Consider the Weinerdog
Jane Marion Wheeler is gorgeous. Look at her. Her eyes are deep lakes of butterscotch, big and wise and soulful. Her hair is the rich brown of molten milk chocolate. She stands less than four inches tall, but her body stretches nearly two feet like a sinuous limousine. She is my sister’s Dachshund, and she is the most beautiful weinerdog I’ve ever seen.
Not only is Jane a stunning specimen of miniature canine grace, she is warm and loving and completely emotionally available. This weekend I ended up crashing on my sister’s couch for a night. Walking into the house long after everyone else was asleep, I found Jane at the door to greet me, leaping and spinning in giddy circles, her tail whip-whapping like a twanged car antenna. I threw a blanket on the couch and climbed under it, and so did Jane, prancing around on my stomach, making relentless lunges at my face with her pointy wet snout.
Jane loves me. She loves me wholly, with absolutely nothing held back. It’s…kinda gross.
A few things occurred to me as I lay there trying to fall asleep, with Jane curled peacefully on my belly, or my back, or my feet, patiently readjusting herself whenever I changed positions. Every time I moved an inch, her mainsail ears perked and she set about licking my fingers, elbows, feet, any exposed skin she could find. It occurred to me that this is Jane’s “love language”, her preferred medium of showing affection. As yucky as it feels to me, being slobbered and slimed from every angle, I realized that this is her version of a hearty hug and “How are you?”.
So why is it so repulsive?
It’s not that this is a case of unrequited love. Jane isn’t an obsessed stalker calling me in the night and panting, showing up at my work, mailing me severed extremities. I love Jane as much as she loves me. How could I not? Look at her! Her sausage body wiggles when she’s happy! And she’s always happy!
So why can’t I accept her affection? Why do I grimace and cringe away from another creature trying to tell me she loves me? Is the chasm between puppy love and people love really that vast?
Maybe it’s an issue of complexity. Animal love is elemental. A dog either hates you or worships you as a god. There isn’t much middle ground. If they love you, they want nothing more than to show that love, constantly, in the most direct way possible. And what could be a more direct PDA than licking someone? Tasting them, the scent and essence of their skin, trusting and valuing them so highly that you want to actually absorb them into your bloodstream, germs and parasites and all. This is where human kissing came from. Almost all mammals do it. Humans are the only ones grossed out by it.
To be fair, dogs do lick their asses…
But even if Jane’s tongue was marinated in Lysol, wouldn’t I still dodge it? Maybe it’s instinctual for humans to dodge love, or at least such blatant displays of it. Animal love is direct; human love is labyrinthine. We have a layered hierarchy of expression, from a cool nod to a friendly hug to wild passionate sex. The lines constantly blur. Acquaintances become friends, friends become lovers, lovers become enemies, enemies become friends, friends become friends with benefits. We aren’t used to simplicity. We can’t tolerate guileless, unrestrained adoration from a dog any more than from a human.
People love each other, sometimes even wholly, but there are always barriers to our expression. We can’t just go up and lick someone, it’s not allowed! Much too honest, too literally in-your-face. To keep from being repulsed by ourselves, by the true, frightening depths of our need for each other, we invent elaborate procedures to dilute and obscure it. To avoid looking “desperate” or “needy”, we make ourselves pretend not to care. Whether it’s romantic love, friendly love, even family love, we follow cool clinical protocols. We take it slow, we give each other space, we pretend to be self-sufficient and wait three days before calling.
Jane calls bullshit on this. Jane says, I will lick you! That’s how you’ll know I love you! Would I lick you if I didn’t love you? Look at me! I am beautiful, I am perfect, I am full of innocent, primal love, and I love you! Now let me shove my nose in your mouth.