Just after midnight, a couple wandered past a handful of singles gyrating on the dance floor and headed for the door. They traded information and kissed goodbye.
"We danced all night, and we have great chemistry," said Catherine Shores, 49, a self-proclaimed "cougar" who works for an Internet security firm.
She hugged the 25-year-old "cub" with whom she'd been seductively swaying all night. "We're both excited and want to see where this goes," she said, her cub nodding in agreement.
The couple-to-be met at the first Miss Cougar California Convention in Beverly Hills Friday. The evening was designed to help older women and younger men, so-called cubs, find love.
More than 300 dolled-up bachelors and bachelorettes paid $30 to attend the event, which was sponsored by the Society of Single Professionals, the world's largest nonprofit singles organization. Cubs outnumbered cougars nearly two to one.
One of the highlights of the evening was a dramatic scene after the crowning of Miss Cougar California, 40-year-old Tyana Alvarado. Alvarado, who was wearing a low-cut, tight dress that accentuated her cleavage and a strategically placed name-tag stuck to her behind, was given a tiara and a free cruise for gathering the most votes from the cubs.
Her victory infuriated the curvy first runner-up, who repeatedly shouted that Alvarado looked too good to be older than 40 and demanded to see her identification.
The night, filled with drama, drinking and wandering hands, was a glimpse into the world of cougars, cubs and the growing number of businesses trying to spark romance between them.
Things have changed since the 1967 film "The Graduate" was released. Demi Moore, Halle Berry, Sharon Stone and a growing list of celebrities now proudly dates younger men. There's even an ABC show called "Cougar Town" starring Courteney Cox.
Here's to You Mrs. Robinson
It's a "cougar revolution," according to Lucia, author and host of "The Art of Love" radio show, as well as keynote speaker at the convention.
Thirty-four percent of women older than 40 are dating younger men, according to a 2003 AARP survey.
Of the 3,500 female and male singles between the ages of 40 and 69 who were polled, 56 percent had been separated or divorced, and 31 percent had never been married. Also, seven in 10 of the formerly married singles in their 50s had been single for five years or more. The study suggested that a higher divorce rate fueled a higher number of older women looking for love.
The growing numbers of cougars, however, aren't "desperate, horny old women in stilettos and leopard print who drink until they drag a man home," said Fayr "YaYa" Barkley, a founding member of the CougarInternational.com dating site.
Lucia agreed. A cougar is "a single woman over 40 who is attractive, sexy, classy, confident, fit, independent and healthy" who dates men 10 years or more younger. "They're the total package ... mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally and sexually."
"I've got it going on," one cougar said. "Younger men love that I know who I am and know what I want."
Another woman, who spent the evening suggestively dancing with a cub her son's age, winked and said cubs love that she's more experienced than younger women.
Most of the ladies at the convention said they believed the term "cougar" was empowering.
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.
Cubs: Prey or Predator?
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."
Age Ain't Nothing but a Profit
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.
"I paid $30 for this," he said. "I never pay for anything. But let's be honest, I'm doing this because I'm a world traveler, and I don't like to work. I'd rather be supported."
Whatever the reason, Barkley said, "cubs are driving this cougar trend."
Gosse of the Society of Single Professionals said they had to cap the number of cubs who could attend the first international singles cruise sponsored by the Singles Travel Co. in early December. There weren't enough cougars registered.
As cougar and cub relationships become more widespread, businesses are lining up to take part.
Cougar dating sites have already hit the Internet. Cougarncubs.com claims "dating cougars ... has never been easier or as exciting."
Cougarsinternational.com, Cougared.com, DateACougar.com, GoCougar.com and CougarPersonals.org also claim to help lovers of different ages meet.
Shari Weisman, director of marketing for Cougar "N' Cubs, estimates there are at least half a dozen quality cougar-dating sites.
"It's groundbreaking, growing and getting profitable," she said.
Her company just advertised a cougar cruise that will launch in February. Within a week, more than 100 people made reservations.
What's more, there are cougar events organized by the Society of Professional Singles coming to Arizona, San Diego, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.
"Cougars are coming to a city near you," Gosse said.