When my husband and I moved from Massachusetts to Oregon in June, we lived with my lovely mother-in-law for two months while we waited for our new lease to start. She’d just adopted a rescue dog, a comely—if hyper—chihuahua / spaniel mix. As dogs go, she’s a good little pooch, and getting better all the time. But I’m simply not a dog person. I get why people love dogs. I can’t criticize the impulse; dogs are charming. But dogs demand more than I personally am able to give.
I can’t say I’m a cat person either, if only because I’ve never had a pet cat. (I grew up with birds, shock of shocks.) But I’m starting to suspect I’m a non-practicing cat lover. Put a good-tempered cat in my vicinity and I will develop an immediate crush on it, wondering what I can do to win its attention, all the while wanting to appear cool in front of it. Whereas with a dog, I spend a lot of time and energy trying to deflect the love-assault. That’s the thing—dogs give out their love like buckshot sprayed at your face. Cat love is held in reserve and will only be dispensed at the cat’s own fickle discretion.
We recently settled in our new place, and a stray has been coming around—a handsome and nosy adolescent black cat I’ve named Sam Friendly. He’s even burgled his way into our house a couple times, sneaking in through a second-floor window, then sauntering past us like he has every right to be there. I sort of want to adopt this ballsy bastard, but at present I’m slightly more infatuated with my new couch, which I’d hate to see ripped up along with my newfound interest in cat guardianship. Still, I did swing by the local clinic to ask how much it would cost if I could lure Sam Friendly into a carrier and bring him in for chipping and basic medical care. He’s a good guy. He deserves that much, at the very least.
In addition to all this real-life cat and dog intrigue, I just finished revising Give It All, the second Desert Dogs book, and there’s this scene in it where the heroine, Raina, is talking with her ex, Miah (Jeremiah), about why they never worked out.
“You saw things about us I refused to,” Miah said. “Like how I’d probably have come to resent you a few years down the road, feeling like I was giving so much, when you can seem so…”
“Not quite. But indifferent.”
She nodded. “Like cat love. You’d have been stuck settling for scraps of me.”
He laughed. “I’ve always hated cats.”
“That’s so my style—stingy little morsels of affection. Give a man a taste, then wander off and do my own thing. Dogs are…”
“Dog love is like a hose you can’t turn off,” Miah offered.
“Yeah, one that never runs dry. Too much. All you can do is try to dodge the spray. Sloppy.”
My husband and I share this same dynamic. I’m the cat, he’s the dog. His well of love is bottomless—it will never go dry, and it can never be overfilled with incoming affection. It’s never not a good time to touch him. He’s never uttered the phrase, “I need some space,” in the seven-plus years we’ve been together. Not once, while I bet I say it weekly.
My well of affection, on the other hand, is finite. It needs time to replenish after it’s been tapped, or else I’m left exhausted and cranky. I mete out my more earnest and tender thoughts in tiny parcels, and it’s about a fifty-fifty split, the likelihood that I’ll be receptive to casual physical attention or not. Hug me when I’m in an anxious or pensive mood and it’s probably about as satisfying as cuddling a rock. I’ve worried more than once that if we end up having a child, I’ll be the frazzled or distant parent, compared to my husband, the all-you-can-squeeze love buffet. I’m hoping that what some friends have said is true—that parenthood opens up untapped reserves of affection and fondness in even us frosty types.
I used to feel like something in me was broken, until I noticed that dogs and cats operate in these exact same ways. If a cat’s in the mood for attention, it trots straight over and pushes itself right up against you. Once it’s content—or if you don’t pet it to its standards—it simply wanders away. Dogs, on the whole, can’t get or give enough affection. As Miah put it, dog love is a hose you can’t turn off. As a cat, that makes me feel like I’m drowning, sometimes. And my husband, as a dog, must feel like he’s giving everything and getting a bum exchange rate.
Except in our case, it seems to work. Probably because we both know how the other person operates, so no one takes it personally. He might wish I was a little less twitchy about my personal space sometimes, and I might wish he understood what it was like to be a sponge, instead of a bottomless well—I get both oversaturated and wrung out pretty quickly, when it comes to receiving and giving emotional sustenance. Try as I might, I’ve never been able to will myself into a more doggish disposition.
I’ve dated fellow cats before, and I can admit it’s not a ton of fun. Maybe I worked a little harder to earn those precious droplets of affection, and maybe I take the deluge for granted now that it’s mine to swim in whenever I like. But I have to say, I’ve never felt so secure with a man as I do with my love-hose of a husband. Like a dog, he never leaves me doubting his feelings and loyalty for a second.
And I think I’d rather drown in love than spend my life feeling thirsty for it.