Can the Cougar Trend Make This Man Famous?

Meet Rich Gosse, the singles guru who's trying to ride a fading fad to some kind of stardom


Jon Snyder

"I've developed the world's best pick-up line," Rich Gosse bellows. "Wanna hear it?"

He gestures grandly, holding a wine glass etched with teal and purple balloons. We're in his dining room, sipping a crisp 2008 Edna Valley Sauvignon Blanc, even though he prefers Charles Shaw's two-buck chardonnay (it's more buttery).

"OK, here it is... Hi, I'm rich!" Gosse smiles big. "Get it?" he pours himself a third glass, "It works cause it's also my name!"

I didn't come here for dating tips. Or to learn about budget wine. Or to get drunk at 2 pm on a Tuesday (though I'm happy to oblige).

I've driven to San Rafael, California, a small suburb north of San Francisco, because Rich Gosse is more than a master of pick-up puns. He's the man behind the National Cougar Convention, a gathering where ladies in their 40s and 50s vie for the attention of younger male "cubs." On Friday, the third annual convention will go down at Greenhouse in SoHo. And yeah, yeah, I'm sure it'll be as much of a hoot as previous cougar meet-ups I'm not wine-tasting at Gosse's house because I'm all that interested in the young-dude-older-lady trend, which helped greenlight a forgettable 2009 reality dating show called The Cougar, not to mention the sitcom Cougar Town (Courteney Cox was nominated for a Golden Globe for it!). Surely it was Hollywood's obsession that prompted Newsweek to dub 2009 the "year of the cougar." Riding a now-fading fad, Rich Gosse soldiers on, trying to self-promote his way to some kind of stardom.

For two years, I've been dying to meet him. When we spoke on the phone shortly after the 2009 convention, I stopped caring about the kooky event itself and, instead, obsessed over the guy who dreamed it up. I half-expected to be greeted by a mile-a-minute club promoter with a receding ponytail, or at least a silk-shirt.

Instead, I found a combination of Dr. Phil and Ron Burgundy. A bold character who sounds perpetually earnest, even when his word choice borders on the ridiculous: "People think this is all very frivolous, just a bunch of horny ladies who want to get laid by good-looking young studs," he tells me, "And that's not what this is about at all. What the cougar phenomenon is all about is a demographic imperative."

Gosse rattles off U.S. Census data to support his case: By age 60, for every single man, there are three and a half single women. The lack of available middle-aged men is compounded by the fact they tend to prefer dating younger; on average, eight years their junior, he says. The pickings for middle-aged women are slim.

The cougar-cub dynamic is, as Gosse calls it, the "perfect solution."

Of course, it's also a great way to get attention. Which is also why Gosse campaigned to be the Governor of California in 2003, alongside 134 candidates including Gary Coleman, Larry Flynt, and Arianna Huffington. Running on the "Fairness for Singles Platform," Gosse cited inequalities in taxes, insurance, and unemployment benefits for unmarried adults.

He got 497 votes.

"Basically, for $3,500, I got hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of publicity," he says.

Each year, he throws 150 singles parties. Not all are cougar-specific, but much of his female clientele are in their 40s and 50s. Most of his events are in and around San Francisco, but in the last few years, Gosse has branched out as far as Australia. He's also involved with singles bus tours across Europe, and cruise ships bound for the Bahamas, Mexico and the Mediterranean.

For Gosse, working the singles scene is a full-time job. And, as I was amazed to learn, he's had this gig for 33 years.

"People invite me to their parties," he chuckles, "And I always ask, 'Well, are you gonna pay me?'—cause I get paid to party!"

Imagine that. Dude is living the dream.

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Steven Leckart is a correspondent for Wired magazine. He's also written for Maxim, The Daily, GOOD, and Pop-Up magazine.

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