This morning, I read the following article, which resonated with me on so many levels. Several details jumped out at me. The last line virtually screamed at me today, especially after last night's conversation.
This is my struggle still, to learn how to be vulnerable in love, to be able to show my naked underbelly and trust that it will be neither smothered nor starved of devotion.I value vulnerability in a partner precisely because it's so hard for me to show my belly, to love and trust someone else in the way I do myself. If he shows that vulnerability, then I feel safe enough to also show mine. I think it stems from many experiences, not the least of which are my own romantic history and a childhood home rife with unhealthy (and unresolved) conflict.
I've yet to have a partner who takes as much care of me as I do of him. That's probably my own fault. One lover once described me as "so fucking self-sufficient" and went on to seethe about how I was "unwilling to let [him] do anything for [me]." It was an oversimplification, to be sure. But there was also truth in those anger-filled words. In that situation, I had reverted to my core tendencies, and had been taking care of myself because the sad fact was that I didn't trust him to take care of me.
I loathe relying on someone else for my basic needs. I despise asking others for favors (but I'll do it). I hate feeling like I'm imposing on a friend. The flip side: I'm the first to offer help when someone needs it, the first to do someone a favor. I don't expect anything in return, I just dislike the feeling of depending on someone else. So I underplay my own needs until push comes to shove.
I really need to get over myself. And, hopefully, to find a partner who strikes the right balance between being caring and giving me my space. At this point, I want to experience a relationship where my lover is a true equal — someone who actually does as much for me (emotionally, intellectually, and physically) as I do for him.
Please no needy men, though.
Modern Love: Love Me, Love My Dog. All Right, Love My Dog.
I was married, and feeling the stirrings of loneliness, when I started thinking seriously about getting a dog. In broaching this subject with my husband of a year and a half, I didn't mention the loneliness part. I simply told him I wanted a dog and waited for his reaction.
Back in junior high school I had bonded fiercely with our family dog, a yellow Lab who everyone thought belonged to me. When that dog died - I was 19 - I remember telling myself, as I lay sobbing on my bed, that it was time for me to try bonding with a man. Over the next decade I bonded with several. And then I got married.
Glenn, the man I married, wasn't sure a dog was such a good idea. He kind of wanted one, but the reality seemed to scare him. I remember standing in the living room of our town house in Los Angeles as he laid out his concerns. He spoke methodically in his mild Southern accent, his anxiety showing through, the way it often did when I presented my deepest desires.
Mostly he worried that a dog would breach the no-pets rule of our condominium complex in a much riskier way than his cat already did. I assured him that a very small dog - my research had led me to the miniature dachshund, "a big-dog personality in a small-dog body," according to the books - would be easy to sneak in and out via a tote bag. Still, he hesitated.
Even so, the following weekend I found a breeder in the classified ads and invited Glenn to go with me, "just to look." He declined. He didn't discourage me from going or tell me not to come back with a dog, but clearly he wasn't going to participate.
As I drove to the far reaches of Los Angeles, pretending not to notice his absence, an image from one of the cards we had received with our wedding gifts popped into my head. It was a hand-colored photo of a bride and groom in midair, circa 1950, holding hands as they "took the plunge" from the end of a diving board.
I'd never bought a dog before. Never been to a breeder. This was the kind of plunge that, if taken together, might have brought Glenn and me closer. But apparently that was not the kind of relationship we had, and I wasn't clear why we didn't. I blamed him, of course, though I should have looked in the mirror as well.
I've always had a problem with the joined-at-the-hip aspect of marriage, with, for example, women who say "my husband" to listeners who are perfectly familiar with the man's name. Behind the phrase I sense a nervous grasping for validation, an odd mix of self-congratulation ("Look, everyone, I got one") and self-deprecation ("I am nothing without him").
My mother was one of those women. Her visible pleasure upon saying the words was indisputable, even though I thought they made my father sound like a pet. Yet I can't deny that my father mostly did as he was told and came when called.
I never wanted a boyfriend or husband like that, someone who catered to my every need. But perhaps in seeking to avoid that I went too far in the opposite direction, with my longstanding preference for men who are not caretakers, who do not bestow upon me special attention or guardianship.
When I have had needs in my relationships, I have undoubtedly underplayed them and done no one any favors in the process, eventually shocking the men I have loved with sudden relationship-ending confessions of unhappiness.
Yet the type of man who wants to take care of me generally also insists on driving and paying, prefers not to be corrected when he's mistaken, and feels at sea if he can't be saving the day. This breed has always tried my patience.
Glenn possessed none of those overbearing tendencies. But neither was he inclined to rush to my aid or offer his support when I really needed it. That was the trade-off.
And so my trip to the breeder's that afternoon was lonely and awkward. After an hour of driving, I stepped bravely into the strange house with a smile on my face and proceeded to act as if I knew what I was looking for. But having known only large dogs, I was taken aback by the tiny embryolike creatures. I sweated as I handled them, convinced that the animals didn't like me, and that the owners, seeing this, would refuse to let me take one.
Not that I, by then, had any intention of doing so. Suddenly the idea of raising a mini dachshund seemed remote without anyone to support me through the mysterious anxiety that had overtaken me. I got out of that overheated house and drove back to my beautiful condo and unruffled husband, who was relieved, though also slightly disappointed, that I hadn't come home with a dog.
I pretended I was fine. Strong, self-sufficient, decisive. Which I am, a lot of the time. I didn't explain my loss of interest; I simply stopped looking, stopped thinking about getting a dog. And Glenn was happy not to reopen the subject.
A few months later, though, I went to my favorite shopping center to look at purses, which took about 15 minutes, because purses don't interest me. I'd forgotten about the upscale pet store until I was right in front of it.
Inside, they had one black-and-tan mini dachshund for sale. He was the only dog not barking his head off in the cages, which struck me as a sign, given my erstwhile plan to flout the homeowner's association. I asked to see the dog and immediately started to feel nervous and hot, the way I had at the breeder's.
An employee removed him from the cage and took the two of us to a large room in back, outfitted with a carpeted bench and dog toys. The store wanted a couple of hundred dollars more than the breeders were asking, and I'd been warned not to buy from a pet store because the dogs usually come from puppy mills. But I knew within minutes this animal was the one.
As his gentle, sleepy body began to move about on its own, there was a certain spring in his step and sparkle in his eyes. He picked up a plastic toy, brought it over to me and laid it in my lap.
Oh no, I thought. Oh gosh.
My impulse was to get out of there, but first I stalled at the front desk with questions about payment and procedure, my eyes on the employee who was putting my dog back into the cage, where he was prone to be snatched up by someone else. Then I walked around the mall to give the whole thing - suddenly more terrifying and thrilling than ever - some serious final consideration.
I walked and walked, my stomach in knots. Just do it, a passing T-shirt seemed to coach me. Just get in your car and drive away, I coached myself.
After 45 minutes I called Glenn, who wasn't home. Into the answering machine I nervously outlined the crux of my problem. He hadn't given his permission, so I was afraid to anger him by going forward. But I thought this was the right dog. But he was really expensive. But I really wanted him. And on and on until the machine cut me off.
I went back into the pet store to look at the dog, who was sleeping in a little mound. I attempted to negotiate a lower price and was offered $100 worth of supplies to go with the purchase. Damn, damn, damn.
I left the store again and this time went to my car, started it, and backed out. Then I pulled forward into the space again, turned off the motor and dragged myself back up to the mall, where I called my closest friend, an ex-boyfriend who had never understood my marriage. He wasn't home either. I babbled some more into his machine, then hung up.
No one's going to make this easier for you, I said to myself. The anguish was not knowing if I could take care of another living thing. I felt unfit, inadequate, out of practice. After all, I didn't take care of Glenn, and he didn't take care of me. Though we loved each other, it could hardly have been said that we belonged to each other.
I TOOK several deep breaths. Then I went and got my dog.
During the drive home he threw up on me. It was nothing. I cleaned up the mess and we continued on. At home Glenn was waiting for us with a huge smile. He'd locked away the cat and put out a bowl of water.
As we sat on the floor together, Glenn cooing as he rubbed the puppy's soft belly, I was surprised to find myself angered by his happiness. He had no idea what I'd gone through to bring this sweet gift, this simple pleasure, into our life.
But whose fault was that? At a young age I had learned that needing someone was the quickest way to disappointment and pain, so I had become self-sufficient and strong, which both attracted the kind of men I liked and protected me from our inevitable parting. With dogs, there was no such problem.
And true enough, Glenn and I lasted only a few more years after that, but I still have the dog. Actually I have two.
I am now one of those women who lives alone and goes in and out of relationships while depending on her dogs for long-term companionship and tactile comfort. A few weeks ago, at a party, I met one of my brethren; this woman admitted to spooning her dog, whose face is the first she sees each morning, asleep on the pillow beside her.
"Love is love," another friend said, shrugging.
But I don't know. I watch the way my dogs, a male and female, interact. She is the dominant one, aggressive when it comes to getting attention and food. When they play, he is on his back, delighting in the clumsy way she noses his ribs and nibbles his neck. Yet she takes good care of him, licking his head and ears, finding the ball when he can't and taking it to him.
This is my struggle still, to learn how to be vulnerable in love, to be able to show my naked underbelly and trust that it will be neither smothered nor starved of devotion.