To Train or Be Trained

A look at training your significant pet vs. training your significant other

By Leslie Phelan


Photo credit: Frank Fani/CC

Trainable. That is what one might call a dog who is imperfect, but has enough potential and redeeming qualities to keep you hard in love while they learn better (or don’t). A dog is ‘trainable’ if it is at least as cute and forgivable as it is bad and rascally.

Trainable. That is what a single person might dub a dating prospect that is lacking in any sort of refinement or skill they’d consider important, but has enough winner potential that they are worth taking the time to show the way. And, just like with dogs, they need to be at least as cute and forgivable as they are bad and rascally–or no dice. A willingness to be trained isn’t even necessarily what makes one trainable. Trainability is mostly in the eye of the beholder.

My pugs were trainable, and trained they were. Cuteness can buy my patience–this we know. I taught them to pee and poop outside, to sit and stay, to not be annoying at the table and to be gentle when sniffing babies and little puppies. I even taught them that they will always be afforded wander freedom, so long as they stay away from traffic and come galloping back whenever I call. We understand each other, and they were definitely worth the investment. And the condo’s worth of carpet they destroyed while training . . . still, so worth it.  Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 6.21.36 PM

I had an ex that I thought was ‘trainable’, and I regarded the situation to be not much different than training pups. His cuteness definitely bought my patience; he was like a handsome fixer-upper to me. His façade was definitely tip-top, but some rooms needed an overhaul, and some levels needed to be gutted completely. I spent two whole years in this misguided mindset, getting frustrated that my tactics weren’t working, and irate that he didn’t seem to appreciate my efforts when I was just trying to help him be a better dude.

Psycho hose beast. That is what a dude might call the girl who says she really likes or even loves him, but then tries to change all the things that make him him. Sure, you can certainly influence someone’s fashion or get them to remember to put the seat down here and there, but beyond that, to think a person is yours to train is to set yourself up for disappointment. It’s a recipe for disaster, really, because as flawed and imperfect as we all know we are, each of us is looking for friends and lovers who will recognize the best things about us, nurture them, and be happy enough with all that to be more than fine with the rest.

The lesson I took away from that relationship is that a guy is not a pet or a child that is looking to me to improve him, but a grown person with his own notions about how to live, enough self-esteem to stand his ground when someone tries to impose their will on him, and most importantly, has an ego that can bruise if he is constantly reminded of where he’s falling short.

So there you have it: a classic example of the trainer becoming the trained. Who could have known that I would walk into a situation as a total know-it-all, and walk away with a far more valuable pearl of wisdom? We are always teaching each other something, whether on purpose or otherwise, just by being who we are. In light of this discovery, my thinking has completely changed. New trick for old dogs: only be with people who are already the person you want to be with.