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The Condition of Love

4 February 2012 6 Comments

Guest Post by All You Need Contributor Jennifer Winter

Fearless Jenn - Writer Jennifer WinterGrowing up in Montana, I was constantly surrounded by dog lovers.  Dogs were family. Trusted friends, protectors, furry children and loved companions.

I, however, didn’t grow up with a dog in my life. Due to an unfortunate paper route as a child, my father wasn’t too keen on canines, and acquiesced by allowing cats (outdoor only) instead. I loved the cats I had growing up, but always sensed I was missing out on some magical relationship with a dog – I wanted to experience the “unconditional” love dog lovers so often highlight as the best trait of their furry friends.

Once I was on my own, I considered adopting a dog thousands of times. But city life was challenging enough, and honestly I probably wasn’t ready for the commitment. So life continued dog free, leaving me to often wonder if that pure, honest love really existed.

During this time, I dated, fell in love and made a life with someone. The relationship ended after eight years and I started to believe unconditional love was impossible.

I carried this belief with me as I started to date again.  Nothing ever lasted more than a few dates, and I often found myself disappointed with the whole game.  It must be me.  

I’m not cut out for love.

After my first “break up” in my new single life, I sequestered myself in the bedroom for the day, allowing myself to shiver and cry in private. Emptiness filled the room, and once again I considered the possibility that it was me that had the issue.  I was broken. A deluge of tears let loose, soaking my pillow.

Alone, hurt and incredibly sad, I searched for the only living comfort I had left – my cat.  After calling out to him several times to no avail, I gave up and pulled the covers over my head.  It seemed like hours before he finally sauntered into the bedroom, quietly hopping up on the bed to see what the hell the racket was all about (he was napping, after all).

Barely able to see through my tear-swollen eyes, I inched a hand out from underneath my cave of blankets to pet him.  Normally a sweet and loving kitty, he did have the unfortunate tendency to occasionally bite the shit out of me for no apparent reason. I hoped he sensed my suffering, and convinced myself he was there for moral support.  That made me feel better.

Right up until the moment his claws embedded in my arm, his sharp little teeth clamped tightly around my wrist.

Unconditional love my ass.

That day I started researching foster dog programs, and a week later found myself taking home a beautiful brindle pit-mix with big eyes and a dash of salt and pepper fur around his face.  He was around eight years old, and narrowly escaped euthanasia only weeks before.  

I think we knew we were both a little damaged.

Our first few weeks together were uneventful.  I enjoyed having him around, and he started to settle in with me as well.  We went for walks, played fetch and enjoyed umpteen belly rubs.  But I didn’t feel that magical love I was expecting, and I don’t think he did either. Again, I suspected I was the heart of the issue.  I was unlovable.  If a dog didn’t love me, who could?

Then it happened. Like magic, just as I’d fantasized in my youth.  

I came home from work, unraveling after a horrible day in the office, a failed attempt to patch things up with a guy I’d been dating and looking up from the bottom of one of the worst major depressive episodes of my life.  I crumpled into a shaking, crying mess of hair and tears and on the kitchen floor.

I was defeated.  Beaten, bruised and hopeless.

I heard the pad of paws on the floor and looked up to see the dog galloping toward me from the back yard, his dinner barely touched. His large, brown eyes were wide, his head cocked slightly to the left as if to ask “Are you o.k.?”

He was at my side in an instant, gently nuzzling my face with a look of deep concern and empathy in his eyes.  I reached out and wrapped my arms around his muscular neck and shoulders.  He rested his chin on my shoulder and let me cry.

When I couldn’t cry anymore, he followed me to my room and kept watch by my side the rest of the evening, occasionally stretching his head over the bed to give me a kiss – to let me know he was there.

I finally slept, and when I woke he hadn’t moved.  He looked up expectantly, and I smiled back at him.  His tail began to wag excitedly – he knew I was feeling better.  

Still exhausted and drained from the previous night, I wasn’t up for much, but wanted to express my appreciation for his vigil with a special breakfast. I stepped outside to grab his bowl only to find it still full, his water untouched. This abandoned dog, with every reason in the world to look out for his own survival, ignored his own needs – for what? For me?  

I was overcome with the most amazing and humbling sensation. Was this unconditional love?

Suddenly the air was warm and my heart swelled in my chest. I sat down next to his bowl, coaxing him over to eat.

He ignored the bowl, and looked up at me with loving eyes as he kissed away the tears on my face.

All You Need Contributor: Jennifer Winter

Jennifer Winter is a writer, wanderer, and wine lover living in Oakland, California (but always plotting travels abroad). She translates her 14 years of corporate combat experience to help young women navigate their careers through her column for The Daily Muse, and shares her own experiences tackling her fears on her blog FearLess Jenn. You can find her on Twitter @fearless_jenn.

Song: This Must Be The Place by Talking Heads

6 Responses to “The Condition of Love”

  1. melissa mullen says:

    Tears!  Thank you for sharing this.  I’m so thankful I can relate.

  2. Beautiful, Jennifer! (And a pitt… good taste! They’re the most loving dogs I’ve ever met.) 

  3. JMH says:

    I wonder if a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s mouth because it contains more love.  That is, does love possess antibacterial properties?  (Love does not possess.)

    •  Heh…I wouldn’t doubt it for a second!  It wouldn’t surprise me years from now, if researchers discovered the cure for all sorts of human ills, lie in the kisses of pooches 🙂

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