Must (Learn To) Love Dogs
We've all seen the movie, right? John Cusack and Diane Lane play unlikely divorcées, brought together by a dating profile that states anyone interested "Must Love Dogs" (hence, the title). A solid rom-com of the aughts, all things considered. I remember watching for the first time as a preteen when my mom brought home the DVD and thinking, "there aren't nearly enough dogs in this movie."
I grew up with dogs. My first best friend was a Border Collie Corgi mix named Sparty, my earliest writings were about dogs, and Scooby-Doo has always held the title of my favorite cartoon character. Dogs never felt that I intruded on their personal space. All the neighborhood dogs loved me, and the first job I had was dog-sitting for my neighbors. After college graduation, one of my oldest friends got married, and I adopted a dog.
My mom could never understand when friends of hers refused to get their children a pet. She emphasized that they taught responsibility and compassion, and could motivate kids to go outside. "There's something wrong with a family who doesn't have a dog," she'd say. This struck me as true. My parents had Sparty before they had me. I'd never been in a home without a dog.
My boyfriend's childhood was the exact opposite. He never had a dog growing up. As a result, he's significantly less comfortable around them than I am. I often find myself telling him, "give her a pet!" or "that means she wants you to pet her," and "tell her she's good" when he interacts with my dog. The way he feels about dogs is comparable to the way I feel about people who don't like dogs. I've always said I couldn't trust those people! And yet, I'm in love with one.
My boyfriend's dog apprehension has caused more problems than just discomfort. Our first ever fight was about him agreeing to take care of my dog while I was out of town, not fully understanding what dog-sitting entailed. The day before I left, he asked me what I expected him to do. When he learned that this commitment required he drive to my apartment to let her outside about six times a day, he said, "I can't do that." I was floored. The sensation of intense irritation towards him was at the time so unfamiliar. I hadn't considered that he didn't know what taking care of a dog really meant. I most certainly hadn't considered that anyone might think of dog-sitting as a burden rather than an exciting proposition.
But we resolved that fight. (I won. He dog-sat her for the first and probably the last time.) We both learned something about communication. He learned what dog-sitting actually entails, and I took the conflict as a lesson in expressing needs as clearly as possible.
My dog once again became an obstacle in our relationship when we began to discuss moving in together. I felt ready. My SO dragged his feet. I eventually asked him outright, "what are your reservations about this?" expecting to hear that he didn't think he was ready to take such a step, but instead he said he wasn't sure about living with a dog.
I've since learned that not only did my partner not grow up with dogs, but he grew up hearing more negative than positive talk about dogs. His upbringing taught him that they are perhaps more burden than responsibility. My partner was not particularly eager to take on the burden of dog parenting (sorry, ownership just feels weird to say, doesn't it?), even though our relationship itself is stable and strong.
When he finally came around to sharing a place with my dog and me, the subject did not rest. As we apartment-hunted, I felt bombarded with pet oriented concerns; from both my SO and his family. I couldn't forget that dogs scratch the hardwood floors, they ruin carpets, their shedding causes the vents to get clogged sooner. These persistent reminders annoyed me. The limits my pet imposed on our options made me feel guilty, but the hurt I felt from his concern was stronger. To me, it felt personal that my partner couldn't look forward to living with my sweet pup. To me, a dog is a companion and a source of joy, but he saw an obstacle, a compromise.
I always thought I'd spend my life with a dog, so I never considered the possibility that I might fall for someone who didn't like them. Sometimes life plays you like that. But no one is perfect. I'm far from it. When I expressed to my partner that his lack of love for dogs was my least favorite thing about him, he said, "I'm trying." What more could he do? What more could anyone do? We can't change our pasts or our upbringing, and we can't change our programming overnight. He can't force himself to feel affection for canines any faster than I could try to make him. The trying is what counts.