Man or Man's Best Friend?
When Your Boyfriend Says "It's Him or Me"
“I have a dog,” I said, on my second date with Jake.
We had covered the topics of age, careers, marital history and favorite foods during the first date, and now we were getting into the nitty-gritty.
- Reading vs. TV watching
- Ski vacations vs. beach vacations
- Life plan: kids or no kids?
It was this last one that had prompted me to mention Mozart, my dog. I’d noticed Jake had seemed pleased when I’d answered, “No kids.”
Smiling widely, he had said, “Me neither! Too much responsibility. I like to be able to drop everything and travel on a whim.”
Alarm bells went off in my head. I immediately thought of Mozart.
My life was not the “drop everything on a whim to travel” kind of life. It was more of a “Do I have time to stop at that sale after work or will Mozart be unable to hold his bladder?” kind of life.
Which was fine with me. After all, having a dog had been my choice. It was a partnership; we had certain responsibilities to each other.
Mozart always held up his end of the bargain, cuddling with me when I was lonely, following me around the apartment listening to me rant, protecting me, ever vigilant, patrolling while I slept.
We were best buddies, both of us benefiting from our runs on the beach, our strolls in the park, very in tune with each other’s moods.
If he seemed sad, I wanted to know why, checking his fur for mats, examining his teeth, his ears, trying a new brand of food.
If I was sad, he would lay his head in my lap and emit that “doggy sigh” . . . the one that seemed to say,
“This too shall pass. Until it does, I’ll be right here beside you.”
“I have a dog,” I said.
Jake smiled brightly and said, “Really? What kind?”
“He’s a mixed breed. I adopted him. The vet says he’s part Golden Retriever.” I waited, watching his reaction. Jake was hard to read, but he was smiling . . .
“I love dogs!” he said, and I finally exhaled. It would be ok.
I smiled, delighted. “Oh, good! I can’t wait for you to meet him! Maybe next time, we can meet in the park!”
I already had visions of the three of us playing Frisbee together. So much fun!
Jake smiled, nodding, and sipped his martini. He didn’t say anything.
I joked, “I was afraid you might be allergic or something!” I stirred my drink, peeking at his face.
More smiling and sipping. He was making me nervous.
I asked, “So . . . how about you? Any pets?”
Why didn’t he even ask Mozart’s name? Or how long I’d had him?
Jake laughed. “Me? No. I like to be able to just . . .”
I finished with him, “. . .travel on a whim. Right.”
We both chuckled, and sipped at our drinks.
I persisted. “How about growing up. Did you have a dog? Or a cat?”
My own family had always had several cats, and at least one dog, the occasional rabbit, or hamsters . . .
He shook his head, smiling. “Nope,” he said cheerfully and changed the subject.
Looking back, I should have realized the truth right then.
Jake was lying . . . ok, a little harsh. He was fibbing. He didn’t like dogs, or pets at all. No interest in furry companions. He just didn’t relate to them.
He was one of "those" people.
Jake and I continued dating, but we never took Mozart to the park together.
I was starting to notice he would cut me off when I was in the middle of a Mozart story as if my rambling about the cute thing Mozart did today was not worthy of more than a sentence.
I had a niggling bad feeling about this, but other than Jake’s disinterest in Mozart, things were going really well! I liked him a lot.
He was smart and hardworking, and a gentleman. He was polite and respectful to everyone, from waiters to the guy on the street corner, earning even more admiration from me as he was in the habit of helping out the homeless.
I decided to take the bull by the horns, inviting Jake to dinner and a movie at my apartment, and not being swayed when he suggested (again) that we go to a restaurant instead. I was determined he would meet Mozart.
Jake arrived right on time, the doorbell chime setting off Mozart’s booming warning system. I petted his head on the way to the door.
“Good boy. It’s okay. It’s only Jake. You ready to meet Jake?”
Mozart looked doubtful but ceased barking and sat, cocking his head.
When I opened the door, Jake was holding a bouquet of red roses.
I smiled and kissed his cheek, thanking him, and ushered him in, holding his hand.
“Mozart,” I said, regarding his worried, doggy, expression, “this is Jake. He’s our friend.” I made sure my voice was happy and relaxed. Mozart seemed a little confused, probably by Jake’s stiff body language.
I squeezed Jake’s hand and released it. “This is Mozart, my buddy.”
Mozart wagged his tail at the word “buddy”, and approached, sniffing Jake. He started at Jake’s shoes, and walked all around him, snuffling for clues.
Jake stiffened more if that was even possible. “What’s he doing?”
Did Jake sound nervous?
“He’s just figuring out who you are. Normal dog behavior.” I snapped my fingers and walked into the kitchen, Mozart trailing behind me.
“I’m just going to put these in water,” I called. “Do you want a glass of wine?”
I set the roses down, finding a vase in the cabinet. Mozart watched me rummaging, his face hopeful. The dish cabinet was right next to his cookie cabinet, so I grabbed him a treat, tossing it to him. “Good boy.”
Jake entered the kitchen as Mozart happily crunched his cookie.
“Don’t you feed him in a dish?” he asked, watching as cookie bits and drips of saliva dropped from Mozart’s jaws. There was definite distaste in his voice. I tried not to be defensive.
“It’s just a cookie.”
Jake gestured, “But now there’s . . .” Mozart swiped his tongue along the linoleum and got rid of the mess Jake had pointed to.
Jake shuddered. He lost five points for that.
The points racked up in the negative all night. Jake was not interested in petting Mozart, even though the big baby pushed his head practically into Jake’s hand while we sat on the couch sipping our wine.
As we dined on my homemade lasagna, Mozart lay in the kitchen corner on his bed, watching us with a sad expression, emitting the occasional “huff” to show me his feelings were hurt. The usual dinnertime drama. I ignored it.
“Can’t you put him somewhere while we eat?” Jake asked, the fork paused halfway to his mouth.
I was surprised. Mozart wasn’t at our feet, begging. He wasn’t whining. I opened my mouth to speak, but Jake waved his hand.
“No worries, “ he said, with a wink. “It’s fine.” I relaxed.
When we sat on the couch to watch a movie, Mozart came moseying over, putting his head in my lap. I stroked his silky ears. A few minutes into our movie, I noticed Jake looking around himself.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. Mozart lifted his head, seeming to know this was a pivotal moment.
Jake asked, “Do you let him on the couch?” He was looking pointedly at the dark blue upholstery. I immediately felt defensive.
Although I did a weekly couch vacuuming, I could see a few golden hairs here and there.
“Sometimes,” I said, turning deliberately away to watch the movie.
A few minutes later Jake asked, “But not on the bed, right?”
Mozart, good boy that he was, trotted into the kitchen to lay down when he heard the word, “bed”.
I was getting steamed but was determined not to argue.
“Not under the covers,” I said sweetly.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why I continued to date Jake.
I look back and wonder that, too! In my defense, I had just come off a bad year of dating irresponsible, untrustworthy, disrespectful men. Jake seemed to possess all the qualities I had found lacking in my last few boyfriends.
He had a good job, payed his bills, had goals and dreams, was never loud or disrespectful. He just didn’t like dogs. I tried to validate his reactions to Mozart in my head. He just didn’t understand dogs. Once he got to know Mozart, he’d love him, too!
I wasn’t sure of my feelings for Jake. I tried to imagine, if he accepted Mozart, and tried to bond with him, how would I feel?
Would I fall in love with him?
We had been dating six months, and I only stayed overnight at his house. I would rush home the next morning to walk Mozart. It was inconvenient, but it was clear that Jake was uncomfortable around Mozart, and I didn’t want to fight about it. So we just continued on, ignoring the elephant in the room.
Until the day I got a notice that my rent was doubling. I was at the end of my lease and I had been ready to sign a new one, until I was hit with the new rate, due to property taxes in the area going up.
I stared at the notice in dismay. There was no way I could afford that! It sucked, but I would have to find a new apartment. Hopefully, one that was near the park, reasonable, and allowed large dogs. I was already getting a headache when Jake called.
I told him what was going on, and he immediately took charge, calming me down, telling me it wasn’t the end of the world. It was a nice feeling, to have someone on my side. But then the bottom dropped out.
“We should just move in together, someplace big enough for both of us,” he suggested.
I think my heart stopped beating as I considered his words. Living together, a partnership, sharing responsibility . . . maybe we were in love?
“Don’t you mean big enough for the three of us?” I said, half-joking, but wanting to make my point. “We’d have to find a place that allows dogs.”
“Jake?” I asked, my heart pounding. Surely, he didn’t think . . .
“Don’t you know anyone who could take him? I don’t think it would work out if we had a pet,” Jake said.
And that’s when I knew. Jake didn’t love me.
If Jake loved me, he wouldn’t ask me to give up someone that I obviously loved very much. I was certain Jake was aware of my love for and commitment to Mozart.
He just assumed my love for my dog didn’t compare to the potential romantic love we might find together, as a couple.
He was wrong.
After breaking it off with Jake that night on the phone, I sat on my couch, channel-surfing, with Mozart beside me, sprawled across the dark blue upholstery. Neither of us cared a bit about the golden fur wafting about.
Mozart laid his big, furry head in my lap, sensing my sadness, and huffed out a sigh.
“This too will pass. Until it does, I’ll be right here beside you.”