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During college, a best friends’ dad gave us all some dating advice that, at the time, seemed oversimplified and borderline silly. Looking back, I think he actually nailed it.

"Girls, in this order…you should do the following:

1.       Keep a plant alive for a year,

2.      Keep a dog alive for a year,

3.      Now you can date."

At the time, we laughed (and then immediately bought a plant), but now it is so clear why #1 and #2 will prepare you so much more perfectly for #3.

For me, dating in college was not the priority. I cared more about spending time with my girlfriends than looking for Mr. Right (which explains why I was dateless for every sorority event and recruited friends to find me dates approximately 1 hour prior to leaving). PRIORITIES PEOPLE! But post college, I was “ready” to be swept off my feet. Ready is a strong choice word, because in actuality, I was not ready at all. I was selfish, unaffectionate, unforgiving, and pretty uptight since we’re being honest here. People still dated me, I had relationships, but they were a mess and I didn’t want to admit that I was to blame.

Full disclosure: I still skipped step #1 in this preparation formula…I went straight to #2 after grad school. I had been waiting patiently to get a dog until I had a steady income, so once I landed a job, he was mine. Little did I know how life changing this creature was going to be for me. I loved puppies, I wanted the responsibility, and was really excited for a big, fluffy dog to cuddle me whenever I wanted. I got more out of this relationship than I ever imagined possible.

Church's first day home! My 8 week old baby.  

Church's first day home! My 8 week old baby.

Church has taught me about love and life in indescribable ways. I can honestly (and easily) say I would not be in the deep rooted, loving relationship I am in with Tyler, without Church’s teachings.  

Here are some things I've learned about love from Church in the past (almost) two years!

1. Be selfless. I never thought of myself as a selfish person, but once I got Church I realized how much more selfless I needed to be. It wasn’t about me anymore, it was about taking care of him.

2. Show forgiveness. Puppies do lots of bad things…I learned very quickly that Church was not easy to stay mad at. And that most things were not a big deal, forgiveness allowed me to release so much anxiety.

"Mom, my toys exploded today while you were at work."  

"Mom, my toys exploded today while you were at work."

3. Show affection to those you love and trust. A pet helps you understand that our time with each other is limited. Church taught me to be more outward and overflowing with affection for everyone I love.

4. Be passionate about everything you do. Dogs are all or nothing, we should be too. More of the all, less of the nothing. Church is passionate about greeting me at the door, so much so that he will forego a potty break just to turn back around and give me another “hug.” He is so openly passionate for the things he loves.

5. Trust your instincts. If Church doesn’t like someone (and when he does), I trust his instincts. I am better at trusting my own now too…I took a big risk and flew to meet Tyler in person for the first time ever (after we’d been talking on the phone/FaceTime for a month). I had a strong feeling there was something special about him (thank god I was right – could have made for an awkward weekend together if we hated each other).

Our first family photo! 

Our first family photo! 

6. Accept yourself and all your quirks. He loves me just the way I am. He accepts my quirks, as I do his. I think he is perfect and no one would be able to convince me otherwise. For me, this has translated into the way I see Tyler as well. I think he’s perfect (for me), quirks included, and know that he loves mine too.

7. It’s not what you say, but how you say it. This one is laughable for dog parents (because you know you've tried this), but so transferable to relationships. You can literally say anything you want in your high pitched “dog voice” and they will tilt their head, smile, and wag their tail. Say the same thing in your deep “you’re in trouble” voice, and they show you their guilty face. Sometimes the things we say aren’t the problem, but it’s the tone we use to say them. Being conscientious of this will save relationships.

8. Be compassionate. Churchie was a very sick puppy (had the vet on speed dial). When he hurt, I hurt...I wanted to take his pain away and place it on me instead. He taught me how to care about someone more than I even cared about myself .

All smiles at vet visit #746.  

All smiles at vet visit #746.

Stay tuned for the sequel to this post where I share all the things I've learned about life in general from Mr. Church E. Bear (game changer) himself.

What else has your dog (or cat - if you can think of anything) taught you about love?