Dear Wayne and Wanda,
Last fall, I started dating this great guy. He’s smart, funny, hard-working, very passionate about his family and friends, and we have great chemistry. The one area where things don’t line up is his dog. Admittedly I’ve never been a dog person, or a pet person. I have some mild allergies, and I’m kind of a clean freak. All the dog hair and the dog smells aren’t for me. I also have enjoyed the freedom of not owning a pet. If I want to do something after work, or take a vacation, I do — I don’t have to worry about letting a dog out or making sure an animal is fed.
He is just the opposite. His life literally revolves around his dog. Every activity we do has to somehow involve the dog. The dog comes along on the most mundane errands. The dog is with us on the couch for movie nights and on the bed during sleepovers. We’ve gone out of town together twice and both times, he would only consider places that allowed pets and brought the dog along, even though we were only gone a night, and even though there are plenty of people to check in on the dog — which, mind you, is a young dog in perfect health.
We’re now planning our first vacation, hopefully to Hawaii, and he wants to bring the dog, which I think is nuts. When I suggested not taking the dog along, he got very defensive. He said leaving the dog was like leaving his child. I said no, it was like leaving a dog. This did not go over well. I need advice, maybe some tough love, because I feel like no matter how great this guy and our connection is, this relationship is doomed. Help?
Animal lovers are their own special breed. They live in a world where human needs are happily balanced with those of their four-legged friends because they are grateful for the joy, playfulness, and dog-gone unconditional love that is forged in that super special human-animal companionship. This is not a bond you’re going to break, and while you may earn your own special spot in this guy’s life, there will be a third wheel on the couch, and in the bed, and possibly on vacation for the foreseeable future.
But while his pup is a tag-along for walks, dates, errands and more, you might have a point with Hawaii. It’s your first vacation as a couple. It’s Hawaii! You want to stay in a carefully selected resort, not be relegated to an outlier property with the creepy cat people. It might sound nuts to you that your boyfriend is comparing his dog to a child, but actually, traveling to a Hawaii with a dog would be like going with a child: You’d have less freedom, more restrictions, and a helpless third party relying on you for feeding and care.
Level with your guy: You really like him, and while you generally really don’t like dogs, you’re learning to live with that because he’s important to you and the dog is important to him. But Hawaii is also important to you, and seeing as this is your first legit vacation as a couple, you want just that: a vacation as a couple. The dog needs to stay behind.
First, apologies to all parents, who surely find this whole situation ridiculous. I am a big dog guy and love, love, love my pups. I would do just about anything for them. And boy, I’ve done, and paid, a lot.
Yet I, like all rational people, do not believe, or treat them like, they are children. They are a commitment and I accept accountability for being their provider, protector, poop-picker-upper and brains of the operation, which is scary.
Pets give back in their own ways. They’re reliable, loving friends. My dogs have made me more considerate and caring, organized and responsible, and taught me new levels of patience and sacrifice. That’s made me a better friend to the humans in my life. I’m sure your boyfriend’s dog has taught him some valuable lessons, too, though they haven’t exactly translated to his human relationships.
So here are a few more gifts that your boyfriend needs to appreciate: trusting other people with your pet and letting go. I need sanity breaks from my dogs. I also have to leave them with strangers at doggy day care during busy workdays, and with friends during vacations. Do I feel guilty? Anxious? A little. Do I still have to move on with life? This dog food doesn’t pay for itself, and I’m no good for them if I’m a train wreck.
Your boyfriend needs to find some serious balance and get realistic about the respective roles of owner and pet, and boyfriend and girlfriend. If he doesn’t get a grip and take this trip with you, leave his dog behind and not freak out about it the entire trip, he isn’t ready to be your companion and you need to run away.