I’m a shelter dog at heart. It’s not even well hidden. If you’ve never been a shelter dog, had a feral cat, never tried to rehab an abused animal, you have no idea how to love me and even less idea how to date me. How I got this way, well, there’s an entire other blog dedicated to that if you’re so inclined. But it doesn’t matter. It’s just who I am.
I am a shelter dog, a feral cat. Handle with care. Approach with caution
I used to think I just had bad luck, always finding men who were unavailable. Then I started saying that it’s me who is unavailable, emotionally. I’m not the only one who’s said that, there’s been a parade of therapists who’ve said the same thing. But, being emotionally unavailable implies that I don’t want closeness, intimacy, romance, tenderness. That’s not actually true.
It just freaks me the fuck out.
I have a feral cat. We’ve lived together for over ten years. She waits at her bowl and doesn’t start to eat until I sit down to my own meal. She lays on the couch when I’m there, but an arm’s distance away. She sleeps at the foot of my bed, until I wake up and then she’s gone – like a shot. We lived together for two years before I was able to touch her and I still can’t pick her up. If I walk directly towards her, she disappears for one, maybe two days and we have to start all over from scratch, rebuilding the trust.
There is safety in distance. And there is comfort in proximity. The trick is in achieving the balance.
I’d known W for a while. We know dozens of people in common.
When W asked me out, he said that on our date there may be some hand holding, there also might be some kissing, but there would under no circumstances be any tongues or bodily fluids involved. He said he wanted us to get to know each other, that’s all. We walked, held hands, or didn’t. We rode the subway and sat next to each other, close enough to talk and not be overheard. We took the Staten Island Ferry, running around like kids, standing up front and enjoying the wind and I was free to laugh, relax, be silly, hold hands and cuddle. Or not.
It was the best date I’d had in a long time.
W lives 1000 miles away most of the time. I’ll always have a soft spot for him because he gave me a safe place just be the jodi. We still talk on the phone and he’s stopped telling me he misses me and he loves me because it makes me nervous, in that way one gets when a 138 fire alarms are going off in one’s head, simultaneously. It’s the equivalent of walking directly towards my feral cat, it makes me want to disappear for a day or two. So now he says, “I’m extremely fond of you.”
S is a man from in my neighborhood who I know nothing about outside of the fact that he’s handsome. There was something fishy from the very beginning.
After flirting with me for months I finally said yes to an late morning cup of tea. I’m not immune to handsome. He tried to hold my hand in the car, in the diner and again in the car after the diner. He held my hand even when I didn’t hold his back. He said that was how we’d get to know each other, that now our hands knew each other. He told about himself and never asked about me. He tried twice to kiss me. I said no twice. The third time he didn’t ask, his simply tried to push himself on me. I got out of his car at 11am feeling the same as I have getting out of some strangers car at 4am, drunk. I haven’t been drunk in twenty years.
It’s lovely to be wanted. It’s not lovely to be pawed.
When he called an hour later I told him he’d crossed a line and I didn’t want to see him again. I didn’t feel the need to explain about the shelter dogs, about leaving a person the room to feel safe.
I saw him on the street last night. He still doesn’t understand. He thinks I’m angry. I’m not. I’m simply not interested in having to constantly protect the distance I need for me to trust.
Shelter dogs make terrific companions, if you’re willing to put in the time and the work. The longer they’ve been in the shelter, the more homes they’ve bounced around in, the more emotional baggage they bring to the table. But dogs, like people, are companions by nature. Neither of us are meant to live a solitary life.
Feral cats are partners in a whole different way than dogs. Some have been on the street so long, they seem beyond redemption or human touch. They’re lessons in patience and tolerance. Maybe one day a little soft paw reaches out, gently taps you on your arm before it turns tail and runs, hiding someplace safe, again.
They are both lessons in taking the time to learn to love a thing, in the ways it can be loved.