Marketing expert Rich Gosse was pursuing cougars long before this term ever described midlife women who prefer younger men.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight from the Marin County Fair, the San Francisco-area dating consultant, entrepreneur, and author recalls attending a Unitarian Church singles group in his late 20s.
He explains that a few women were in their 30s, but most were in their 40s and 50s.
"So I was dating nothing but cougars, nonstop," Gosse says.
Little did he know back then that he would later promote events linking older women with younger men through CougarEvents.com.
He says he's lectured at 61 colleges and written eight books on dating, including The Cougar Imperative: Why Midlife Women Must Choose Younger Men.
Tonight at 7 p.m. at the Roxy (932 Granville Street) in Vancouver, Gosse will emcee a "cougar convention" where the men will elect Miss Cougar Canada. The winner receives a free "Cougar" cruise leaving Miami for the Bahamas on December 6.
To be eligible to win, the woman must be over 35 and be "legally single".
"Every cub in the room has one vote," Gosse says, referring to the younger men.
He calls this city Vancougar because, according to legend, it's the birthplace of the international cougar movement.
"The very first time 'cougar' was used to refer to middle-age women who like younger guys was at the Vancouver Canucks hockey games," Gosse reveals. "There were these fans who were middle-aged women who were crazy over those young cute guys."
He adds that it's not difficult for young guys to attract older women as long as stay in shape and dress reasonably well.
"The older women, the cougars, they're hungry, because men their own age are not interested in them," Gosse insists. "The middle-aged men are not interested in the middle-aged women. They all want to date younger women. These [older] women are hungry. If you're a young guy, you've got it made."
Gosse recognizes that some midlife women who are attracted to younger men dislike the term "cougar".
He calls that a "semantics problem". He points out that when he used to hold parties for younger men and older women, nobody cared.
"As soon as I changed the name to cougar parties, people were beating down our doors," he adds. "So it's just a marketing thing."
He notes that in the United Kingdom, "cubs" are called "toy boys". And he says that the cougar conventions he's held in several cities before—including New York, Chicago, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Palo Alto, and Toronto—have attracted huge crowds.
At the 2010 convention in Toronto, the keynote speaker was Valerie Gibson, author of Cougar: A Guide For Older Women Dating Younger Men.
"She's the one who popularized the word around the world," Gosse says.
There's a serious message behind Gosse's promotion of cougar dating.
He says the law of supply and demand makes it increasingly difficult for older women to find a partner, so he wants to end discrimination against those who prefer dating younger guys.
"Men die on average in the United States five years earlier than women," he states. "Basically what happens as women get older, they find there are fewer and fewer men in their age bracket to date because the men are dying."
For every single 60-year-old male, he says there are three-and-a-half single 60-year-old women.
"Let's face it: the older men who are still single in their 50s and 60s—and in their 40s—they tend to be leftovers," Gosse claims. "They tend to be the ones who have unsuccessful relationships with women. They've got the alcohol problems. A lot of them have been to prison, and have unemployment problems, drug problems. I mean, older men are a mess."
He also says older men have more health problems.
"The younger guys are far superior to the older guys," Gosse declares. "The cougars tell me the younger guys are better looking. They're more fun. They have more energy. The cougars tell me that the men their own age aren't that much fun. They work hard all day. They come home and they just want to sit on the couch and watch TV. My cougars are all high-energy women and they say, 'I don't want to watch TV at night. I want to go out and do salsa dancing. I want to travel. I want to have fun.' "
Gosse, a former teacher, says that he met his wife 14 years ago at a singles party. And he acknowledges that he would be too old to date cougars even if he were single.
"Cougars want the young, good-looking guys," he says with a laugh.
The Canadian Cougar Convention at the Roxy is sponsored by SugarDaddyForMe.com, which is the world's largest website promoting nontraditional relationships. Gosse predicts that sugar-daddy dating will eventually supplant cougar dating in popularity. The other nontraditional category, according to him, is interracial dating.
In 1995, Gosse founded AmericanSingles.com, which was the second Internet dating site in the world. He sold it in 1999 and remains the executive director of the International Association of Dating Websites.