Of “Dog Years” and Dating

We writers often speak of “showing” a scene rather than “telling” the reader about it, and the concept makes sense to me. People tend to understand things more clearly when we allow them to visualize the images in their minds. Words in and of themselves are really just concrete representations of the images we’ve constructed the letters to represent. We speak and write and communicate with an often necessary metaphorical language.

As a writer I can understand that.

We want to help our audience envision the world we see in our heads, and by making comparisons to a more common reality, we can communicate our visions much more precisely. What fascinates me is that our society still has a tendency to equate certain human characteristics, qualities, and/or actions with those of our animal brethren. The image of certain animals comes quickly to mind when we find we need just the right word for those “special” moments.

Oftentimes children are called kittens or cubs or lambs or pups, and men can be called bears or foxes or dogs or jackasses. And while women have been known by more negative associations, such as hyena and cow and bitch and crow, I’m happy to note a more positive analogy of late.

The cougar.


I have no idea who dreamed up the use of this term for a woman who has a relationship with a younger man or even, in reality, what is truly meant by the connotation. Even when I “googled” the word in this context to uncover some sort of answer, I found a mixed reaction and a mixed history. According to Wikipedia, the definition should only be applied to a woman who dates a man her junior by eight years or more. Since I’m only 4 ½ years older than my dh of 20 years, I guess that rules me out. Some say the word is still a negative hit for women—another word for a “catty” female. Others say it means an older woman who is “hot” and “sleek” and “sexy.” Since I find cougars to be unbelievably beautiful and crafty and intelligent, I think I’ll go with the latter.

Since time began, men have been able to date women several years younger than they are, but women are just catching up with the trend. I think it’s about time. Why shouldn’t we be able to find the one true heart that matches our own even if he was born a few years later than we were?

What about you? Do you think “traditional” relationships have more of a chance to succeed? Or do you think a woman can find real and lasting love with a man who might be a “dog year” or more younger than she?

14 Comment(s)

  1. Hi Bry, Before I answer your question, I have to say I’ve always found the term cougar to be predatory with an image of Courtney Cox hovering in the background. As for traditional relationships, I like them. There is comfort in tradition. But I’m far from in a relationship sanctioned by it. My hubby is 14 years my senior. Many said he was robbing the cradle or just didn’t give our relationship a chance. Well, we’ve been married now for 25 years, so I guess we’ve proven our detractors wrong. :)

    terri | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  2. Hi, Terri.

    LOL. I’m such an animal lover, I refuse to see a “beautiful” cougar any other way. Some would say, “Samantha from Sex and the City comes to mind and she’s where the term originated.” To heck with them. :)

    As for your relationship, CONGRATS on 25 years. Isn’t it funny how people always have an opinion? I had so-called friends tell me my dh was too “young” to be serious and he’d just end up hurting me. Uh . . . he was and is more mature than I’ve ever been. It’s that old soul he was born with.

    Brynna | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  3. I think this is one of my favorite posts ever! I always wondered where the term cougar came from. I’m only a few months older than dh, so I definitely don’t qualify.

    I think if the hearts are truly entwined with each other, it doesn’t matter. We have several women in the family who have married much younger men and they seem to be happy with their choice.

    Renee | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  4. Cougars are beautiful animals but they are predatory so I guess people can look at them either way.

    I think women are the ones that have a problem with a younger man/older woman scenerio. Maybe it’s that fear that when their man hits his midlife crisis, he’ll be looking for that younger and faster model.

    Women do live longer than men but are they self-confident enough to want a lasting relationship with a man so much younger? If they do, I say more power to them.

    And if they just want some fun and games, then I dispute that a younger guy has more to keep her satisfied. A younger guy may have the body but there is something to be said for experience and staying power. ;)

    Excellent post, Brynna!

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  5. I have this weird brain that when dealing with a younger man goes straight to “How old was I when this child was born?” If I was old enough to say, be riding a bike without training wheels, maybe. If I was old enough to babysit him, then it’s probably no.

    But, I’m not a fan of absolutes. As Brynna points out, her DH is a mature old soul regardless of his age. So I think it really just comes down to the people involved. But since I’m in the situation of actually being single and of a certain age, I admit I prefer to look for someone close to my age be it a few years older or younger, but not much more.

    Terrio | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  6. LOL, Renee. Nope. A few months is the SAME age in my book. :)

    Brynna | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  7. What female isn’t “protective” (lol–I’ll use this word instead of “predatory,” Laurie!) I just think it’s about time that women DECIDE to assume the positive with such a name.

    As for seeking out a younger male just because he’s younger, I guess that adds more strength to the negative connotation. But when two hearts connect–I say to heck with the age difference no matter what direction it may be.

    Brynna | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  8. I hear you, Terrio. I think it’s difficult to find someone younger who has the same interests, life experiences, etc. My dh and I do tease each other about things like how he was graduating from high school when I was graduating from college. But our values and our interests and our “old” souls meshed and it worked out in the end. We just happened to meet at the right time–when I wasn’t looking, of course. :)

    Brynna | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  9. I suppose a lot of it has to do with over all age and the nature of the love. The thing about pair bonding, is that there is a strong implication of children involved. The best bonds for that purpose are going to be between a male and female in their 20′s. Considering the drastic conditions that effect female reproduction more than male, a 20 year old male with a 50 year old female is counterproductive where a 20 year old female with a 50 year old male isn’t nearly as good as a younger man, it’s still more reproductively viable.

    But if the relationship is exclusively about mutual support between two people whose genetics aren’t the best anyway, it’s a whole nother matter.

    Alice | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  10. My husband is 11 years older than me. When I met him, the difference seemed more dramatic then it does now. We’ve been married for 16 years and now I often times wonder which one of us is more mature! Her certainly does have more energy!

    As for older women, younger men…I’m for happiness in any form!

    Christiana | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  11. Alice–I think you’re right if that’s the purpose for the relationship. That’s why in history we see such young couples–that and the idea of premarital sex was WAY more taboo then (at least the admission of it). I think if naturally-born children aren’t part of the equation–then age oftentimes does need to be based on those mutual connections. After all, when the children are grown–the husband/wife still have to relate to each other.

    Brynna | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  12. LOL, Christiana. I don’t know that my younger dh has more energy, but I’ve ALWAYS said he’s much more mature about some things than I’ll ever be. And that was 100% true when we first met, even though he was still (gulp) a teenager. :)

    Brynna | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  13. As long as the couple’s happy, I say go for it. I’ve seen several May-December relationships, and generally speaking, the parties involved are happy as clams. It’s almost always the onlookers who have the biggest problem with it.

    Great blog, Brynna!

    Sasha Allgood | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

  14. Thanks, Sasha. And isn’t it always the case of the outside looking in? :) Makes one wonder if they think they’re missing something.

    Brynna | Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

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