I stopped in at the self-styled "first-ever" National Single Cougars Convention in Palo Alto last Friday, where, in spite of the name, I’d hoped to see glamorous cougar couples. In fact, I’d asked my 29-year-old son to be my date, but he bailed on me. (Remind me to cuff his ears.) So I had to make do with my husband, Bill, who was the only gray-haired man in the sold-out crowd.
The event was held at Dinah’s Garden Hotel, right next to Trader Vic’s on the El Camino Real on one of the hottest nights of the year. Billed as a convention, it was actually a Friday night singles parties with a twist: “cougars,” or women over 40 interested in dating younger men, who are referred to as “cubs.” (I love that). The women stood in groups while the cubs, in ties and jackets, gulped Mai Tais at the outside bar (they seemed to be mainly techies from the Silicon Valley, where men outnumber women by a lot). The only cougar couple I saw there was giving the keynote address (he was 14 years younger), and apparently seeking clients for their intimacy counseling business.
Everybody seemed to be in a good mood. Most of the women wore short black dresses. Eying them admiringly, my husband murmured, “It’s true that the legs are the last to go.” These gals did not come off as boozy, bored boy-predators (think The Graduate), but more like professional women who’ve simply had it with men their own age.
I was reminded of a boyfriend I had long ago who was seven years younger; he arrived for overnights with his ironed shirts on hangers and was, I belatedly realized, looking for a place to get away from his mother on the weekends. I broke things off the day I found myself automatically reaching to comb his hair after I finished with that of my two small kids. I liked everything about younger men except that they’re being younger made me older.
The August 28 mixer was put on by Rich Gosse, whose Society of Single Professionals puts on 150 singles events a year. Gosse ran for governor in 2003 on a "fairness for singles" platform, arguing that singles often get shafted when it comes to taxes, insurance premiums and travel costs.
That wasn’t what was on his mind Friday night, though. “These women all want what you have,” he told the men during the speaking portion of evening, then urged them to move up from the back, nearer the rows of black dresses. The program seemed more like a series of pitches for the sponsors, but no one seemed to mind. A song called “Cradle Robber” on the speakers kicked things off.
Being a cougar is nothing new—Catherine the Great was one—but the word is trendy enough to have brought the press to this event in such numbers that they were interviewing one another. A young man from Current TV stopped another “cub,” who turned out to be Chris from the San Mateo Times.
Upon arrival, each man was given a special coin to bestow upon the woman he thought should be elected queen of the cougars, a form of voting that would be tallied later that evening. My husband and I left before the dancing started, so we missed the late-night crowing of Miss Cougar America, Gloria Navarro, who gets to be guest of honor at, yes, "the world’s first International Cougar Cruise." I heard the festivities were followed by a 1 a.m. dip in the pool. "OMG, it was so awesome!" one attendee enthused on Yelp afterwards. "I’m one of the ‘Cougars,’ and I didn’t know what to expect at all. It was amazing! TONS of young gorgeous guys. I was shocked! And gabs of beautiful older women! And everyone getting along famously." The next shindig will be a Cougar Mixer and Dance in San Francisco on September 26.
Bill and I are of course what Bridget Jones calls "smug marrieds," so at first we just felt overwhelming gratitude that we didn’t have to do this ourselves—show up bright and smiling to try to impress strangers. He found it a poignant evening: "It reminds me of how all people want to do is connect," he told me.
And as we were going to bed that night, Bill gave me his coin.
For more photos and quotes from the National Single Cougars Convention, check out Adair’s slideshow.
And speaking of slideshows! . . . Cougar Bait: 32 Younger Men We Love.
Adair Lara is the author of Hold Me Close, Let Me Go: A Mother, a Daughter and an Adolescence Survived, The Granny Diaries: An Insider’s Guide for New Grandmothers and Naked, Drunk and Writing. She also teaches writing classes and does manuscript consultations.
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