Many of the cougars, Barkley said, are successful, divorced women with grown kids. "They've been in sexless marriages for years, and all they want to do is find someone with passion who will nurture their spirit," Barkley said.
To them, being a cougar represents a second phase in their lives.
While Alvarado has never been married, Miss Cougar California said she separated from her former fiance a year ago. He was 14 years her senior. Now, she's traveling the world and spending time with attractive, fit younger men. "I'm tanning next to 26-year-old lawyers by the pool and I look great in a bikini," she said.
She said it was a compliment to win so many votes from cubs and have someone accuse her of not looking her age. "It's been a long journey to feeling this good," she said
Rich Gosse, chairman of the Society of Single Professionals and the producer of the event, said Alvarado is an "inspiration to other cougars" for helping turn traditional relationship power structures upside down. "In the past, men paid for dinner," he said. "Women were submissive trophies. Now, these women aren't afraid to be treated equally."
Unique Monique, a 36-year-old entertainer in a red sequin dress, agreed. "I don't need to be in control," she said. "I just don't want to be controlled."
She said she's looking for someone to stand beside her. She said she was destined to be with someone significantly younger. "They just have these puppy eyes," she said.
Contrary to popular belief, Gosse of the Society of Single Professionals said, "cubs are more excited about cougars than vice versa."
Alvarado agreed. "I don't go after younger men," she said, "they come after me."
That became clear from the start of the convention. An attractive, muscular 20-something attempted to pick up Lucia less than five minutes after arriving.
"Do you have a husband or a cub?" he asked. "How long are you in town for? When do you want to go out on a date?"
"I'll check my schedule," she said.
She said later that cougars can afford to be picky.
While many people wonder what cubs see in women old enough to be their mothers, Barkley of CougarInternational.com said cougars fulfill deeper needs for younger men. "These guys could have gone to a fancy club and taken home some 22-year-old," Barkley said. "They want something more meaningful. That's why they paid to come here tonight."
Barkley also said that an attraction to older women is imprinted at a young age. "Every man can name a time when they had the hots for a teacher, babysitter or their mom's best friend," Barkley said. "For a lot of men, that attraction is permanent."
A 31-year-old man with a blond ponytail, who requested anonymity, said he has always been attracted to older women. "Cougars know who they are," he said. "They're experienced and they have more to offer. They don't play games."
Harrison Detit, a 21-year-old college student, said he was looking for a woman with more substance than the young women in his social circle. He also admitted that a successful night would involve "things behind closed doors."
Zander Vagabond, 24, who makes surf boards, said he was disappointed that there weren't enough cougars to go around. He was even more upset that the ones who showed up didn't talk to him.