I pride myself on being able to contribute a meaningful remark about most things. I have a voracious curiosity, and so I know a mild amount about economics, a tidbit about muscle cars, a smidge about hot trends. But there’s one topic about which I cannot seem to muster anything meaningful without it sounding fabricated. That thing, my friends, is people’s love of dogs.
Before you plunge the pitchforks into my gut and toss the torches on my belongings, hear me out.
My parents recently adopted a rescue dog, Millie, who’s very sweet and cuddles me without (much) resistance. I thoroughly enjoy her, but I still feel totally confused about how to respond to her, or how to show I care for her. Thankfully, she’s perfectly content to curl up on my lap and rest, leaving me to continue whatever relaxation I was engaged with. But when it comes to dogs in general, any semblance of general social aptitude evacuates my consciousness and leaves me bereft of any social ammunition to unload into the conversation. I’ve never felt more validated in my misunderstanding than when watching Ellie Kemper explain to Seth Meyers her own struggle to interact with his dog, Frisbee. Except for me, her struggle applies to all dogs everywhere.
My nightmare social scenario would resemble the following:
While strolling down the avenue enjoying a brimming cup of joe, I happen upon a furry mass of slobber and energy lumbering toward me, dragging its owner behind it like a hapless young camper tricked into taking a go with water skiing. No amount of juking or re-direction can stop the inevitable encounter, and the beast saunters into my personal bubble and proceeds to violate the tranquility of my afternoon. “Oh, don’t mind her,” the beleaguered owner whose breathless rasp indicates that this is her version of runner’s high. “She’s just got a little Himalayan Poodle in her.” As the stranger roars with laughter, an awkward chuckle would emit from my quivering face. I raise my coffee above my head, as if it’s Simba, freezing in place hoping the dog will move on.
Finally, I venture a reply: “Yeah, well, you know those Himalayas, so used to the… the mountains… must be acting up in low elevation, am I right? Not to mention the lack of yetis around these parts.”
Then the stranger would scowl, my identity as an ignorant fun-hater revealed. She and her beast would turn heel and abscond, dejected that their enthusiasm had been met with such utter futility.
When people are discussing their passions and hobbies, I can typically muster a thoughtful remark or ask a query that suggests some curiosity. But when people are talking about their dogs, I shrivel into a statuesque void, offering nothing to the giggles and murmurs that otherwise solidify strangers together through their mutual affection for loyal canines.
I’ve discovered just how devastating it is to my pride to be petrified by a topic of conversation. I hang my hat on the notion that I know at least a little bit about most things. I’ll offer a question about some mechanism of physics to my brilliant brother-in-law, and he’ll vastly expand my knowledge on things like unsolvable equations, wind turbines, and optics. Later, I’ll have no hope of replicating his explanation, but at least I’ll have remnants of fun physics factoids that I can pull out when in a social pinch. But with dogs, I can nary conjure a shrivel of authentic enthusiasm. I would fare much better identifying obscure fruits, maybe even constellations, than I would distinguishing the most basic of dog breeds.
It’s not that I dislike the creatures, or feel as though people should release their pets to the wild. It’s just that I can’t meaningfully contribute, and that threatens my façade. It peels back the carefully curated illusion I’ve cast, revealing to others that I am not an impregnable factoid generator, and that my social skills dissolve in the face of a simple domesticated creature.
But that’s probably okay. I think I need a few more things like that, honestly. Things that make me shut up, sit back, and observe something that isn’t my cup of tea while appreciating it nonetheless. Be satisfied that there is awkwardness in life, and that it really is okay not to be comfortable around dogs.
Just don’t even get me started on cats.
Matt Coldagelli (’14) majored in English writing and psychology at Calvin. He’s currently pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology with an emphasis on children and adolescents. He watches an absurd amount of TV and is a certified craft beer snob. Matt lives with his lovely wife in Oak Park, IL.