It’s In The Kiss! …the individuality of love …
You know that thing you do when something gets stuck in your mouth? Like if you’re eating popcorn, and a bit goes in between your back teeth? What do you usually do? Well, before you go for a toothpick or dental floss, I’ll bet you do what most humans do, without even thinking. You try to work it out of there, using the tip of your tongue. Your tongue is full of muscles that make it work like a dentist’s tool, which is delightfully useful.
We dogs can’t do this at all!
Seriously, if something gets stuck in our teeth, we have absolutely no way to deal with it. Our paws don’t have fingers that can work around the gums (or even hold floss!), and our tongues simply don’t work that way. It’s so frustrating!
On the other hand, imagine if you were really thirsty, and had to drink out of a bowl of water, and didn’t have hands to pull it up to your mouth. How would you do it? You’d have to stick your face into the water, and kind of inhale it. It’d be uncomfortable and difficult. While for us, that’s super-easy. We just lap it up with our long tongues, which work almost like spoons, bringing just as much water into our mouths as we want. It’s perfect.
Funny, isn’t it, how our mouths work so differently? But there’s another area where these differences come into play, that often means even more to us than our ability to drink.
Of course, I’m talking about KISSING!
Oh we love to kiss! Humans and Pooches, it’s one of our favorite things in life! We kiss our parents, we kiss our babies, we kiss to say hello, we kiss to say goodbye, we kiss to nurture, we kiss to tease and tickle… and of course, most importantly, we kiss to say “I love you” – the best statement any being ever gets to make.
(And yes, before someone out there tries to disagree with me, a kiss can also be an insult, as when one gives a “kiss off” to someone, and it can be a statement of threat in some cultures too. But we dogs never kiss that way, so I’ll just stick to the nicer meanings here.)
You see, humans and dogs kiss completely differently! For you folks, it’s all about the lips (at least at first). You either pucker up and create suction, making a smacking sound, or you just gently rub your lips, on the object of your kissing. While for us dogs, it’s all about the tongue. We can offer tiny little licks, just barely sticking our tongue out to show a shy, submissive, affection, or we can give a wild, passionate slurp to show that we’re absolutely crazy about whoever it is we’re kissing.
Isn’t this funny? That both of us kiss for the same reason, but we do it in completely different ways? I know that there are human cultures that kiss in slightly different manners than others (such as some Eskimo tribes that use noses), but I’ve never heard of any humans who show affection to their friends or family with a big lick! It’s just not done! (“Hi Grandma, nice to see you, sluuurrrp!” Right?!)
But when you think about it, it’s not just humans and dogs who show love in different ways. Everybody does, really. For example, you might be someone who wants to hug those you love as hard as you can. But someone else might be more sensitive, and show love with a very light, soft touch. You might like to cover the one you love with lots of big kisses, while someone else finds that overwhelming, and wants little pecks. This can create a bit of a problem, where one person might not feel loved if someone isn’t showing them love in the way they like to receive it. And then if they say so, that might make the person who’s showing them love feel rejected or hurt, as if their love isn’t good enough.
There’s a beautiful passage in The Call of the Wild, probably the greatest book ever written about a dog, where Buck the main character, and his human owner, are showing each other affection: the owner pets Buck, but Buck’s fur coat is so thick that Buck can’t feel the petting enough to have a pleasurable sensation from it. And Buck shows his love to the man by chewing on his hand, to a degree that hurts a little. So neither is actually making the other feel good at all, but both can tell that the other is showing them affection, so they’re made deeply happy by the acts anyway.
In some countries, a holiday called Valentine’s Day is being celebrated around now. And I know, all sorts of miscommunication and mistakes are happening, in showings of affection. One man is giving his beloved a huge bouquet of flowers, which she sees as beautiful but overwhelming, and she can’t tolerate how it makes her feel pressured. He’d have done better with a little box of candy. Somewhere else a boy is showing his affection by offering to take his girlfriend to the new movie of Robocop, and she’ll break up with him for having been so insensitive to her need for flowers. A girl will slip a card to a guy she has a crush on, signing it “A Secret Admirer,” and he’ll think it’s from another girl and ask her out. Other people will receive statements of love and desire from people they’re not interested in, even from people whose gender they’re not attracted to, and all sorts of sadness and hurt feelings will transpire. And of course, then there are all those people who simply don’t receive any Valentine greetings or gifts at all, who feel completely unloved on this day (even though they may be very loved indeed).
How silly, and how sad, that love – the most wonderful thing in life – should create such confusion, such fear, and such sadness. What can anyone do about it?
Well, there are lots of answers. But here’s mine: TAKE THE KISSES!
If a dog licks you, absorb it fully, and enjoy that that pup thinks you’re great. If a person kisses you in a way you find nerdy or sloppy or uncoordinated, take it – the meaning behind it is as true as if it were artfully bequeathed by Casanova. If someone gives you flowers, or candy, or a ticket to a movie you have no interest in seeing, accept the love.
And if you get a “Secret Admirer” note, be happy, and see if you can encourage that admirer to reveal themselves!
And if you’re one of the hundreds of millions who gets nothing, not a single statement of romance, from anyone this year, know that there are all sorts of other kinds of love out there, and appreciate the ones you do get. Did your dad give you a hug before you went off to school? Did a friend smile when they first saw you this morning because you always brighten up their day? Did a dog or a cat walk up to you asking to be petted?
Love comes in all sorts of ways. Oh sure, don’t get me wrong – it’s just glorious when it comes in exactly the way you want, from exactly who you want it from. That’s the best!
But if you’re only accepting that kind of love, if you’re only appreciating that kind of love, you’re missing out on so much of the joy of life.
Every day, when Handsome comes home, I run to him and jump up on him. He can’t do that to me – he weighs over three times what I do, and would just flatten me! Then he puts his arms around me and massages my neck with his fingers. I can’t do that to him – if I tried, I’d rip his skin with my claws! Then I lick his face. He doesn’t do that to me – if he did he’d get a mouthful of my shedding hair, and I wouldn’t feel it anyway. Then he puckers up and kisses my forehead and my nose. I can’t do that – because… well my lips just simply can’t!
This crazy unequal ritual is one of the favorite moments of the day for each of us. We’re both getting to feel how much this other being – so different, in so many ways – loves and appreciates us.
If we can all do that a bit more, with everyone who we share feelings for, maybe life can get a whole lot sweeter.
And maybe the day will come when we’re so close, we’ll be able to help the other drink water, or pick a popcorn kernel out of their teeth.
All my love,