What do Demi Moore, Madonna and Paula Abdul all have in common (besides being beautiful, rich and famous)? They are all older women married to/dating younger men.

A 2003 study by AARP revealed that 34 percent of all women over 40 in the survey were dating younger men, and 35 percent preferred it to dating older men. Another recent study found that in recent years, 25 percent of brides have been younger than their grooms. Finally, in a recent survey by Cosmopolitan, 29.3 percent of men said they would date an older woman.

In their book, Older Women, Younger Men, authors Felicia Brings and Susan Winter write, “Older women/younger men relationships are far more prevalent and far more successful than society at large would have us believe. The theme that the social order reinforces often is the message that these relationships are a bad thing – and even under the best of circumstances – are only a temporary thing.

“Popular movies … suggest … in those rare cases in which a woman is older than the man, such couplings end badly, sadly or tragically. The truth is, we’ve been sold a bill of goods … Our research … confirms that older women/younger men relationships are an increasingly viable (dare we say common) phenomenon.”

Why is this trend gaining popularity? I believe there are two main reasons.

The first is that 30 years ago, there weren’t as many single women over 30. Most people married in their 20s and stayed married, no matter what.

As divorce became more socially acceptable, women in the 30s (referred to as “pumas”) and 40s (referred to as “cougars”) began to enter the dating scene. However, they often found that men their age preferred younger women. Their choices were usually relegated to men 15-20 years their senior. Many of these women, however, were young at heart, vibrant and attractive and didn’t want to be with someone that much older.

The second reason is finances. Just as financially independent men often prefer younger women, financially independent women often prefer younger men. Now that women are no longer bound by finances and social norms, and mores are loosening up, they’re finally able to make more honest choices when it comes to a partner.

What about younger men? Why would they be interested in an older woman?

The reasons cited are because of the confidence an older woman exudes. She knows who she is and is comfortable with herself. She’s honest and direct. An older woman knows what she wants and doesn’t want.

She doesn’t play games and is more in control of her emotions, which translates into less drama. An older woman is generally a better lover and more in touch with her femininity and sensuality.

What about older women? What do they get by being with a younger man?

How about a toned, muscular body, little to no baggage (depending on the age, no baby mama drama or nasty exes), vitality, energy, enthusiasm, appreciation, stamina and someone that is always “ready to go.” A younger man is not threatened by their accomplishments – he admires and encourages them.

What do older men think about these relationships? Although I don’t believe it’s any of their business, everyone is of course entitled to their opinion and most of the time, it’s not positive.

The old double standard still exists. Older men that date younger women are admired and thought of as studs. Older women that date younger men are often scorned and thought of as foolish.

In her book, Cougar, author Valerie Gibson says: “For years, they [older men] have been secure in the knowledge that they are the ones that choose and discard partners at will, especially as these partners age. Now, cougars are treading on their territory, making them feel threatened and insecure.”

What do younger women think about these relationships? Those feeling threatened by the rapidly changing dating landscape should keep in mind that older women are blazing a trail for them. If they should find themselves single or divorced when they’re older, they’ll have a wider variety of men to choose from.

Tribal thinking is strong, but I believe it will eventually catch up with the current reality. In 15-20 years, these types of relationships will no longer be such a big deal.

Welcome to the “Cougar Revolution.”

Remember: Love inspires, empowers, uplifts and enlightens.

Write to Lucia at www.theartoflove.net.

Read an excerpt from Lucia’s Lessons of Love at www.lessonsoflove.net.

Lucia will be teaching a class on younger men/older women relationships on Oct. 9. Visit www.thelearningannex.com for more info.