Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Hallmark and other gift card companies have convinced us that cards, flowers and gifts are required for those of us in relationships and have the potential of landing a mate for those of us who are sitting the bench in the game of love. We feel pressured to find the right card and give the right gift. To do this, we have to figure out what message we want to send and anticipate how that message will be received. Will a diamond seal the deal or send the recipient running? Will a book or cd say, “I love you” or “I couldn’t think of anything else to give you and I get a 30% discount at Barnes and Nobles”? Will a drill be thrilling or the source of a fight about expectations?
On the other end, we have to figure out what that gift or card really means. And the story we spin about what the gift means can make us deliriously happy, piss us off or send us spiraling into dispair.
But what if we have it all wrong? What if all those cards, gifts, boxes of chocolate and bouquets of flowers are just symbols of romantic love? What if they have nothing to do with the love we actually want?
Here’s where we can learn a lesson from dogs. When dogs find a human they call their own, they love them unconditionally. Sure, they love presents and treats. They’ll beg for table scraps, do tricks for a Beggin’ Strips, and rejoice over a bone, a hunk of rawhide or even an empty pizza box. But you don’t have to buy your dog’s love. They just give it, unconditionally. Come home from the gym smelling like something died inside your sweatpants, they won’t care. Wake up with Einstein’s hair and breath of death and fart at the table, they’ll stand by you. Don’t do the dishes for a month, stop cleaning the toilet, or let the yard become a prairie, they won’t nag. Leave them at a kennel while you’re on vacation for a week, they’ll still love you when you get back. Miss their feeding time by hours, they’ll still welcome you home. Sure, they might have ripped up the couch to let you know they were upset, but they’ll still love you.
With dogs, love isn’t about how you look or smell, what you do or don’t do, or buy or don’t buy. Love is unconditional.
This is what we should focus on this Valentine’s day – learning to love others unconditionally. This is the key that will make relationships that are meant to be last and make those that aren’t end gracefully.