Our writer gives us the inside story on the cougars and cubs at the national convention.
When Courteney Cox is banking her post-Friends career on a show titled Cougar Town, you know the trend of older women dating younger men has reached its tipping point. The term cougar isn't just a punchline anymore. And why should it be? As Demi Moore might say, "what's wrong with women asserting their sexual needs and romantic desires with younger partners?"
If cougars are here to stay, where better to gain insight into their mating habits than the National Single Cougars Convention? The gathering, held in Palo Alto, California, brought together over 250 cougars and "cubs" (younger, presumably nubile men). While the good folks from the Society of Professional Singles have been holding local cougar parties for several years, the cougar convention was the first to take the event national (and even international; cougars flew in from as far away as the UK to attend). 5 Reasons Being A Cougar Rocks
Despite my wife's blessing, I was slightly nervous as I said goodbye to her and our kids and drove to the event. While I felt OK about my prospects as cougar bait (I'm 34, reasonably tall and good-looking, with a charm that never fails, at least on schoolmarms and grandmas), I had a nagging fear that I'd end up an aging wallflower in a sea of hot, young twentysomethings.
When I arrived at the hotel where the convention was being held, I was glad I'd booked my tickets weeks in advance—the event was sold out. The only people, male or female, the bouncers were letting through without tickets were the abjectly, overtly desperate.
"The magic number seems to be two and a half hours," said a handsome brunette in a red dress. "I only drove down from San Francisco, so I'm out of luck."
"So what are you going to do?" I asked.
"My friend and I met two guys who also got rejected," she said. They gave us their numbers, and we're going out for drinks." She winked. "Maybe I'll have a good story for you tomorrow."
As it turned out, I wasn't the only one who had been dispatched to cover the gathering. Everywhere I turned, there were reporters, photographers, and cameramen chatting up cougars and cubs. I spoke with a pair of young reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle, who were parked at a table at the edge of the action. One lamented having collected some great quotes that unfortunately would be unprintable.
"This one guy told me, 'There are women here who are so hot that I'd let them take a dump on me.' I asked him for something more G-rated, and he said, 'Okay, I'd let them piss on me too,' then walked away," the reporter said.
I turned to Twitter to see if the online comments would be more dignified:
Video journalist Brian King (@bkbkbk) wrote: "I think Google's entire workforce is here. #cougarconvention"
One of the hotel's employees (@antcruz) provided an insider view via his Twitter account: "cougar convention should have been called the douchebag convention. There was a sea of Ed Hardy t shirts out there." 21 Twitter Pick-Up Lines (er, Tweets)
Which brings us to an obvious question: What kind of man goes to a cougar convention? Looking around the room, the men's age, appearance, and motivation seemed to vary wildly.
Three Stanford boys had shown up without booking, looking shockingly young in their suits and ties."I'm a math major, so I don't have anything to do on a Friday night," one said. "And besides, who can resist a cougar party?"
I saw them later on the dance floor, grooving with a trio of women. Score one for college ingenuity. I caught up with "Ian" via email the next day, who reported the money quotes from his cougar dancing partner: "Does this stimulate you?" and, "It's okay, let Mama Cougar do all the talking."
Aging frat boys were also well represented. I spotted a group of obvious Silicon Valley players, probably from the sales and marketing side of the tech industry.
"I'm here to get laid," said their leader, a forceful, sarcastic Asian guy. "And you can quote me on it." When I asked how he'd found out about the convention, he replied, "My mom told me about it." As with nearly everything else they said, I couldn't tell if they were full of it, or if there was a kernel of truth.
There were plenty of shy types in attendance, too. Unlike their more boisterous brethren, I didn't see them aggressively approaching the women around them. My few attempts to engage them in conversation tended to trail off quickly.
"Glad to see you made it in," I said to Steve, a squat fellow with a buzz cut I had seen earlier, moping about in the "no tickets" line. He nodded in return and wandered off, presumably to look innocent and prey-like. I think the quiet guys signed up for the convention hoping to meet aggressive, take-charge women. For their sake, I hope they found what they were looking for. Life isn't easy for shy types stuck in "Man Jose." 5 Shy-Guy Pick-Up Moves
Finally, as reported by my Twitter spy, the douchebags were out in full force. They set themselves apart with their tight shirts, slicked hair, and orange tans. They reminded me of Will Ferrell's character in Wedding Crashers; it was too easy to imagine them hanging out at funerals trying to pick up grieving widows.
In contrast, most of the cougars I met seemed to belie the leopard-print and botox stereotype.
"When I got an email about the event, I said, 'That sounds so tacky and fun, I just have to go!'" said Cindy, a tall, confident brunette sipping a glass of chardonnay. She and her friend Cynthia said that mature women have little choice other than to target younger men. Can Marrying Someone Younger Make You Live Longer?
"All men my age want to do is sit around watching television," Cynthia said. "I'd rather be out riding my bike. My God, it's noon on a Sunday, it's beautiful out, and all they can think of is watching sports."
"I had a male friend over recently," said Cindy. "He's 56. He was sitting in my living room on a Sunday afternoon, reading the paper, and watching golf. Golf! He looked at me and said, 'It doesn't get any better than this.'" A disgusted look crossed her face.
Karen, a friendly redhead, said she was just curious. "I've never dated a younger man before. Well, when I was a senior in college, I dated a sophomore," she said with a sheepish smile.
Maxi, an ordained minister and prowling cougar, laid it out for me:
"A cougar is not a slut," she said. "A real cougar is an independent woman who isn't looking for a man to marry and settle down. She introduces her cub to new possibilities and experiences. It's almost a spiritual relationship." Spiritual Sex: 10 Erotic Commandments
Attractive, mature women like Maxi, Karen, Cindy, and Cynthia clearly wanted and deserved more out of life than sitting around on the sofa watching golf. If they choose to find more suitable companionship with willing younger men, why not?
"Geeks make the best cubs," Maxi added enthusiastically. "They take direction well, and they don't realize that you're supposed take a break between orgasms. Makes for a lot of fun," she said, smiling. Why Geeks Are The New Chic
As the evening wore on, the atmosphere grew increasingly festive. By the time I hit the road, there were couples filling the dance floor—albeit surrounded by a constant cloud of photographers. Then again, if a decade of reality TV has proven anything, it's that many Americans have no problem ignoring the cameras and focusing on getting laid.
The media angle on cougardom seems to be firmly of the salacious, mirthful nature. But perhaps the sign of a true cougar is that she doesn't much care what reporters, married or otherwise, think of her lifestyle.
As for me, I returned home to my wife and kids feeling relieved—and a little wistful for what might have been were I ten years younger. Coco Chanel once said, "A woman has the age she deserves." With the rise of the cougar, she may have spoken truer than she knew.
Photos: Daniel C. Britt