it takes a village

Everything is just a touch harder when you live alone. Wait. That’s not even remotely true. Everything requiring four hands is a touch harder when you live alone. Simple projects where one of 12 total steps calls for two people means you’re either asking a favor of someone, doing it half-assed, or getting wildly creative to get ‘er done.

Take my composter a few years back. Step 10 of 15 casually mentioned 2-3(!!) people are best for this part, but it was Covid and I was determined. I recruited my kitchen table as the second person, my left leg + ass the third. Using all my weight, gravity and every single inch of my limbs, I stretched and willed and squished that metal beast together, and poof! Two hours later, step 10 complete! I can’t remember the last time I was that proud of myself. I AM WOMAN. But still. There was no way I could successfully carry my masterpiece out the door without destroying everything on the way. Try as one may to do it all alone, sometimes you just need more hands.

If assembling a composter alone is tough, can you imagine raising children? Or more relatable in my world, dogs? Back in late 2019 when I was debating leaving Madison (a somewhat annual debate), my friend Christina, another solo soul with a dog child in the far away land of Seattle, kindly offered some advice.

I don’t know, you have it sooooo good right now. Maybe it’s not the most important factor, but you might want to consider what you’re giving up, and what you’ll do with Freddie when it’s just you. And you need to travel for work. Or want to go anywhere he can’t go. I would do anything for a Dog Dad Steve. ANYTHING.

Oh, that’s right. It’s not just me anymore. And she’s not wrong, Dog Dad Steve’s don’t grow on trees. If they did, I’d have an orchard in my backyard, and I don’t even have a yard.

I’ve navigated life with one foot out the door, always. Terrified by the thought of planting roots, settling down (ew), I had insta-panic attacks whenever I took a step in that direction: collecting cats, joining a gym, buying a house, adopting a dog, anything resembling commitment of length. But faced with Christina’s very valid point, with the affection only a single childless dog owner might understand, I gingerly stepped into 2020 with both feet, a bold decision and a lofty goal: Build My Community. Time to invest in my neighborhood, get involved with my city, celebrate my dot on the map!

Nothing quite like mentally committing to bringing that outside foot in, just to be bitchslapped by Covid, complete with the tagline of “social-distancing.”

But choices for me are ridiculously difficult, and it felt good to decide. I adore Madison and it now would be home(ish), mindset joining forces with my physical reality. Actually being AT home for more consecutive days than ever before in the almost 20 years of calling it home probably worked in my favor. And even if I couldn’t build my larger community, at least I could work on the village I already had.

Because ya’ll, it (whatever it is) takes a goddamn village. And some quality villagers.

Several Februaries ago, Dog Dad Steve and I broke up on I-90, 16 hours into a 20 hour drive to Big Sky. It wasn’t the car ride that did us in, we had already experienced a few cross country trips. We just weren’t enjoying each other in the same way anymore and it became obvious to the point I could no longer ignore. I knew. He knew. But like, breaking up is hard to do.

Some people find it strange to maintain friendships with old flames; I find it strange not to. I mean, is there a better way to find your villagers than to personally and intimately vet them over time? Not only do I have no interest in throwing away all that discovery, I strongly believe people have many forms of relationship needs and you simply cannot expect one person to fill them all. Just because we are no longer romantic or sexual or intimate in the way people think being “together” implies, does not mean we must terminate our friendship. Unless of course, one party crosses the Line That Shall Not Be Crossed, which quite frankly, everyone draws in a different place with a different crayon for different people.

So we didn’t work out in that way. So what? I think the bigger problem is most people don’t know when it’s time. Time to say goodbye, time to move on or move out, to pull the plug, to part ways, throw in the towel. I’ve developed a knack for cutting the cord before the anger and resentment sets in on either side. I refuse to treat you poorly just because I am no longer where I want to be. And I cannot fake it. And before you say, but Tosh, it’s getting through these rough times that make a relationship stronger! I am not talking about rough times. My relationships are not simply filled with fun and and excitement and when the going gets tough, I jump ship. I’m talking about that feeling you have when you know it’s over. I’ve dated a lot of people in my 41 years of never marriage. A lifetime of research and social experimentation. I know that feeling. And I have never been wrong.

And I said as much to Dog Dad Steve as we approached Billings. The first instinct might be to bolt + avoid once a split happens, but we had two expectant dogs and a five day vacation ahead of us in a magical winter wonderland. Besides, I needed him in my village. He’s a close neighbor, our dogs are best friends (and I mean BEST friends, maybe even in looooove), and I travel often. And the secret ingredient to owning a dog is finding someone who loves them as much as you do. So NO YOU WON’T BE RENTING A CAR FROM BILLINGS, we are going to Big Sky as planned, and we are going to have the best f*cking vacation ever, dammit!

And so we did. We hiked through the mountains with our wolf pack, snowboarded in deep powder, dined fine, (I) sipped wine, stargazed soaking in the hot tub, watched movies, shared hors d’oeuvre with our Airbnb hosts, played with the dogs at the cabin, took pretty pictures.

As friends.

And years later, here we are, helping each other out in the village, as villagers should. I need a sink installed? Dog Dad Steve’s got all the tools and two more hands. He needs help getting a couch downstairs? I watch as he dismantles his entire door frame, part of his house, part of the stairway, almost the entire couch, aimlessly scroll my phone, and help him carry it down when spacial geometry allows. Delivery at my door while I’m away? He’ll pop it in before the porch thieves get it. We share wins and losses in the dating world. Neither of us are overtly caregivery people, but we help each other through tough times in our own awkward way.

And we still co-parent our dogs. One of us takes these spoiled mutts to the park every day organically depending on what we’ve got going on. It’s not a bother, it’s an honor. We drop them off with each other if we’re being social with the world without dogs. Sure they could handle it alone, but like, why? It warms my heart the way Fred greets him, with a wiggle and a whine reserved only for a very special few, pawing for kisses, begging for eye contact. And it’s straight up chicken soup for the soul how our dogs greet each other at the park, and then the two of us, when we both happen to be there at the same time.

Do some find it strange we send more photo updates to each other than people do with their kids? Or that we can message at length about how we have the best boys? (Basically the same conversation on repeat, for years, but still not ad nauseam.) Sure, yeah maybe. It IS intense. But maybe only if you don’t live alone with a dog. The ones that do just say, lucky. Because they know. Maybe this is why people have kids. Being alone in the love you have for anything is hard. No one understands it when it’s there, even less when it’s gone. Shared love is one of a kind.

A few years ago, I was hitching a ride with a man from Nigeria and we got to chatting. That’s a fancy of way of saying I was having a conversation with my Uber driver, but I like to seem cooler than I am. I’ve got an image to maintain. He recently moved to the states so I asked what’s been his biggest adjustment.

Where I’m from, everyone knows everyone within a 10 miles radius. Someone is always around to help, to talk, to celebrate with. Here, people keep to themselves. Stay inside their houses. Yeah, it’s a bit lonely.

Ain’t that the truth.

Here’s to the village and all my kick-ass villagers. Couldn’t do it without you. Wouldn’t want to, either.

4 thoughts on “it takes a village

  1. Happy to hear you’re enjoying staying put for a while! My feet are still quite itchy. I’ve tried building my own “village” here, but I’ve only met one or two folks who are my kind of people. I struggle with the acquaintance thing. Also, I completely agree that it makes sense to stay friends with exes. I mean, as long as it didn’t end poorly, you’re already at best friend status because of how well you guys know each other.

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