When Katie Couric chatted with Brooks Perlin, an athletic, 33-year-old entrepreneur, at a Manhattan cancer fund-raiser last September, sparks didn't fly at first. But a mutual friend thought the two might hit it off if they just got to know each other better. "The age difference scared her off at first," another friend says of Couric, 50, who nevertheless agreed to go to dinner with Perlin a few weeks later. After six months of dating, the CBS Evening News anchor and single mother of daughters Ellie, 15, and Carrie, 11, isn't so worried about that younger-man thing. "They seem comfortable with each other," says her friend. "She's a very young 50. She's playful. She's cute. She's down-to-earth. And he's mature. They seem happy."

And why not? Despite pressure over her CBS newscast's third-place ratings, Couric "is in a good place" personally and professionally, says a source. At work, she's tackling big stories, including the Duke lacrosse fiasco and a special broadcast the day of the Virginia Tech tragedy. "She's very collegial and easygoing," says executive producer Rick Kaplan. And, since her leap from Today last fall, she's relishing the chance to spend more time with her daughters, who, her friend says, have met Perlin. ("Katie's focused on her family, her work and her philanthropy," says her spokesman, who declined to comment about the relationship.)

Perlin is no stranger to Couric's powerful social circle: The prep school-educated son of a rich Connecticut family, he has worked in finance for several New York City hedge funds and is starting a business selling environmentally friendly building products. Since their first dinner date, the pair have shared nights out at New York City's Gramercy Hotel's Rose Bar and the "21" Club, attended the Super Bowl in Miami and gone skiing in Sun Valley, where they stayed at the home of casino mogul Steve Wynn. "Perlin is a nice guy," says Couric's friend. "He's extremely smart. He's honest. He doesn't play games. He's sweet. Normal. Really grounded. It's a drama-free relationship."

The only kind, says another pal, that would fit in Couric's life right now. "She is working incredibly hard to do a good job and go to where the news is breaking and reporting on it. That and her children ... are her big focus in her life." Kaplan, a veteran journalist and longtime pal of Couric's whom CBS hired in March to executive produce her broadcast, says the show is now doing a better job of "showcasing her extraordinary talents."

Still, Couric, who recently vacationed with her kids in South America (Perlin didn't join them), always makes time for her family. As she told PEOPLE shortly after moving to CBS, she was relieved to leave behind the grueling early-morning hours at Today. "I have more flexibility," said Couric, who lost her husband, Jay Monahan, to colon cancer in 1998. "Most nights, I like to get home and have dinner with my girls."

And as for the nights when she has dinner with her guy? They enjoy their time together—and their shared interests: tennis, traveling, family. "Age has nothing to do with" Couric's appeal, says a pal, shoe designer Stuart Weitzman. "She got to where she is because of her confidence. She's still like the cute girl in high school," adds her friend. "They are having a great time together. They have a mutual respect for each other. It's nice to see the two of them smile."

  • Contributors:
  • KC Baker/New York City,
  • Diane Clehane/New York City,
  • Liza Hamm/New York City,
  • Jason Lynch/New York City,
  • Tiffany McGee/New York City,
  • Jennifer Liebrum/Idaho.