People often ask me, “How’s married life?” Surprisingly, this is not an easy question to answer, especially if you lived with your spouse before you got married. You’ve already passed the milestones of combining belongings, sharing space and paying bills together. Sure, some couples combine finances after they get married (we did), but we were considering our separate incomes as joint assets in the months leading up to the wedding. When we first got engaged and started planning the wedding, we carefully divided up costs and communicated about paying our wedding and non-wedding bills. In the weeks before the big day, we were just ensuring that someone was covering the costs, and it was less important who it was and what they had already paid.
But that’s been the most obvious change and that’s where the question becomes difficult to answer, because it requires reflection on some of the more significant, if less obvious, changes.
Take my post from November on trying to adopt a dog. Through that emotional roller coaster (not gonna lie, it mimicked that of a 7-year-old who wants a puppy for Christmas), I learned that being married means you don’t get to do your own thing all the time. There are pros and cons to that, of course, and staying married means valuing the pros more than you value the cons. After planning our interfaith wedding, dog fostering has been the next major challenge we’ve taken on.
Since that first discussion about getting a dog, we have both stayed true to our promises. I haven’t raised the idea (seriously) of getting a dog, and we’ve fostered three dogs since that time! The first sweetie, Paul, was a chill, somewhat somber dude. We picked him up in Virginia from a transport out of the Carolinas, and he was too scared to walk up the parking garage steps until one of his other doggie friends showed him it was OK. Paul spent most of his time at our house napping and recovering from his long journey before going to an adoption event the next day.
Our second foster was a total mutt. Yetti was chill to nap in the house, but outside on walks he wanted to go everywhere, and take you along for the ride. With my sister visiting that same weekend, Zach and I had to really work together to make sure my sister was having a good time, and Yetti had what he needed in terms of food, bathroom breaks and exercise. It tested our desire to get a dog, and ensured we understood what we’d be getting and giving up if we were to add a dog to our family.
The true trials of having a dog became apparent when I decided to foster a dog on my own one weekend when Zach was out of town. I picked up Shakespeare in Virginia from another transport and drove him back to our apartment in DC. I walked him around inside on a leash, to see how he would react to everything, and he seemed alert but not hyperactive. I let the leash go, and immediately he walked over to a corner, sniffed it and marked it. As I went to get the Nature’s Miracle to clean the spot, he did the same thing in another corner, and then another.
Frantically, I put Shakespeare in his crate so that I could call for backup. I got some tips from the Foster Coordinator at the rescue organization, and I made sure that I was ready for the rest of the weekend, to take Shakespeare outside if he started to mark anything again. Shakespeare was more active than both of our previous fosters, both inside and outside the house, and after that weekend’s adoption event (where Shakespeare barked through the entire event), I sat down, exhausted on our couch with a glass of wine, and told myself we were never getting a dog. It is emblematic that I have absolutely no photos of Shakespeare, because I was either busy keeping an eye on him, or he was a blur of energy.
The weekend was eye-opening in a few ways. Most obviously, it was a crash course in crisis management for someone who had never owned a dog before. I got a small taste of what house training would look like for a dog of our own, and it was going to take a lot of time and energy.
I almost swore off dogs, but the stories of these rescues still break my heart. Lost or abandoned through no fault of their own, they are a manifestation of our broken world, and fostering them is our way of participating in tikkun olam, or repairing our broken world (a Jewish value I’ve enjoyed learning about). It is a conscious decision we all make to take part in that messy, difficult work, as opposed to sitting on the sidelines as comfortable observers. Big decisions like this are much more powerful, and sustainable, when two life partners make it together. Tikkun olam has been a hallmark of our marriage, from charities on our wedding gift registry, to MLK Days of Service and now fostering dogs. I’m happy to report that all three of those dogs were adopted by loving families, and that was possible only because we opened our home to them and took part in creating a new life for them. That’s a really special feeling.