I am dating a guy who likes his dog more than he likes me. He is a successful lawyer who grew up in a heimishe home and started off yeshivish. When he was in his late twenties, he became more modern and moved into an apartment by himself, far away from his family. To keep from feeling lonely, he got a huge dog.
We met about ten months ago and have been dating seriously. He has been ready to get engaged, but he wants the dog to live with us after we get married. I am terrified of dogs. Since I was a kid, I have always run away from dogs. There is no way I am living with a dog, and I told him that.
This guy is sincere about me, and he has been saying all along that he will give me time to adjust to a pet. But I am worried, because last week he told me that his mother’s friend is trying to fix him up with a girl, and if I don’t make a decision soon, he will go out with her.
I am shook-up over this new direction he is taking. My family and even his family think that he is crazy to choose an animal over me, but it looks like this is where things are heading. Am I wrong or is he crazy?
By Baila Sebrow
Not having met this guy, I cannot comment on his mental status. But you need to recognize that there is more to this picture than meets the eye. This almost sounds like a custody situation—and in a sense it is. The relationship between a person and his dog is similar to that of a parent and a child. I understand how you feel about dogs. I, too, share your fear of big dogs. I can admire them from afar, but up close, that’s a different story.
Experts in psychology have long been recommending ownership of pets, specifically dogs. Studies have shown that the benefits are for people who live alone as well as for those within a large family unit. Many families choose to bring a dog into their lives as an additional member of the household. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see frum families doing so. Oftentimes, the children make the decision as to the type of dog that will be brought into the family. As much as this has become more acceptable today, it is less frequently seen in the heimishe and yeshivish circles.
Having been brought up in a heimishe home and living a yeshivish type of lifestyle, as the guy you are dating was, his becoming more modern and moving out is not considered run of the mill. Taking a dog into his apartment—even though he lives alone—is still viewed in such circles as less than ordinary. His family in all probability finds his way of living and the connection he has with his pet to be bizarre.
You have been dating this guy for almost a year, yet I feel that you do not completely understand him and where he is coming from emotionally. You need to examine the chain of events in his life. This guy lived with his family for a large part of his life, but he then made the decision to become more modern. Do not fool yourself into thinking that it happened “out of the blue.”
There was without doubt a personal reason for doing so, and additionally this guy decided to get his own apartment a far distance from his family. Please look into this guy’s relationship with his parents, siblings, other family members, and friends. Ask questions about why he decided to become more modern than his home and yeshiva upbringing. I am not saying that his choices necessarily represent a problem, but you should be privy to all information, especially if marriage is something that might be in the air.
As often happens when young people move away from their family, he felt lonely. Some choose to take in a roommate, while others do not want to deal with the personality adjustments that come from such arrangements. This guy, being a successful attorney and able to afford his own apartment, instead adopted a dog.
Like most people who have not experienced owning a pet, you cannot understand the relationship a pet owner has with his or her pet. It might surprise you to learn that the bond that develops between an owner and a dog is strong. And the sentiments and loyalty demonstrated by a dog to its owner are powerful. Dogs interact with their caregivers like humans do. An added reason people want a pet in their lives is that these animals love their caregivers unconditionally. It seems that the guy you are dating is enjoying those benefits.
You naturally feel that this guy might be choosing his dog over you, but I am certain that is not the way he sees it. He understands and respects the fear you have of dogs, which is why he was willing to give you time to adjust. In seeing that nothing has changed, I believe he decided to try a new strategy.
I am not completely convinced that he really wants to go out with another girl. I do, however, think that this is his way of giving you an ultimatum in choosing him and the dog as the whole package, or not marrying him at all. You have to accept that he cannot give up his dog, in the same way that a parent cannot give up a child. Yes, that is how strong such a bond can get. There have been situations where one gave up a dog for the sake of marriage, but the pain and back-and-forth blame that ensued from such conformance then took its toll on the relationship.
The resolution to your dilemma lies in your hands. Unlike many other dating quandaries, this time “the ball is in your court.” My advice is for you to get to know his dog. I am being serious here. There are many reasons why a relationship cannot work out and should not go any further, but a dog should not be one of them. Giving up on a guy who is sincere, responsible, and caring could ultimately be catastrophic.
If you want to marry this guy and cannot fathom a life without him, you are going to need to take small steps. The first thing you can do is let the guy know that you thought about it seriously and you now understand him. Ask him to help you overcome the fear by first keeping the dog further away and then bringing it closer until you might feel more comfortable.
If you find that the dog is still scary and not taking to you, but the guy still insists on the dog being part of his life, then you will know that there is something more serious going on—and you can refuse to be a part of it. However, I believe that a happy compromise will ultimately be reached. I will conclude with a reflection that dog owners declare that it is well known that guys who take good care of dogs make excellent fathers.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. v
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