February 2011


Author: Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Matt Anderson

Love. How can four little letters be so complicated? I mean most other four-letter words are quite self-explanatory. Right?

Dictionary.com shows 14 definitions, seven verb uses, six idioms, and 16 synonyms for the word “love.” That’s 43 potential meanings behind those four letters. Now, throw in the connotative meaning of the word, as defined by the nearly 312 million people who live in the United States, and we likely have 312 million definitions. Everyone defines love in a different way.

I love the beach. I love days on the river. I love Christmas. I love margaritas. I love piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. Oh wait, that’s not me. That’s Rupert Holmes.

I love my nieces. I love teaching. I love sharpie markers, good stationary, Bon Jovi, cute scarves, pedicures, flip flops, shrimp on the grill and homemade macaroni and cheese.

I also love, love. And I have always been a believer in the “fairy tale.” Even though after numerous attempts, and just as many failures, I’ve got nada. So, why in the world am I still an optimist? I think because I might finally understand what true love means. And, I learned it from my dog.

I was blindsided on a fall day. I came home from work and started dinner. He paced the kitchen while I diced and sliced. A few minutes of tap dancing around the kitchen island, and he revealed that he thought we should separate. After eight years, he “just didn’t want to be married anymore”—like he was deciding to give up carbohydrates.

He moved out the next day.

The damage was done. And then the damage began. I was angry. I threw temper tantrums and anything I could get my hands on (namely, three cordless phones and my wisely insured Blackberry). I sobbed and hid in my closet, tucked safely behind my winter coats, clutching the teddy bear my father gave me the day I was born. It was six months before I found my smile again.

My dog Darby, well he bounced back a little quicker.

Darby sat at the front window for a full month after the ex left. He waited each night for him to come home. With the rumble of every truck in the distance, his posture would realign and his ears would perk. Eventually he gave up waiting, and so did I.
But, Darby—in an attempt to make dog biscuits out of kibble—made himself quite comfortable right there next to me in my former marital bed. I think the message—though subtle—was, “You had your chance buddy; this pillow is mine now.” And, oh does he love his pillow, his 400-thread-count sheets and his down comforter—and placing his head on my shoulder when he knows I need it most.

When we first got Darby, as newlyweds, my ex picked him up from the veterinarian’s office where he was being sheltered. I always felt that Darby connected with the ex more than me, because he was the one who rescued him. But as Darby sat beside me during my darkest days, I realized that his love for me runs deeper than any friend I ever had. He had weathered many a storm with me. This was just the first time I truly noticed.

And from there on, we were joined by the leash. He got me out of the house every day for a walk or a run. He got me in the backyard for some sunshine. He got me on the beach to put my toes in the water, and he got me to the sandbar for a quick swim. All that exercise also got me down a few pounds, perhaps Darby’s way of getting me back on the “market.”

I suspect that Darby was looking forward to the fun of scaring the heck out of any potential suitor. I used to think his bark was worse than his bite—until the standoff he had with one unsuspecting victim. He wouldn’t let the guy near me. We sat on the couch; Darby sat between us. We hugged; Darby barked like a lunatic. When near the end of the short-lived “relationship,” we were “having some words,” Darby sat planted at my feet, growling at the opposition, who eventually retreated. (Victory!)

Turns out, Darby is a pretty good judge of character.

So when my current beau came over for the first time, and cautiously took a seat (he’d heard the previous stories), Darby walked over and put his sweet little chin right on new beau’s knee. That’s when I knew I was ready for love again. And so was Darby.

Every February, in an over-commercialized frenzy, we run around like idiots buying heart-shaped everythings to show the ones we love how we feel about them. And because of this one day dedicated to everything saturated in sugary-sweet somethings, we just might ignore those we love the other 364 days of the year, which, when you think about it, is completely backwards.

I was inspired by my dog. A mutt. Who still, after thousands of walks, hasn’t realized that I can’t get the leash on while he is jumping around and chasing his tail. Yet he taught me the purest meaning of love, and he shows it every single day.

We’d be wise to do the same.


Well it seems the animals might have some of us beat. The Bald Eagle, Swan, Black Vulture, and Wolf ALL mate for life! However, the Dolphin and Orangutan prefer to play the field!

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