Thursday, November 23, 2006

Why my relationship with my dogs is better than my relationship with my husband

No, this isn't one of those postings about sex and toilet seats.

Quite seriously, as my separation replaces my marriage, I'm beginning to see more clearly why I'm more peaceful living with dogs. And I think this is important to blog about because in dogdom it's considered common--and sometimes code--to discuss dogs as intimate family members, and to joke about why we prefer canines to humans, while outside dogdom it's considered eccentric or sad. In both cases when those relationships are discussed in any complexity it seems to me that "gaps" are the focal point: dogs fill gaps left by an absent child, an absent spouse, an inability to relate to humans, and/or a more extreme detachment from human life caused by past (or present) addictions or traumas.

While all those things are often an important dimension of intimate human-canine relationships, healthy and unhealthy ones, there's a lot more happening.

Today, as I sit in my reading chair overlooking the birds in the garden with B-dog on my ottoman I can say truly that my peace in this relationship comes in large measure from its honesty. I am crazy-in-love with this dog, but I am also truly aware that he is a dog. My two dogs have awakened a childlike joy in me that I treasure for its purity, and I believe that is what enables me to be unguarded in my affection for them: I love them from the part of myself that does not anticipate disappointment or cruelty or--more difficult to describe--the kinds of complex neediness that come with intimate human relationships. This is not to say that I believe dog love is superior to human love. (Or that the word "love" means the same thing within each kind of relationship.) But it has a directness that I deeply appreciate and, at this moment in my life, need.

My dogs depend on me in a way that I generally understand and I manage to respond to their needs fairly consistently. Our homelife is somewhat messy and noisy (P-dog is a terrier mix, after all), and my training/communication with the dogs needs lifelong practice, but all that is as much a part of real life as the interludes of quiet and calm.

My dogs care about me in their own particular ways that I'll never understand. But I'm comfortable with that, just as I'm comfortable knowing that when I leave them at the kennel they probably forget I exist and that if I die before them they'll attach themselves to another person or family. When they want my company they seek it; when something more intriguing appears (or emits a scent or squawk), they dash away. And when I project attributes onto the dogs, or interpret their behavior, a part of me knows that I'm expressing myself through that process perhaps more than "reading" them--and that, too, is OK. It's just one more way I'm learning about myself and the world as well as about them. I call all of this "honest" because it comes as close to truth as anything I know. They are what they are, and I cherish them for that instead of wishing they were something else.

B-dog and P-dog are constant companions whose presence brings me tranquility rather than disturbance. This is especially true of B. He would probably prefer that we romp at the park instead of sitting inside working at the computer, but he's content to watch the birds a while and if he becomes bored he will occupy himself elsewhere or request to go outside. After a while, I'll play with him outside because I'll have had a peaceful and productive work session and will feel joyful about sharing his exploration of the park and immersing myself in his world. Or if I end up compulsively working all day he'll be OK with that too.

He occupies his own mind and does not await my actions or reactions to determine how he should spend his day. I am not critical of his lifestyle choices--though I may remove the occasional sharp or putrid object from his jaws--and I do not resent him for wandering aimlessly around the house while I endeavor to build a stable career that will enable me always to bring home the kibble, maintain our health coverage, and connect us with interesting opportunities for lifelong learning and community socialization.

I'd like to think that I could again reach a point in my domestic life when our circle could be expanded to include another human--not because I have any desire to further populate my heart, my house, or the planet, but simply because I don't want to deny or reject the value of human intimacy. I no longer feel a void, but it is not because my dogs are filling one. Rather, the time I've spent alone with the dogs has helped me experience different kinds of wholeness. I'm whole as a solo human accompanied by dogs that are themselves whole. Together, in our house, we are surrounded by a crazy hodgepodge of human and animal life as well as the residential and psychic debris of those who inhabited this place before us. With and without all that, we are whole and we are home.


Blogger Justin said...

Hey, you are right coz, in a way dogs are more faithful than humans..and I think you will like this post on working dogs. Its quite interesting!

10:36 PM  
Blogger Iowa Gardening Woman said...

Dogs are not only more faithful than humans, they are much nicer as well. Have you ever read "Grow Old with Dogs"?

6:10 PM  

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