Dolly is new to our family. Dolly is a dog. Dolly is my girlfriend’s dog. Which also means I have a girlfriend.
I’ve struggled with the word “girlfriend” nearly as much as the concept of a “girlfriend.” Which is to say that being 44, having been divorced and widowed with two boys, I don’t really feel like anyone’s “boyfriend.” I’m not a boy. I had a “girlfriend” in high school for a few weeks. And I “dated” someone in college.
For a while I would introduce her, Lori, as my “’new friend’ Lori,” emphasis on the "new." I think everyone knew what I meant. Then after a month or so, she was no longer “new” and become just “my ‘friend,’ Lori” during introductions.
One morning as I walked the boys the half-block to the bus stop, I told them “my ‘friend’ Lori” was coming over for dinner that night.
“Daddy,” my 5-year-old started, “you don’t have to call her your ‘friend’ Lori. We all know she is your ‘friend.’”
But what do I call this person in my life? A person I am intimate with, whom I have fallen in love with and want to continue to be with for as long as we can? ‘Girlfriend,’ she is much more than.
I try not to worry about what others think but I can’t help myself. It’s just there though I hope less than in the past. Something about the death of a life partner strips away a lot and leaves much raw and bare. Being worried about other’s feelings or judgments is one that seems faded. But naming someone a ‘girlfriend’ less than a year after the death of my wife conjures that worry, some. And when I talk about Lori with others, I do get the occasional advice to “go slow” or that it may be “too soon, that first year is really the worst,” and so on.
And I get it. The odds are, for men especially, who marry less than a year after being widowed, to wind up in divorce in large numbers at some point. I get that, intellectually. And she does too – or at least she says she does – and I believe her. We could both be deluded by the strong feelings we have for each other, and I have to be honest – it patches the hole of loneliness. But here is where I say – so what? I think I felt similarly when I met the other primary women in my life, two of whom I married. Not the same, but similar. We were all deluded, at least a little, at some point, and Amy and I had a great life together. A perfect life in fact. Perfect in its own way that we thought was perfect. And its gone but for the memories and photos and the continuous love for her I have which manifests as a longing for what we created together. It will be there always. After this first year and the year after that.
Which is all to say that naming someone my “girlfriend” feels awkward for more than just because I am a 44-year-old man. It is also because of own self-consiosusness of where I am – recently widowed.
This past weekend end Lori attended a professional conference out of town and the boys and I became the fortunate sitters of Dolly, the dog. And I mean fortunate. We love Dolly. Dolly is a five-year-old, female rescue dog, part Pit and part all sorts of other things. She is a sweetheart, very well behaved, and my boys love her, which means I love her too. I did not appreciate the value of a dog for my boys. Truly did not.
So we are house sitting which means walking the dog so she can do what dogs do. Run and go to the bathroom mostly. And I’m out walking Dolly in my close-in DC suburban town with cute circa World War II brick cape cods and colonials with lots of kids and dogs. And I start getting the question – “John, is that a new dog?”
“No,” I'd hesitate, “it’s my girlfriend’s dog.”
And the universal response has been, I almost hesitate to say, variations of joy. And it is a manifestation of the amazing love this community has and has shown me. The neighborhood men mostly move to admiring the dog, and Dolly is a dog to admire. The women's responses range from genuine smiles, to long and tearful embraces.
And so I guess this solves one problem – how I introduce Dolly to friends.
She is “my girlfriend’s dog.”