Going to the Dogs
What if someone loved you the way a dog does? Could you do the same for them?
I’m an unrepentant cat person. My son developed an obsession with cats the moment he became sentient. We brought home two cats from the rescue agency the minute we landed back in the States, well before I bought furniture for the house. I then dated a dog man for over a year. His visits traumatized one of my cats so deeply the cat still pees in the four corners of the house. After that experience I made it clear on my dating profile that I am not a dog person and, for the sake of my cat’s sanity and my carpet cleaning bills, I would not, no matter how visually appealing and eloquent you were, be your girlfriend.
So, imagine my deep discomfort when reading Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Mastery of Love when I came to the chapter where he claims the perfect relationship is one in which we act like dogs. I was all in when it came to the wisdom of his first book, The Four Agreements. I could stand behind being impeccable with my words, not taking anything personally, nor making assumptions, and always doing my best. But dogs, as my son and I quip, were just so…annoying. I hold a dubious belief that dogs lack discernment, are pandering and bubble headed. I don’t want to date that. Why would I want to act like one? I had to take deep breaths to get through Ruiz’s analogy.
Essentially, Ruiz is asking us to love our people the way we love our dogs. A dog is a dog, and you love it the way it is or you don’t. A dog knows how to have a perfect relationship with you. They will accompany you wherever you go because they are very interested in their relationship with you. If you don’t want to play, a dog does not sit there and insist you play or be happy. They will rest or play on their own and be available to you again when you’re ready. I put my cats outside in the morning and they don’t care if they see me again until their tummies begin to growl. And my likeness to cats may be why I’ve struggled in all my relationships.
But we train our dogs, right? We cultivate behaviors in them that bend them to our will, that fit with our lifestyle. Isn't that changing the dog? Ruiz doesn't account for this in his use of dog love as a stand in for human love. I suppose it's a matter of degree. It's reasonable and expected that we might ask our partners to modify their behavior on our behalf; leave their shoes at the door rather than sully the house, tell us when they feel hurt rather than bottle it up until it explodes. But when someone resists the change we ask of them, that's when we have to take the dog analogy seriously. My brother's dog barks frantically whenever she sees people hugging. They can't train that out of her and they don't seem interested in my suggestion that she have her vocal cords removed. So we all accept that hugging each other is accompanied by their dog's objections.
The very essence of achieving the best possible relationship, according to Ruiz, is to choose what you want and love what you choose. Exactly the way it is. In order to do this, we must understand what our bodies and minds need and what fits well with who we are. This may be at the root of my past discontents; not putting the effort into knowing myself fully and the qualities I want in a partner before jumping into a relationship based primarily upon my physical attraction to him or his desire for me.
Ruiz writes, “Project what you really are and don’t pretend to be what you are not. If you know what you want, you will find it is just like your relationship with your dog, but better. The right person for you is the one you can love just the way they are.” And, “If someone wants to change you, you are not what that person wants.”
I spent years asking my husband to be someone he wasn’t. I really liked the things he was, but was more depleted by the things he wasn’t. I didn’t know the needs of my heart well enough when I married him to understand that our relationship was untenable. I admired the dog that he was, but I couldn’t thrive with his particular breed. It was my mistake for not understanding myself better and wanting him to be the one to change. When I went alone to see the third therapist he and I had seen together I said, “I guess I have to accept who he is or move on.” The therapist nodded. There was nothing more to say.
What if you already have a cat and want a dog? Ruiz asks us to have the courage to go all in with the cat or let that cat go. If you want to love the person you have, forget the past, begin each day with a higher level of love for them and only be responsible for dealing with your own garbage. You are not in a relationship to clean up your partner’s garbage. You don’t have to accept their bad moods and irritating qualities but, if you are committed to your person, you do have to allow their qualities to exist without insisting they change. Do you ask your dog to stop licking his balls?
After many behavior modification products failed to stop my cat from “inappropriately eliminating” throughout the house, my vet suggested I put him on Prozac. I didn’t want my kitty to go through the discomfort of what I know that medication does in order to become therapeutic. Instead, I told her I’d decided to love my cat just the way he was, as he’d become. He lets me rub his belly and makes the most adorable sounds. He is a bundle of anxiety and unfettered devotion. He’s loving me exactly the way he can. And I will love him exactly the way he is. That’s all Ruiz is trying to get us to do with our people.