Q: When is a pet just a pet?
A: When it lives in the home of a “traditional” family: husband, wife, 2+ adorable kids. It’s part of Americana.
In a different scenario, though –one that doesn’t include, at least a married couple– Cute Pet is a substitute for something important. If you’re a single woman, especially of-a-certain-age, and you have a dog or cat . . . well, suddenly everybody’s a psychologist and they’ve determined that you’re trying to fix something.
At the launch party for my new book, The Spinsterlicious Life: 20 Life Lessons for Living Happily Single and Childfree (shameless plug), someone asked me why I hadn’t brought my “husband”…referring to my dog, Danny. I smiled a weary smile and said “I left my dog at home.” I love my dog dearly, but I’m not confused: he’s not my husband, he’s not my kid…and he’s not a substitute for either of those things. It seems that I’ll never get away from this tiresome stereotype.
One day I was on the phone with my married-with-children friend, B, and I realized that she’s not listening to me; she’s talking to someone else in the room. Actually, she’s talking to her dog, Charlie, who is kind of adorable…and she’s cooing at him and using baby talk. Hearing her do that was pretty cute, but I also realized that if I did that people would find it sad.
Science, literature, news reports, and popular magazines are rife with stories on the benefits of pet ownership. Pets are good for you; they’re good for your mental health, your emotional health, your physical health. They boost your self esteem. Yep. And if it’s a dog (I’m a little biased in that direction), they’re just a joy to have around. If you search “benefits of pet ownership” online, you’ll get 929,000 hits on Google alone. That’s right—almost 1 million opportunities to learn what’s great about having a pet and why so many people love them.
It should be all good then, right? Yet I, a single woman, am sometimes amused—but mostly befuddled—at how many people comment that my dog is taking the place of the husband I don’t have, the child I don’t have, or both.
I live with a 12-year-old Yorkie, who I believe is the cutest dog in the world. He’s delightful. But for a reason I don’t understand, folks like to elevate him from his pet status to a fill-in for some dark hole in my life. A dark hole that doesn’t exist, by the way. It seems it’s not possible that I love having a dog for the same reason everybody else does: he’s cute, fun, cuddly, good company, a loyal companion, and he knows the real meaning of uncompromised love. That’s what people with families love about their dogs, too.
I know lots of married people with children for whom the dog is a serious, solid, main companion to one of the adults in the house. They usually say the dog is “for the kids,” but in actuality, Fido really belongs to mommy or daddy. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But no one ever asks if mom/dad is hanging out with the dog because their spouse ignores them, or if it’s a fill-in for the poor relationship they have with their kids, or because they’re lonely in a house full of people. Nope, it’s just a pet.
Married? The dog’s just part of the family. Single? The dog’s replacing what you’re missing in your pathethic little life. That’s b.s., ok? Stop it.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
NOTE: The Spinsterlicious Life: 20 Life Lessons for Living Happily Single and Childfree— has been published and is available here and here, and on Amazon.
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