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“Can I bring my dog?” he texted before we met. “Sure,” I replied. I wanted to ask if he needed to. I wondered if he was one of those men whose dog had become his better half, the one he couldn’t be without, his emotional support, and who, most importantly, had essentially replaced the need for a human companion. But I remained silent and willfully hopeful, after all, I was on holiday in Mexico.

At 42 I’m flummoxed to still find myself single, so I’m considering all options. Single people in intimate, long-term relationships with their canines fascinate me. Are dogs the answer that we singletons need? Are these steadfast companions a solution to modern-day malaise and loneliness? I can attest to the isolation, which was exacerbated during the pandemic lockdowns. Admittedly, it started years before, when most of my peer group coupled up and had children, leaving me to begin again, to forge new social circles and find more fitting plans for my weekends.

For many singles, dogs seem to have become surrogate stand-in partners. Do they either consciously or unconsciously find human relationships too challenging, so they opt for a dog instead? Dogs are prescribed for patients who have gone through trauma and are struggling with anxiety and depression. How come these experts don’t prescribe a human first, I wonder?

I’ve been astonished by how many men I see online who appear to already be in committed canine relationships. Their profiles note: “I won’t shut up about my dogs,” “The way to my heart is through my dogs,” “My dog must love you,” or “The way to win me over is loving my dog as much as I do.” Another notes, “Dating me will look like …” with a photo solely of his black lab. In one, a man and his Husky gaze adoringly at each other, their noses close to touching, with the sunset as a backdrop. My unscientific theory posits that if a man’s profile has more than three photos with his pooch then he’s likely in too deep to create enough space for a human.

The men I’ve dated seem to use their animals as one more hurdle, one more wall to have to scale to find intimacy with another human. During one first date on a Kitsilano patio, people constantly stopped to pet and talk to my date’s white Welsh terrier. He spent most of the time focused on the dog, which – during our beach walk later – dropped a thrown stick farther and farther away from me, until the two of them were specks on the shoreline.

When he stayed over he asked if she could sleep on the bed with us. I acquiesced, trying to play the perfect date.

The next morning the dog was resting with her eyes closed. I leaned over, squirming in my sandy sheets, and said, “Hi girl, hi puppy.” She opened one eye, unimpressed, and promptly closed it again. They’d been together for seven years; I’d been there for seven hours. I didn’t have a chance and she knew it.

Another man I dated had a dumbfounding relationship with his female mutt. When he’d walk her, she’d whine and moan. When I asked why, he said he had no idea, in the same bewildered way I’d seen men look confounded by women’s behaviour. One night we had plans and he cancelled because his dog was incontinent. It was fine to cancel, of course, but when I suggested bringing some take-away over, he said, “Good idea, except she’s crazy and wouldn’t stop barking if you came over.” He seemed to be playing out the hysterical woman trope with his dog. Obviously, I wouldn’t be able to spend time at his house, which you would think would be a prerequisite if we were going to date.

It’s a struggle for single people stumbling on their journey to find human partners, maybe we can’t offer each other the same level of unconditional love – a doting, excited look every time you walk in the door, or even a simple relationship free of challenges and complexity. We will not follow you around as if you are the master and centre of the universe. Maybe we can’t fill the hole deep in your soul the way a dog does.

Sigmund Freud, a dog lover, noted dogs offer something that human beings can’t: a pure type of love. An unattached relative told me her animal’s affection “is enough love.” Another friend confirmed her life has changed for the better with her pet.

This has me rethinking my relationship priorities. I’d love a warm paw on my shoulder to placate my deepening sense of dread. Particularly given recent world events, my nerves feel like they are being zapped by an electric shock whenever I read the news. I’m craving a steady supply of warm, innocent, unfettered affection.

About that man I mentioned, who asked to bring his grown black lab to our date in Mexico. He spent a significant amount of his attention on her as she chewed on the plant leaves on my villa’s deck. He acknowledged he was distracted as he’d only been with her for three months. “We’re still in the honeymoon phase,” he explained.

As someone who has nearly reached the end of my leash, dating-wise, I increasingly understand why people seek a four-legged mate, and I’m close to finding a companion with a dopey smile and a furry heart for myself. Maybe dog love conquers all.

Julie Strilesky lives in Vancouver.

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