I remember my first really bad date. I was twenty-two and had spent the better part of two hours listening to an investment banker talk about himself (whom he adored), his money (which he'd marry if he could), and his mother (who believed no woman deserved him or his wallet). On my solitary walk home, after declining a nightcap offer from the gentleman of the year, I found myself in that profound, self-examination mode we ladies sometimes just can't avoid.
Were most men completely out of touch with how a real gentleman should treat a lady? Was I destined to attract precisely the kind of man I didn't want over and over again? I suddenly felt like Carrie Bradshaw, questioning men, women, myself, and the laws of the universe as I walked through puddles of leftover rain on the streets of the Upper West Side. I even called a Samantha-esque friend along the way, but her daring advice didn't quite lift my spirits. Nor did a surprise call from my mother reminding me that my questionable taste in men began at the age of eleven, with a crush on a boy who had set fire to our backyard in protest of our forbidden union. And yes, I had insisted back then that he was simply misunderstood.
By the time I hit my building after that dreadful date, I was pretty down. I had even passed two ice-cream trucks without making a purchase, which says a lot. Just as I reached my door, I heard something. It almost sounded like a whimpering baby. I looked around a saw nothing.
Then I heard it again. No, it wasn't a baby . . . it was a bark! It was a tiny little bark. I looked to the right and there he was . . . a puppy no bigger than three or four pounds, trembling, hiding behind a nearby bush.
I approached him and he didn't run. He just looked up at me with big brown eyes, floppy little ears, and an expression that would melt any soul. He looked terrified and abandoned. I scooped up his camel-colored body, wrapped him in a scarf, and brought him upstairs.
Within a few minutes, he stopped shaking. I sat on the couch looking at his little face tilt back and forth, and for the first time that night, I wore a great big smile. He kissed my nose, nestled in my neck, and would jolt his little head up every now and then to look at me. I named him Hubbell, and it was immediately clear that I needed that dog more than he needed me.
I gave Hubbell a bath, we ate snacks side by side while watching Friends, and I fashioned a toy for him out of old clothing that lit up his eyes. When the delivery man came hours later (I opted for the ice cream after all), Hubbell ran to my side to make sure everything was okay. He barked at the stranger with vigor until I let him know that things were safe. His loyalty had already shown its face.
Over the course of the next week, I saw no signs of a search party for a missing puppy. In the meantime, my new houseguest made me smile, made me laugh, and—most of all—reminded me what's really important in this crazy game called life. Without even trying, he showed me love, loyalty, commitment, honesty, compassion, devotion, and zest for life. He put my bad date in perspective better than my best friend or my mom could. And for that, I knew I would always be grateful.
Too soon, I found someone to adopt Hubbell. I had a good friend in need of a companion; one day when I recognized the sad look in her eyes, I knew that the cure was sitting in my arms wagging his tail. It broke my heart, but I knew I was right.
Years later, I adopted my own puppy, an eight-pound ball of fluff named Emma—who also reminds me to enjoy life’s subtle joys. She reminds me to laugh and that it's okay to sleep through a lazy Sunday every now and then. She reminds me to savor good food and to ignore bad hair days. She teaches me to trust my instinct when it comes to people's character and to be loyal to those who have stood by me. In many ways, I am a better person because of her.
So when those bad dates get you down—and they will, because we're all human—you just might find your ray of light in an unexpected place.
(Photo by Nima Salimi)