The Dog Likes Me Better (and Other Petty Heart-Warmers)
The shallow, perfect bliss of being more loved by my partner’s dog.
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I went on my first date with my partner a couple of weeks after they adopted Finn, then a six-week-old brindle boy with a Weimaraner’s soulful face, an introvert’s spirit, and a young prince’s entitlement to extreme comfort. I saw Finn every few weeks. He obsessed over the tassels on the back of my Doc Martens. The first night I stayed late in the morning after my new crush had left for work, I snuck Finn a piece of very expensive beef jerky from the co-op, which he did not savor, but I trust he knew it was special. And I trust he knew that I, very much, wanted to be his best friend in the world.
Four years later, Finn, my partner, and I moved in together. Though Finn has aged beyond interest in my boot tassels and biting the hem of my dresses, I remain the most worshiped figure in his life. My partner is the authority figure and team captain; I am the fellow prince to whom he orients his little bows. I am the confidante, co-conspirator, hype man, provocateur, fellow scoundrel iconoclast. We rile each other up. We are often, as a pair, encouraged to take it down a notch. He chooses me to flop right next to when he sneaks on the bed in the morning, aiming the crescent of his back firmly on my uterus. “If I had to guess,” my partner said the other day, “you get three times the snuggling.” I am the cherished, chosen one.
I think because we didn’t raise him together, my petty heart freely loves Finn’s allegiance. I gloat about it constantly. My partner — who is evidently much more mature than I am — generously sees Finn’s orientation to me as evidence of our sweet family bond. If I were in my partner’s position, I know I’d be fuming. Or perhaps, I’d resort to beef jerky bribes until I’d won back favor.
“The way that Bingo performs whenever my boyfriend comes over: it’s obscene,” my friend complained to me about her year-old puppy. “Every time he comes by it’s the six-alarm squeal treatment.” For Bingo, my friend who raised him is: expected, the disciplinarian, the steady provider. Her boyfriend is a surprise, and full of renewed energy to throw the miniature tennis ball off the couch. He’s all fun, and he gets all the fanfare because of it.
Even though my partner raised Finn from puppyhood, Finn is absolutely always on “my side.” Once my partner slipped on the stairs, they yelped, and I cried out if they were okay; and the dog sprinted right over to me. My partner looked up from the ground, expectantly second fiddle. This is unjust. But when you’re the beneficiary of injustice and that benefit includes the best friendship of a hilarious homebody dog, who among us would want to do anything to correct it?
My partner raised an independent boy in Finn, and my partner picked an independent girl with me; naturally the two of us, Finn and I, have a great deal in common. On my most loving days, I think Finn and I get along so well because of the connecting figure that brought us together. On my pettiest days, most days, I think: the dog loves me because my soul glows with mischief.
Of course, a dog’s loyalty might not be such a pure character judgement. My friend lives in a farmhouse in Western Massachusetts with eight people and a dog, Lillian, who has an astonishingly strong preference for only one partner in a couple. “I believe Lillian got her anxiety disorder from his insane training so they’re trauma-bonded,” my friend reported. “He’s an engineer and he orchestrated an extremely regimented training schedule when they adopted her.” Meanwhile, the engineer’s boyfriend was travel-nursing when Lillian first arrived. By the time he returned, Lillian only had eyes for the engineer. Every story I hear about Lillian, she’s snapping at anyone who tries to pet her. Every photo I’ve seen of her, she’s blissed out in the engineer’s lap, calm and asleep.
Years ago, I heard another account — in opposite cadence — from an acquaintance who told me she’d swooped a cat from an ex who had her for three years. My acquaintance explained, casually, the cat just “liked her more.” When they broke up, it seemed like an obvious choice for all parties involved. The ex in question seemed to suffer from generalized yet grave indifference, so the story tracked.
In my flawed interpretation, I’m undoubtedly liked more by Finn, but I’m liked more, in the way that a child likes their best friend over their parent. I feel that my partner and I are both loved, in a real way and a different way by the dog, which gives me respect for his doggy complexity. Although, importantly, a lack of respect is a central tenant in Finn and my riled-up, pranksters, wear-blankets-as-capes and chase-each-other-around-the-kitchen-table friendship. We’ve always got much more fun things on our mind to worry about respect.
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Maggie Lange is a writer, editor, and columnist. Her work has been featured in New York Magazine, Vice, Guernica, GQ, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Elle, and Bon Appetit. She lives in Philadelphia with her favorite brindle boy, Finn.