So, I’ve got these three dogs, see… And they’re my children, right? And I guess I’m kind of like a single mom. But without the health insurance, daycare expenses, and legal battles of a single mom… (Shout Out to all single parents! I think you have the toughest job in the world and I commend you!)
And I’ve got this great guy in my life – we’ll call him The Honey. The Honey is amazing and wonderful and sweet and kind, and I really love The Honey. When I first started dating The Honey, I was convinced nothing that good could ever last. He’d say something kind and I’d reply, “We’ll see if you still feel that way six months from now.” He called it his “six month probationary period,” and laughed. He’s always got a smile on his face or a laugh in his voice – it’s just one more reason to love The Honey.
The probationary period is officially up this weekend. We’re 6 months in to what I have to say is my healthiest relationship ever, and we’re deliriously happy about 85% of the time. The other 15% of the time, I’m letting my past experiences with The Dreaded Ex color my relationship and influence my perception of The Honey. I’m working on that… It’s a long row to hoe.
So, about 2 weeks ago, as The Honey and I were getting ready to call it a night, we heard the pitter-patter of little
feet paws echoing down the hallway ahead of us. Since Westley, my littlest pup, is an intact male (show dog) with a penchant for peeing on the corner of our bed, I was not thrilled with the idea of him beating us to the bedroom for the night. Without thinking, I called out, “Westley, wait for your daddy!”
And then I nearly died.
Um, Daddy? No. Right? Right.
I have been extraordinarily careful to call The Honey “Uncle Honey” in reference to the dogs. The Dreaded Ex used the title of “Daddy” with my dogs and called me “Mommy” to his dog. He used that title as a way to keep me wrapped up in his mind games for years – including many months after the (third and) final split. “You’ll always be Dog’s mommy” was his excuse to call me and keep me tuned in to his life and his needs, even when he had no regard for my own. After our split, I looked at our fractured family – me with my 2 dogs (Westley hadn’t joined our family yet), and him with his only dog – and I knew one thing without doubt: Men might come and go, but my dogs and I were a real family.
Now, those of you who don’t have pets may not get this. Then again, those of you who don’t have pets probably don’t read this, either. And maybe even those of you with pets are wrinkling your brow right now, thinking I’m a bit off my rocker. Well, I am a bit off my rocker, but that’s not the point at all.
When I’m happy, I celebrate with my dogs. When I’m sad, I commiserate with my dogs. They never judge me, they never make fun of me, and they are always there for me. If that’s not family, I don’t know what is. Don’t be a “speciesist” – family can and certainly does extend far beyond bipeds.
The Honey didn’t say a word. He smiled and ran ahead and safeguarded the blanket from Westley’s wicked aim. We got into bed, and I thought the slip had passed unnoticed, when The Honey whispered into the dark bedroom, “So I’m his daddy now?” The slight lilt at the end of the sentence was the only indication that it was an interrogatory, rather than a declaratory statement.
In the half-second following his question, I played out two scenarios in my Virgo brain, analyzing to the fullest extent possible the consequences of the two answers I could give (if only it had been a declaratory statement, all this could have been avoided!).
On the one hand:
“No, it was a slip. Don’t read so much in to it. You know I didn’t mean it.” I know The Honey would accept that answer, would show no signs of being hurt (but might be hurt, despite evidence to the contrary), and would probably laugh at my relationship paranoia.
On the other hand:
“Yes, I guess you are. After all, the probationary period is nearly over.” I don’t know how The Honey would take that answer. I don’t know what he’d say in response. But I fear the worst, and the worst is that he’d not want what I’d laid on him, and he’d bolt.
They teach you in law school: when you are cross-examining a witness, you should never ask a question you don’t know the answer to. Since I couldn’t foresee how The Honey would react to the latter statement, I stuck to my vehement denial. Without skipping a beat, I told him it was a slip. And that is certainly the truth – I had no conscious intention of calling him Daddy to my dog.
I can’t imagine anyone being a better caretaker – to quadrupeds or bipeds or any other animal – than Then Honey. I think The Honey would make an incredible daddy. And I think I’ve made it clear that I have a chronic raging case of baby fever, with regular acute flair-ups, so you can all safely assume that I’ve fantasized about what it would be like to have little people with The Honey. But admitting such things out loud may do nothing but give him ammunition for his “manipulation ray guy,” or for his “hurt rifle.” So it’s better to say something that might hurt him, rather than saying something that might give him the power to hurt me.
It took me nearly a full week to realize what had happened that night. The Dreaded Ex had struck again.
The Honey doesn’t have an artillery of weapons aimed at my heart. The Honey doesn’t carve his words carefully to give himself the upper hand and insure that if anyone’s hurt, it’s not him. The Honey doesn’t play mental or emotional chess during every conversation we have. The Honey doesn’t do any of those things The Dreaded Ex did – that’s why The Honey is my honey.
But it appears I’ve become some sad, strange version of The Dreaded Ex.
I kind of pity The Dreaded Ex now. What did his dreaded ex do to him to cause him to be so scarred and brittle that he always felt the need to strike first, lest he be struck? What kind of emotional virus is this, that once infected, you seem cursed to infect the next person who opens his or her heart up to you, unaware?
And what do I have to do to break this cycle?