Single White Nerd: A Nerd in Cougar Land
a blogumn by Michael Kass
The email appeared in my inbox at 2 PM on Friday. “Introducing the California Cougar Convention,” it said. It then went on to invite me and the thousands of other recipients to a gathering of older women and younger men dedicated to exploring, advancing, and advocating for the “Cougar lifestyle.” Maybe that’s overstating it a bit. Technically, the email said:
“older women and the younger men who love them shall be corralled into The California Cougar Convention, a wondrous new nature preserve padding into the wilds of Los Angeles this Friday.”
The snarky tone did not escape me.
I clicked on a link that whisked me to www.cougarevents.com. The site spelled out, in detail, what the first annual California Cougar Convention entailed:
6:30 PM: COUGAR SCHOOL, a seminar for the would-be Cougar led by world-renowned cougar, Lucia (you know she’s a big deal because she only has one name).
7:00 PM: Registration
7:30 PM: RapidDating event for Cougars and Cubs
8:00 PM: Keynote address by Lucia, the “Queen of the Cougar Jungle” according to the venerable KTLA morning news.
9:00 PM: Dance Party!!!
11:00 PM: The crowning of Ms. California Cougar 2009
The whole event was produced by a non-profit called The Society for Single Professionals. Their mission appears to be to throw parties.
The site also contained links to press coverage of previous Cougar Conventions held in Northern California. As I clicked through the links, my heart sank. This was not serious journalism. The articles took an ill concealed disparaging, even mocking, tone towards the events. These women and men, gathering under the auspices of an officially recognized charitable non-profit organization, just wanted to meet like-minded individuals. But the press mocked them, did not take their plight seriously, held them up as a laughing stock.
I decided then and there that I would attend this Cougar Convention. As a Nerd, I consider it my duty to stick up for the underdog, the oppressed, those whom society misunderstands and mocks. Unfettered by the strictures of objective journalism, I would be able to locate the pure, romantic core of the Cougar Movement and bring it to my reader(s). I could be part of the zeitgeist. Also maybe I would meet someone and fall in love. Or lust. Whichever.
And so it was that at 7:25 PM on Friday, November 6, I became a conventioneer in the Land of the Cougars.
The moment I stepped in to the surprisingly bland ballroom at the Beverly Hills Crowne Plaza Hotel, I realized that The California Cougar Convention was not going to make it easy to take it seriously. First, there was the math. The ratio of women to men appeared to be 2:1. And the ratio of press—and I use the term loosely—to actual guests also was 2:1. I arrived just in time for the RapidDating Mixer and. . .
A line of men facing a line of women. The line of women roughly twice as long as the line of men. A swarm of cameras, mini-video cameras, and notebook carrying reporters circles the lines, shark-like, sniffing for journalistic blood.
The women and men chat for two minutes. A gong goes off. The women shuffle one pace to the left, the men stand still. The women and men chat
for two minutes. A gong goes off. . .
I made it through exactly one of these mini-dates before getting thoroughly creeped out by the sheer number of voyeurs and camera-flashes. Discreetly, I stepped out of line. At the same moment, an attractive older woman wearing a cougar-print jacket did the same. Here’s my chance, I thought, to talk to a Cougar searching for love!
“Wow,” I said, sidling up to the jacket-wearer, “This is quite a scene.”
“Sure,” she replied, dismissively flicking her eyes over at me, “A bit. I’m a blogger, a dating expert. I’m here doing a story.”
“But the jacket–”
“I figured I’d dress the part.”
“Oh. I blog, too.”
The jacket wearer and I stood in companionable silence watching the Rapid Dates unfold. I took the opportunity to observe the other guests. There were the conservatively dressed—men and women in suits or business casual wear. But there were also women in ill-advised dresses with plunging necklines and plastic surgery. Men in Ed Hardy shirts and cowboy hats. It ran the gamut.
I made a note to use the phrase “ran the gamut” in my blog.
As the RapidDating session came to a close, I went to get a beer and settled in for the keynote address hoping that it would lend some credibility to what at this point appeared to be a crappy dating mixer in a depressing hotel ballroom attended by more press than guests.
Before the keynote address by Lucia, the crowd was treated to a performance of an original song about cougardom written and performed by someone named Unique Monique. Wearing a slinky red dress with matching boa, Monique worked the crowd with. . .You know, I don’t have words to describe this, so I’ll show you. Click here.
So that happened for 10 minutes. And then Monique urged us all to support measures to make declawing cats illegal.
The Keynote Address could not help but improve on Monique’s performance. No one really listened, but Lucia, an attractive woman in her forties (or maybe fifties. . .I couldn’t tell) elucidated some of the finer points of Cougardom:
Although the California Cougar Convention set the minimum age for a cougar at 40, a cougar could, in fact, be any woman who dates a man at least 10 years her junior.
Cougardom is a lifestyle choice that’s about more than dating. It represents a commitment to yourself to stay in shape, stay young at heart, and live life to its fullest.
There’s nothing predatory about it. Seriously.
She talked on for a bit. But people stopped paying attention. I ambled over to the bar and got another beer. I had now been at the convention for over an hour and still had not succeeded in finding anything I could use to rebut the mockers, the scoffers, the scorners.
Perhaps the Dance Party would bring new revelations.
By the time the dancing started at 9 PM, the guest ratios had changed. There were now at least four men for every women. And many of the press had left. A few lingered in the hallways interviewing guests, but most had retired for the night, their rhetorical guns filled with more than enough ammunition to fire off salacious copy.
As a few bold souls started to groove, I stayed on the periphery striking up conversations and observing.
I spoke to Adam, a paunchy 40-something engineer who had come out of curiosity and loneliness. He had a mustache and kept asking if there was any food. “Are there hors d’ouvres?” he kept asking. There were not.
I spoke to Mike, another 40-something business man visiting from out of town. He and his friend had seen the event advertised online and decided to come as a lark. While we were speaking, an attractive woman in a black dress came up and starting chatting with him. She flirted and batted her eyes coquettishly, her black skirt flaring as she shifted her weight and tossed her blond hair. She boxed me out of the conversation. I wandered off.
It struck me that the first two people I had spoken to were men in their 40s—not the convention’s target audience. I narrowed my focus.
I spoke to Melanie, a strikingly tall blond in her late 40s. She wore a gold lame dress, plunging neckline, backless. Her hair pinned up like a pageant princess. “Have you voted for Miss California Cougar yet,” she asked me. “No.” She pouted. “Well vote for me, hon.” She kissed me on the forehead. I voted for her. She immediately lost interest, turning to a group of fresh cubs who had just emerged, freshly scrubbed from the elevator. “Hi boys,” she pounced, “Have you voted for Miss California Cougar yet?”
It seemed that more and more men were arriving with each passing moment. The elevator would chime open and they’d emerge—groups of 5 or 10 young men in jeans and ties. Fedoras. Cowboy hats. They approached warily. So many men. All hoping for. . .well, probably to get laid.
On the dance floor, things were heating up. A young man in his early 20s whom I had seen just minutes earlier wandering around looking lost was grinding confidently against a 50 year old in a tight green dress. The woman in black who had boxed me out of the conversation with Mike was riding the leg of a tall, sandy haired Adonis. A young man in a suit shuffled side to side, clapping off-beat as his dance partner, a short haired 40-something with trendy glasses and a blazer, sashayed lightly around him.
Meanwhile, off the dance floor, things were getting packed. With men. They gathered in groups, clustering around each other for support. Giving each other high fives. Women darted amongst the groups, dispensing flirtatious smiles, handshakes, kisses on the cheek. They never stayed long—just long enough to incite desire, to flash their youthful spirits—before flitting off to another group.
I got another beer and went into the hallway where I eavesdropped on an interview.
Two fetching female reporters in their 20s were chatting with a stocky blond Marine in a polo shirt. “Why,” said one of the reporters, “are you here?” She slid a digital voice recorder close to the guy’s mouth to capture his response:
“You know, like, it seemed like it would be fun. I like older women. And they like me. So, you know, just the experience is better than with younger women. I feel like they really get me, you know?”
A woman who couldn’t have been older than 36 or 37 appeared next to me. “Isn’t this awesome,” she enthused, “I just love younger men. This is so cool!” She joined the interview, snaking her arm around polo-shirt guy.
The elevator chimed. Another group of guys emerged.
I decided to go home.
But first I hit the restroom. As I washed my hands, my eyes trailed down to the sink where they found a stack of strategically placed business cards. “VOTE MELANIE FOR MS. CALIFORNIA COUGAR,” they blared. They featured a picture of Melanie wearing the same gold dress I had seen her in earlier.
I reaffirmed my decision to go home.
It’s two days later and I’m still processing my California Cougar Convention experience. By turns laughable, depressing, and fascinating, it left me in a bit of a tizzy. I don’t want to mock it. I really don’t. Then I watch the video of Monique’s song again. I think of Melanie’s business card. I think of Adam’s fruitless search for finger food. It’s too easy.
But then I remember the people getting jiggy on the dance floor. I remember the woman who swooped in to join the interview—so clearly thrilled to be in an environment where being attracted to younger men was accepted and embraced. So clearly having fun.
Maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe this cougar thing isn’t about exploitation or lifestyle choices or deep seated Oedipal traumas getting played out in the bedroom. Maybe it’s simply about having fun, making a connection, and wearing fancy dresses. And maybe that’s all the message there needs to be.
Rawr. Go get ‘em, cougars!
Postcript: Despite her active campaigning, Melanie did not win the Miss Cougar title.