The women I’ve slept with this year have had two things in common: dogs and studio apartments. I never considered the awkwardness of this combination until it was too late.
Josie was first, a Chihuahua/Pomeranian mix and an emotional wreck. In her defense, she was often left alone for long periods of time and, well, anything that small is justified in its mania. When her owner finally did come home, Josie would yap incessantly until someone petted her. She was like a furry alarm clock. Ring, ring, ring, and then silence the moment you rolled over and laid a hand on her.
That’s all she wanted. One hand. You didn’t even have to pet her. Any contact would do.
I did not hate Josie. She wasn’t mean or snobbish as some small dogs tend to be — just in a constant fight for attention. And in that fight, neither of us was doing very well.
The chemistry between her owner and me was less a firework and more an old lighter that works every sixth flick, but that didn’t stop us from entering into a lazy singles agreement to end up at each other’s apartments a couple nights a week.
The first time we slept together, things went smoothly with one exception: Josie wouldn’t stop barking. So her owner reached down, plucked her up and sat her on the bed, where she became more uncomfortable as she realized what was happening. By the end, she had gone silent, peeking over a pillow every few minutes to see if we had finished.
I barely noticed her that first time. My attention was elsewhere, and having her on the bed seemed preferable to her soundtrack of high-pitched yapping. But when it happened a second, third and eighth time, Josie grew harder to ignore. I imagined things from her perspective, especially in those horrifying moments when we made eye contact.
I may not have minded as much if she was simply in the room. But on the bed? That felt too close. Plus, Josie was too small to get down on her own so it was somewhat of a hostage situation.
One night, as Josie’s owner and I were switching positions, I accidentally kicked her off the mattress; I looked over my shoulder in horror to see a nose and two tiny paws fall out of sight. I was mortified. Her owner looked over and shrugged.
“It’s O.K.,” she said. “She’s real fluffy.”
And we went back at it.
I could have suggested to Josie’s owner that we take her off the bed or at the least put a tiny blindfold over her eyes, but I didn’t want to further intrude on the intimate bond between pet and owner (a relationship stronger than the one we shared, after all). And I figured she knew Josie better than I did. Maybe that forsaken look in her eyes was, uh, normal?
Two months in, the momentum started to slow between Josie’s owner and me. Things ended as they so often do in this era, with an unanswered text. Josie wasn’t the only one in the room with communication issues.
The next couple months of solitude took some adjustment. The type of reliable hookup I had with Josie’s owner was a rarity for me. Losing it was like having the restaurant around the corner go out of business. Now, on quiet nights when my relationship refrigerator was bare, I had to figure out something else or go to bed hungry — usually the latter.
I was relieved when I met someone months later, and even more relieved when I met her dog, Rigatoni. Like Josie, he was part Chihuahua, but he had none of her emotional hangups. He was a good boy and he knew it. His strut had bounce. If I had an eighth of Rigatoni’s confidence, I’d be president tomorrow.
His owner and I met on a dating app, and that’s how she met Rigatoni too, on some sort of pet adoption app where you swiped yes or no on animals. Under normal circumstances, being virtually selected alongside a pet may have felt unsettling, but clearly she had great taste in dogs and it was flattering to be in such good company. Whatever quality caused her to swipe yes on Rigatoni, I hoped, was also visible in my profile.
He chaperoned us on nearly every outing and I didn’t mind a bit. He came along on one of our first dates, a trip to the beach, and guarded our towel while we swam. He nestled up to my chest afterward — all sandy and warm — and I was thrilled at his approval.
We ended up back at her (tiny) place later and had only been kissing for a few seconds when she pulled back, gasped and said, “You’re so weird!”
I was horrified until I realized she was talking not to me but to Rigatoni, who had suddenly appeared over my shoulder with a menacing look.
That became the theme of our next few dates. We would be kissing and then I’d hear, “Toni!” and turn around to see her dog looking like he wanted to punch me in the nose.
There was nowhere to hide; the apartment was too small. I would never suggest locking him in the bathroom; she would have sooner locked me in the bathroom. And I understood. He was special.
When we moved from the couch to the bed, I was disappointed to learn he could jump up on his own. Rigatoni was an agile fellow and, unlike Josie, was not afraid to intervene. He would never bite, but he would try to grab me with his little T-rex arms and wrestle me away from his beloved master.
“You’re making everyone uncomfortable!” she would shout as he had me by the ankle like a little Greco-Roman wrestler. You could see the conflict on his face, the push and pull between obedience and protection. Right when we thought we had successfully distracted him with a toy, he would leap onto the bed like a secret service agent and position himself between us.
But even Rigatoni had his price — a meat-flavored bone — that could usually buy us 20 minutes. Afterward, he would leap back onto the bed and cast disapproving looks our way until he got sleepy.
Rigatoni wasn’t exactly an aphrodisiac, but his heart was in the right place. If someone was going to stop me from having sex, I was glad to know the effort came from virtuous intentions. It could have been worse. When my ex-girlfriend and I used to visit my childhood home, my family dog would run into the bathroom as if he were hunting truffles, snatch my used condoms from the trash, and then drop them in the most heavily trafficked area of our house.
Courtship has never been easy for me. I have found the process to be high-risk and emotionally exhausting. It hasn’t helped that nature itself seems committed to my celibacy. Lately, my sex life has felt like a reverse Snow White scenario; I’m scared I’ll unbutton my pants and every woodland creature within a 5-mile radius will come crashing through the window, clutching awkward middle school photos of me in their paws and talons.
Whenever I meet a woman, I can’t help but wonder what creature waits in her apartment, eager to make our encounter more awkward for me than it already feels.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a date I went on with a woman between Josie and Rigatoni. We had talked for hours, gone from one bar to another and watched the sunset over a pair of Moscow mules. We laughed. She snorted. I found myself listening to her instead of scrambling to think of a new topic to keep the conversation going. The hamster wheel of my mind actually stopped spinning, and when that happens I get excited because it signals something more serious is on the horizon.
I really wanted to see her again.
But she had to leave town for a couple of weeks. When she got back, I tried to set up another date, but something had changed. Or maybe it was never there. Either way, she read my final text but didn’t reply, and that hurt.
She had a dog, too: Bubba. In pictures, he was a tank. Shoulders like a linebacker and jaws like a bear trap. Bubba lived in a house, not a studio apartment, but I doubt that would have mattered. He looked like he could run through a brick wall like the Kool-Aid Man.
Maybe I got off lucky with Bubba’s owner. After all, she had the power to hurt me, and she did. Just imagine the damage he could have done.
Ryan Pfeffer is the associate editor at Time Out Miami.
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