Thursday, May 2, 2013

Park Particulars

Since getting our dog, we've become regulars at the dog park.  I mean, we practically live there.  The dog goes at least once a day, twice on the weekends, plus we check out other dog parks in between.  And there seems to be no place better to see creepitude played out than where everyone is projecting it onto their animal.

Case in point: humping.  The dog park's third favorite activity (preceded by sniffing and peeing).  Oh how uncomfortable people are with dogs humping each other!

Of course, there's been real research into how dogs live, what they communicate and what their goals are.  Knowing that in any research, we're presupposing our own anthropomorphic ideas by the nature of asking the question, it doesn't surprise me that many dog park goers bypass animal research and just do their own anthropomorphizing.

In other words, people make up reasons for what their dogs are doing based on what would be true if the dogs were human.

Two days ago, our dog was playing with a dog a bit smaller than him.  The other dog's agenda: hump, hump more.  He would have humped our dog all day except his owners were sooper uncomfortable.  "No!" his female owner screamed, grabbing the dog and smacking him hard on the butt.  Then she laughed, hugged the dog, and smacked him in the face, giving the dog a cement-like mixed signal.

::Sidenote:: I think it's fine if someone wants to teach their dog not to hump.  We try to teach ours not to bark while playing.  Scares people, you know?  But hitting a dog is 1. not affective and 2. abuse. 

We think we know from research, that humping (since there weren't any dogs in heat) is about dominance.  I'd like to say that people are uncomfortable with displays of dominance, but I know that's not true.  Just look at our media.  People revel in displays of dominance.  Potentially, folks are upset about displays of homosexuality, but I rather doubt this too.  When someone notices their dog mounting a dog of the same sex, they laugh nervously and pull their dog off describing it as "a big homo", which means that they see humping behavior as sexual.  I think it's discomfort with sex (and perceived discomfort) that is behind the issues with humping.

This hang up, when applied to animals is silly.*  When our dog doesn't want to be humped, he runs out from under the other dog.  Or he sits down.  Sometimes he rolls over and kicks his foot into the crotch of the other dog.  Voila!  When this discomfort gets applied in real life, we end up with ridiculous decisions being made about access like this: CNM Chronical Suspended.


Here's something else that mirrors human life too much at the dog park: people who feel entitled to touch dogs, regardless of what the dog appears to want.

We got our dog as a rescue.  We know little about his past, but symptomatically it's clear that he has a hard time with some people, especially men.  We sometimes joke with strangers that he "barks first and asks questions later" when we want to soothe ruffled feelings.  We call him away from the strangers at whom he barks; no need to have people fearing they're going to be a late afternoon doggy snack.

Despite how clear our dog is in how he feels about certain people, they reach down to touch him anyway.  I'm not talking about letting him sniff a hand, or similar "make nice" gestures.  I'm talking about "I am going to pet you, and I'm ignoring your clear signals that it's not okay".  Some people literally chase our dog so that they can touch him.

Really, folks?  Really?  I know how this feels, do you?  In this past week alone a customer touched me inappropriately, I was kissed on the head by someone I don't really know when I refused to accept his advances of a hug and a friend pulled me into a hug that I would have been fine with if I'd been asked first.

To our dog's credit, when those people succeed in touching him, he only shies away and barks some more.  He's never bitten anyone as far as we know, and although I'd like to bite the people who do this to him, it's good he doesn't.

The dog park is a microcosm of little creepy things we do as humans.  It's ignoring your dog so you can honestly say you never saw her take a poo (as validation for why you didn't scoop it).  It's smacking your dog to discipline him.  It's also telling your dog a command and then permissively ignoring when he doesn't do as you say, laughingly saying that "he doesn't feel like it".  All these things that indicate that as a culture we are people who don't want to take responsibility, and we believe in violence to solve problems, that we take what we want and don't bother to think about the impact.

*Please note that this would be a different matter if the dog showed signs of not being able to stand up for himself.  Of course then we'd be interpreting his behavior, which leads to oddness.  Let's say, if this was a human, it'd be different.  But that's the point, we don't need to posit our human discomfort with sex on a dog act that probably isn't sexual.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

When to Give Up

My sister is searching for a husband.  It keeps not working out because she keeps getting with men who are creepy.  Her newest non-marriage-material man is creepy in that he won't hear her tell him that they are not going to get married.  In other words, she said "no" and he doesn't believe her.

Last night he wrote me this note:*
hi chutzpahgrrl,

this is joe schmoe**.

i want to talk to you, if possible.

i have questions for you about someone that we both care about, your sister. 

please keep this between us for now.  when you hear what i have to say, you will understand.

### ### ####
Oh what I wanted to say to him!  Or not say... or maybe I wanted to kick him.  
This guy is seriously out of line.  First, he should not be giving my sister a hard time.  Yes, I disagree with her that she is still talking with him, but she's said no, and remember -no means no.  Second, my only context with him was talking on a three-way video chat so that I could check him for bugs for my sister.  That's how he has my email address.  I feel that isn't enough consensual contact for him to email me out of the blue to ask for help in his relationship with my sister, unless possibly things were super awesome and he wants to know her favorite color so he can get her flowers.

I considered not responding at all.  I also considered telling him what he's doing wrong (harassing my sister) and telling him how to do it right ("I'm _______ that we won't be getting married.  I hope that you find what you're looking for because I care about you.")  How much energy do I want to spend on this?  Is it worth it?  In the end, I almost always decide to reply in some way that I hope will show the person insight into my thinking, but not so much that I sound preachy or overly condescending.  And I also try to strike a balance between being a jerk and being too soft.  I want things crystal clear without being mean.

Here's my response:
Hi Joe,
I would not like to talk. 

I feel it's inappropriate for me to be involved in a situation between you and my sister when my sister has no knowledge of it.  I find it creepy that you asked me to keep your message a secret.  I feel manipulated that you've drawn a likeness between us because I care about my sister.

Food for thought: it's a serious issue when someone says "no" and isn't believed or is coerced into changing his or her mind.

The best response he could have given me at this point would have been no response.  I guess I didn't say "I don't want to have a conversation about this" but I think saying I don't want to talk, is quite similar.  If he'd sent a message saying "Okay, that's cool" or similar, I would have been okay.  Instead he wrote back an assenting note, then a defensive note, then another note. 

Assent (also pouty):

I know. I know for sure what you are saying. And any such creepiness could be read into such a conversation without serious consideration of what I might say.

Ok so forget it.  I' ll deal with things from my little corner if the world.

There are no pure motives in this life...other than very basic.

There is more than a little paranoia in our relationship so I would ask you not to mention this regardless of the fact that we won't be speaking in depth. 
We are still talking...

And lastly I will say that I do want your sister to be very happy no matter what she chooses.

And you should be blessed and do well, too.

This is what I just read: you didn't think what I have to say is worth it to you to listen!  Fine!  I'll do it all on my own.  Sure, maybe there were some ulterior motives in my request.  OMG!  Don't tell your sister!  Be well (sorta').


We have no third party mentors or any other community between us so try and take it easy on me, ok?

I wrote to you both with selfish and unselfish motives.

I would not expect you to come from any place other than care for your sister.
Life is not a game and relationships are not easy, certainly not when they are truly fulfilling.

Your sister and I are still talking and planning to visit some time in the future.
Nothing mean or disrepectful ever passed between us so, yeah, we have hit our obligatory road bumps as a couple and they aren't easy.

Please play it cool and don't throw gas on the fire, stirring things up by telling her I contacted you.

I wanted to talk to you about emotional damage that affects how people relate...
Let's not then.

The situation as I have observed it is neither extremely bad nor is it ignore-able.  So we will just continue to deal.

I sincerely care about your sister and if circumstances develop in a positive direction, I look forward to spending time getting to know you better, too.

Peace out

What I heard: Hey, I feel hurt by some things you said.  I'm not all bad.  I'm still going to get with your sister.  Woo!  It hurts that you didn't think what I have to say is worth listening to.  OMFG! Don't tell your sister about this!!!!  I'll still be your friend (maybe...).
Additionally, lastly, I will say this in defense/explanation of my attempt to talk to you.
Abusers seek to isolate people from communications, not to engage in communication.
That's all folks!

In my head: congratulations, Joe, you are not abusing me.  I am aware of this.  Also, abusers come in different shapes and sizes.  Also, keeping contact between us a secret is about isolation of my sister.  I mean, doing something you know wouldn't be okay with her is antithetical to trying to make her want to marry you.

Here's the thing, if he hadn't been so adamant about not telling my sister, I might have forgotten until the next time I spoke with her, which really could have been over a week or more.  I found myself thinking that there might be a very good reason my sister should know because he was so insistent.  So I called and said "You're not getting back together with Joe, right?  Okay, because he's contacted me and asked me not to tell."  Jerk?  Yeah, I'm sure I am to him.  But you can barely share a secret with someone and expect them to keep it, especially from someone with whom they're very close.

I can't say for sure how Joe specifically got the notion that pushing when someone says no is the right thing to do.  Certainly we see a lot of permissive parenting in the world.  Maybe he did get ice cream after someone said "no" initially.

There are certainly a lot of examples that suggest that romance seekers (or sex seekers) should keep pushing and eventually s/he will realize how perfect you are.  Aren't most romantic comedies like that?  These are really poor messages to be feeding to people.  We've all been the one spurned, and these stories are mostly fantasies built to help us, the undesired, feel better.  The cost of these tactics is that they supersede things that actually help us respect people we say we care about.

*I have debated for years if it is ethical to use someone else's words, verbatim, when describing how I dislike their actions.  I've decided that as long as I don't say who it is, and most people won't know by context, it's acceptable.

**Obviously I changed names again.