For many of us in the Baltimore area, we grew up catholic. I’ve mentioned before that Maryland was the original safe haven for papists and it’s the easiest place to actually be a catholic outside of say, Rome. The reason for even mentioning this is (of course) to delve into something that started out as “a catholic thing” but should definitely permeate the rest of society.
There are several accepted stages of a relationship: the first date, the first kiss, meeting the parents, engagement, marriage, etc. But after the initial try-outs, you can find yourself in one of the following categories: “not ready to move in together” or“not quite ready to change your Facebook status permanently." This is where I found myself a few months ago.
I’ve wanted my own dog since perhaps the very instant I moved out of my parents’ house. Something about them has always appealed to me and I’d like to think that if the whole reincarnation thing does exist and I play my cards right (I know, I know – not a chapter in the Catechism), I’ll be a Labrador Retriever in a future life. But, as many post-college twenty-somethings often are, I was a practicing nomad for five years until I recently broke down and accepted that the buyer’s market wasn’t going to get much better. At the same time, I celebrated two years with the same fabulous boyfriend – a feat that many who know me best still can’t really believe.
It’s inevitable that the “where is this going” conversation is going to come up during the span of two years and usually, after several cocktails. And for many of my closest (non-catholic) friends, the relationship step after “I wouldn't mind being snowed in with this person” is “moving in.”
What's that sound? A screeching record. Here’s where you needed that exposition (or maybe you didn’t.) The very term “moving in” sends catholic flare guns and sirens blazing into the night sky – this, quite simply – is not allowed. Yes, there are several rules that are often cast aside in the modern practice of one’s faith but some (like the ones that could actually cause heart palpitations in grandmothers everywhere when they are ignored) are pretty well-respected. “Moving in” is one of these “no-no’s.” And for girls like myself, the rules of Catholicism are often a very convenient scapegoat for disguising other, deeper-rooted fears of commitment. But whatever the real reason for not "moving in" – there needed to be an in-between step. Something between “meeting the parents” and “engagement” that wouldn’t endanger my grandmother’s health.
Helloooo puppy! My equally dog-obsessed boyfriend and I decided to get a puppy that would live at my new house but be “trained” by both of us. We figured it would be a good to have some kind of communal asset (dog) without any real violation of the co-habitation rules. I also wanted to see how we handled the stress of a cute but demanding addition to our otherwise uncomplicated lives. Puppies are a LOT of work. I know everyone says that – but when you actually live it, it finally makes sense. And we did really well – so well actually that I thought about how great the experience had been for our relationship. We not only handled the responsibility (but really, what’s the other option?) but we actually communicate a bit better now as a result.
The experience got me thinking – shouldn’t everyone go through the dog stage? Okay, no. There are cat-people out there who find the idea of an animal that actually shows affection ridiculous. And there are those of you that jump into the full-blown commitment pool with both feet, no swimmies, and no lifeguard on duty. For the rest of us, and more specifically, for those of us who really like our single lives but really like the idea of the person we’re dating hanging around for (possibly) ever, there’s the dog.
Best case scenario? You find out what a compassionate, loving person your significant other can be by how they treat something that can’t cook for them. You have a dog. You meet your neighbors at the dog park. Life is good.
Worst case scenario? You’re significant other has no patience for said dog, they are constantly irritable, and you end up doing all the work. HELLO! What if this was another person?? What if the “dog” was some other kind of joint responsibility? Ditch the dead weight – keep the dog.
For the record, I’m also not suggesting everyone get a puppy. It really is a lot of work and I’m still teaching our dog that my boyfriend isn’t the only alpha and that I’m not a talking chew toy. A loving mixed-breed shelter pup might make you feel better about yourself and even preserve what precious little sleep you actually get during the week. But whatever the age, getting a dog together is the new “in-between” step.
So if you’re a happy little catholic (or an otherwise well-adjusted individual in the “in-between” stage of a relationship), don’t rush into renting a U-Haul. Go get a leash, a collar, and some dog food and see if your relationship can survive the dog stage.