Humans tend to desire, perhaps even need, connections with others, although the shape, texture and definition will vary – sometimes – but not always, leading to love.
However, the human quest for L-O-V-E, due to the word’s multiple meanings and whether it’s being employed as a noun – that is a thing – or a verb – an action word, can be a bit confusing to all parties involved.
Looking back at history, people have had a hard time answering the question “what is love?” for a lot longer than one might think. In Ancient Greece, famous philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle, attempted to explain love rationally and often categorized the different kinds of love people could feel.
During my studies in theology, I learned that in the Greek language, “love” can have at least three meanings: eros (physical love or sexual desire), philia (affectionate love; the type that involves friendship), or agape (unconditional, sacrificial, or selfless love). Two other meanings include: storge (familial love) which is the natural love that family members have for one another; andmania(obsessive love) which is the kind of “love” that a stalker feels toward their victim.
But in this reflection, let us return to “agape love” with reasons why I prefer and seek this type of love above all others.
During a recent conversation with one with whom I had entered into a relationship which dissolved far quicker than I had anticipated, my former love interest said the following, I assume as a means of criticizing me for why things had not worked out. “You treated your dogs better than you treated me!” Initially taken aback, after ending the conversation, but not before agreeing that we had mutually nailed the coffin shut, I began to take a closer look at the relationship I have with my two dogs.
When it comes to the human-dog relationship, the shared feelings between the two species are truly unique. Experts suggest this has to do with the evolutionary past and the deep history that we share: Dogs and humans domesticated each other during the earliest days of human evolution. We changed dogs, and they changed us, too.
In short order, I concluded that my former love interest had been correct but not for the reasons one might assume. Still, I can only think of a handful of people who I love more than my dogs. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why.
Dogs forgive and forget. They have relatively short memories but are great in forming and relying upon habits and routine. So, when something occurs causing a rift between you and your dog, when you “apologize,” perhaps with a treat, a pat on their head or allowing them to sleep in the bed with you for the night, they forgive you and they forget. Humans – well, we often forgive only to bring up the infraction days, weeks, months – even years later. I wonder then, did we ever really “forgive?”
Dogs have feelings but they’re essentially creatures of habit. A quote attributed to Maya Angelou, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time,” suggests that not only dogs, but people, too, tend to be guided by habits. However, people, unlike dogs, have the ability to break from routine when it suits their needs or desires. What you see, or the things they do that you dislike, may disappear for a while. But if they lack integrity, if they’re dishonest, if they do or say things that hurt you, just know that those characteristics will return. And sooner than you think–not the 29th time. Dogs, on the other hand, have a difficult time deceiving us. They put their cards on the table. And when we do the same, our relationship only grows.
Dogs are at their strongest when they reveal their vulnerabilities. Dogs have no problem showing us that they’re hungry, that they’re afraid, that they’re tired or that they love being around us every minute of the day. And when they reveal their feelings, their needs, their thoughts to us, we, if we value our relationship with them, must act accordingly. I may not want to break away from my favorite TV show. I may not feel like letting my dog cuddle up next to me. I may not be bothered by the sudden crack of thunder. But if I really care, I should be able to delay my own immediate gratification for this other creature who needs me at that moment. As I respond to them when they’re at their most vulnerable, they soon understand that they can count on me – without exception – always. And I can do likewise when I need them.
Dogs are not tenants, they’re part of the family. It never ceases to amaze me when people visit me or encounter me with my dogs, how easy it is for them to ask me to infringe upon the way my dogs and I live and interact so they feel more at ease. I keep the couch covered so my dogs can sit on it when they want – after all, the floor is much harder and far less comfortable. I allow them to sleep in my bed because I like being able to reach out and rub them after I’ve had a nightmare or when I’m worrying about something and need reassurance. And I let them roam free throughout the house, keeping watch over and protecting me, us, from both rodents and riffraff. We live together. So, I treat them like they’re equal partners, not like they’re renters in a rooming house.
Dogs love fiercely. This is what matters most to me. Dogs love without fear or trepidation. In fact, I am convinced that they have a heightened sense of empathy which, sadly, many humans lack. Dogs keenly understand our feelings, our motives, and the situations in which we find ourselves –good or bad. I recently marked my mother’s birthday – the fourth year since she died during the early hours of July 4th. While watching a video that I had prepared to celebrate her 90th birthday, I began to cry. Soon, the trickle of tears became a flood. But I wasn’t weeping loudly – at least I didn’t believe I was. But before I knew it, my little dachshund had climbed up on my chest and began to lick my tears. Meanwhile, my much larger boxer wrapped her huge paws around my neck and began licking the tears that the little one had been unable to reach. They sensed how I felt and were “doggedly determined” to help me make it through the pain. That’s agape love – unconditional love.
So, yes, my friend was correct. I do love my dogs more than I love almost anyone else I know. And when I think about it, it’s easy to understand why. Woof-woof!