's latest embarrassment, Age of Love, the Poo - as he's called in Australia (and not affectionately) - winced, stammered, and registered signs of severe gastric distress while meeting babe after semi-geriatric babe. "Cougars," as they're labeled, feral and predatory.

Soon, through the miracle of editing, the Poo warmed to the trauma.

"They don't look their age," he confessed, with equal parts shock and awe.

This may be true, partly because the Poo's ignorant, having rarely dated anyone over age 21 (as Google reveals), and partly because some contestants have gone to great and costly lengths to thwart nature at every crease. The show might be dubbed Plastic Surgery on Parade.

"I forgot about age," the Poo declared later, as if battling cancer. "The age situation went completely out of my mind."

Though not for long. Minutes later, a sextet of "kittens" in their 20s were unleashed from, I kid not, a cage, and posed as though in the Vegas lap-dance version of Chicago.

"What's a word synonymous for old?" one kitten giggled. "Decrepit?"

And so begins another catfight, that enduring contact sport with acrylic nails and hair extensions, showing how little television has advanced, perhaps a cup size or two, beyond the shoulder-padded days of Dynasty.

NBC, though, has loftier goals for its summer series. Channeling Darwin, the network dubs Age of Love "the ultimate social experiment."

In a culture where age is battled, nature suppressed, and "hotness" trumps all, cougars are an established phenomenon, serenaded in the Fountains of Wayne's hit "Stacy's Mom" and depicted in American Pie (Stifler's Mom) and on Desperate Housewives (take your pick).

The patron saint of all cougars is Demi Moore, 44, a woman better known for her body than her body of work. Like the cougars on Love, she doesn't seem to do much except commit to the herculean task of, to paraphrase the Poo, getting the age situation completely out of our minds.

The ideal of the hot older woman, as I've noted before, signifies trouble for the rest of us who continue to age, mostly in the form of more work.

Fighting gravity, time, and a culture that loves its young and banishes old age in the female persuasion is pretty much a full-time job, with serious hours at the gym or under the knife, at the salon, the podiatrist or the chiropractor, or possibly all of this, which isn't easy when you have other responsibilities.

Like work. Or a family. Or, you know, a life.

We're talking way past chucking high-waisted mom jeans. We're venturing into driving the SUV in platform heels and second-skin capris which, honestly, no one over the age of 25 should attempt.

There's got to be something between looking good and being true to yourself and reality. Why can't older women look good without resembling jokes, trying to appear, to pass as, so much younger than they actually are?

Women don't need more work, or impossible goals. We're already hard enough on ourselves without television or the world's 143d best tennis player trying to grasp the whole age situation.

Contact staff writer Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com.

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