Stay, Fetch, Lick: Love Me, Love My Dog. Literally.

By Laurel Saville

My husband recently made this observation: “You took 8 years between husbands but couldn’t last 8 months without a dog.”

Guilty as charged.

I don’t love my dog more than my husband. It is that I love – no, I need – solitude. I need some time alone. And it’s easier to be in the extended and deep silence of solitude with a dog than with a husband.

When I was single and had untrammeled expanses of hours that were empty of men and full of dogs, I was not so sure. I, like many – most? – single women, felt I was ‘missing something.’ That perhaps something was ‘wrong’ with me. I had lots of friends, dated regularly, but was, fundamentally, alone. And many days, lonely. However, I believe much of that loneliness was not innate, but learned.

No matter how much progress we’ve made, society is still skeptical of a woman alone. Solitary men are romantic and independent; solitary women are home-wreckers, spinsters, closet lesbians. Lone wolves are always male. Lone females are unwanted, cold, suspect. Dinner parties were off limits to me, as a single woman, I discovered once I hooked up with the man I’m now married to and invitations to multi-couple events suddenly appeared.

This suspicion towards a solitary female did not change when I remarried. I recently took three days in the mountains with just a book, dog and bike for company; other guests at the B+B, all couples, seemed to require an explanation for my single-yet-wedding-ringed state. A mention of my ‘supportive’ husband and the implication that he ‘allowed’ me this getaway seemed to soothe them.

Apparently, women are still judged, and judge themselves, primarily by how well they relate to others. Most women I know expect themselves to be excellent mothers, wives, employees, housekeepers, schedule coordinators, lovers, cooks, daughters, sisters and in-laws, and keep long lists of “To Do” and “To Do Better.”  Bookstores are jammed with tomes proffering advice and counsel on how to improve how we are doing for others. The men I know ask less of relationships and less of themselves in relationships. This, I think, is a good thing.

There is also a cultural compulsion – very American – to stamp loved ones with some identifying mark that tells the world they are “mine, mine, mine.” But, relationships are no less rich when they’re not connected through blood or law. My friend’s relatives are often as important to me as my own. I’ve borrowed other women’s husbands for biking and snowboarding. I’ve traveled Amsterdam with a male friend and without my husband. I’ve nurtured plenty of kids, even without an umbilical cord.

I learned to love my solitude on the day a friend, whose married-with-children and stay-at-home status I’d envied, asked about my weekend. After I had somewhat sheepishly described a few hours of mountain biking followed by even more hours of reading, napping, gardening, writing, a quiet dinner, movie and a long night of sleep, she surprised me by saying, “Wow. I would give anything to have a weekend like that.”

The truth is that I was more lonely in my first marriage than I ever was when single. And the other truth is that there is nothing quite like a real-deal, main-squeeze partner in life. But, this two-person enterprise is also made even better when each individual takes time to reconnect with their inner selves, their deepest desires, their unstated longings, in a way that I think can only happen in extended moments of solitude. I was once asked if I thought I’d be a better partner, having spent so much time single. Yes. Being single taught me to hold more back, enjoy experiences just for myself and their inherent qualities, shared or not. I know this makes me a more contented, calmer, happier person. I’m fortunate I finally found someone who knows it also makes me a better partner.

Laurel Saville is a writer, teacher, communications strategist and author Postmortem, a memoir about the complex life and tragic death of her mother. Saville’s fiction, essays and articles have appeared in the Bennington Review, House Beautiful, Room and many other publications. In addition, she teaches in the MFA program at Western Connecticut State University and at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY.

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