Five steps to a fantastic gay relationship

gay relationship success the thoughtful gay
Reading time: 6 minutes

Throughout my twenties, I stumbled from one unsuccessful gay relationship to another, thwarted by the fact my partners and I were often operating at cross-purposes.

The first time this happened, I had just confessed to my then-boyfriend Kohei* that I didn’t anticipate ever wanting to have kids of my own.

Having a vague awareness of my own dysfunction, and fearing I might unintentionally inflict it upon my children, it seemed the sensible thing to say.

Subscribe for more Thoughtful Gay

I was also barely out of my teens, and in no way ready to even contemplate the possibility of parenthood.

“Gonna be honest, that really has me worried,” Kohei replied. I shook my head.

“It’s just not my thing.”

“… So you’re not even going to consider it?” Kohei said.

“Sorry,” I said. Kohei’s gaze fell to the floor.

“Well, I can’t see myself dating someone who doesn’t share my long-term goals.”

Feeling cornered, I grabbed my backpack from his couch and stood up.

“Fine,” I said. “Don’t date me.”

Stepping out onto Kohei’s front porch, I called out a polite farewell, hopped on my bike and pedaled home.

When a gay relationship just doesn’t “work”

My reaction was, in hindsight, unfair. But truth be told, Kohei’s ultimatum had given me the escape hatch I had long been looking for. 

My boyfriend’s puppy-like devotion had arrived at my door, premature and unqualified – like a Christmas gift in July. It had left me with deep-seated suspicion.

Was Kohei really interested in me, or was he just afraid – as we all are, on some fundamental level – of being alone? 

Up until this point, I had been seeding our conversations with prickly challenges, less out of a desire to antagonize Kohei than a wish to test whether he would stand his ground, or roll over. And time and time again, Kohei had done the latter.

When the morning after our confrontation, Kohei attempted to patch things up with me, I insisted that he was in fact right: we were not compatible.

The “don’t date me” comment was, I knew, the culmination of many attempts to test him. Kohei’s willingness to overlook my take-it-or-leave-it attitude seemed to me proof enough that the two of us were, in some inexplicable way, out of alignment.

Too needy, or too neglected?

Where I had kept Kohei at arm’s length, come the next relationship, I found myself cast in the opposite role.

Remo* was accommodating, but not in the way Kohei had been. Unlike Kohei, asserted himself where he needed to, and I respected him all the more for it. 

Here was a person capable of withstanding me at my bossiest and gently putting me on notice. We were, I wanted to believe, a good match.

The day I called to reveal I had just been made redundant, I got my first hint of the growing distance between us.

“So…I’m out of a job,” I said, my voice breaking with emotion. 

“Well, you know what you have to do,” Remo replied.

“What do you mean?” I replied, stung by his lack of sympathy.

“Look,” Remo said. “I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll text you later.”

Feeling kind of put out, I grew first apprehensive, then adversarial.

“You know, you could be a little more empathetic,” I said during a later conversation.

“I think you mean empathic,” Remo sniped back.

Sensing his withdrawal, I pressed him for emotional support. But the bullishness Remo had once excused had suddenly become a problem. He ended it not long later, claiming he no longer “had the time” to hang out. 

In fighting for my boyfriend’s validation, it seemed I had unwittingly driven him away. Heartbreak and an unexplained sense of shame followed. 

What is attachment?

When gauging a gay relationship for compatibility, there is perhaps one factor that trumps all, and yet is often overlooked: attachment style

Attachment styles in short are about how we form attachments to other people. Our styles are largely the result of our first relationships with our caregivers.

When our attachment is healthy, we develop a secure attachment style. According to Attached authors Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, “secures” have a strong and stable sense of self-worth, have no problem being direct in relationships, and are comfortable with intimacy.

When however our caregivers inflict trauma such as sexual abuse or emotional neglect, or fail to properly “attune” with us, our attachment is ruptured, and we develop an insecure attachment style.

Those suffering from insecure attachments not only struggle to maintain consistent self-worth – they are also more likely to struggle where it comes to forming healthy relationships.

Levine and Heller identify two insecure attachment styles as the most common: “anxious” and “avoidant”.

Those with anxious attachment styles typically seek closeness and intimacy in their relationships. They fear abandonment and may engage in “protest behaviors”, which include excessive attempts to reestablish contact, withdrawing, hostility, and manipulation. 

Avoidants on the other hand like to keep their distance when in a relationship. They do this by engaging in “deactivating strategies”: refusing to verbally commit or say “I love you”, dodging physical or emotional closeness, nitpicking their partners, flirting with others and longing after a “phantom ex”.

Levine and Heller believe about 50 percent of the adult population has a secure attachment style, while roughly 25 percent are anxious, and the remaining 25 percent are avoidant.

One could argue that in the case of gay men, insecure attachment styles could be even higher. Consider for example the misattunement that results from a parent rejecting their child on the basis of their sexuality.

Notably, relational trauma can also shift securely attached people towards insecurity. The fact that “betrayal, abandonment, abuse, and chaos” is a gay relationship rite of passage for many, according to The Velvet Rage author Alan Downs, makes us even likely as a population to suffer from attachment issues.

gay relationship success the thoughtful gay

Which attachment styles are compatible?

Secure + secure OR secure + anxious/avoidant: Those with secure attachment styles can form strong relationships with each other and with the insecurely attached (anxious and avoidant). “Secures” are generally able to provide a “safe base” for their insecure partners, sometimes even help “heal” their attachment problems. But not always.

Anxious + anxious OR avoidant + avoidant: Anxious-anxious and avoidant-avoidant partnerships are less likely to work by virtue of their mutual difficulty forming healthy attachments. 

Anxious people seeking reassurance from other anxious people are naturally a difficult proposition. Likewise, avoidants are not likely to date avoidants because of their mutual desire for distance and independence inevitably forces them apart.

Anxious + avoidant: Avoidants’ tendency towards distance and independence is likely to unsettle their anxious partners, who thrive in an affirming, supportive environment.

When avoidants withhold intimacy from their anxious partner, the partner may confuse the resulting turmoil for passion. Attempting to re-establish relational equilibrium, the anxious partner may double down in their demands, only for the avoidant to withhold affirmation even more.

The pair thus will find themselves caught up in a spiraling push-pull dynamic that is sometimes confused for romance.

Forging a fantastic gay relationship

According to an attachment style quiz devised by Levine and Heller, I myself have a predominately anxious attachment style. Considering the behavior of my first boyfriend Kohei, I’ve concluded that he too was likely anxious.

Kohei’s constant need for affirmation and intimacy might have been a non-issue for a securely attached partner. But for me, it was overwhelming, and I coped in the only way I knew how: by challenging and thereby trying to create distance.

Kohei’s anxiety about the relationship understandably grew, until at least he issued a challenge of his own: either change my future parenthood plans or kiss him goodbye. 

Remo on the other hand was most certainly avoidant. I was never permitted to get too close, and the more I sought reassurance, the more he withheld. My attempts to re-establish contact were met with veiled contempt.

Until I discovered attachment theory, the mechanics of a successful gay relationship eluded me, and gauging romantic compatibility was hit-and-miss. 

Levine and Heller thankfully provide detailed strategies for coping with avoidant or anxious attachment styles. Their key advice is to seek out a more balanced pairing: secure + secure, secure + anxious, or secure + avoidant.

To determine the other person’s attachment style, Levine and Heller suggest following these steps:

    1. Determine whether your partner seeks intimacy and closeness. 
    2. Assess how preoccupied s/he is with the relationship and how sensitive s/he is to rejection. 
    3. Don’t rely on one “symptom” – look for various signs. 
    4. Use effective communication: express your needs, thoughts, and feelings. Then assess your partner’s reaction.
    5. Listen and look for what he is not saying or doing. Trust your gut feeling. 
gay relationship success the thoughtful gay

A final word of caution to secures: helping someone with an insecure attachment shift towards more secure attachment patterns isn’t always possible. Sometimes your partner may insist on clinging to their old ways.

The question therefore is, are anxious or avoidant behaviors something you are ultimately willing to overlook? Can you learn to be satisfied with your partner’s status quo?

For those with anxious attachment styles, remember that you’re more likely to experience an avoidant out in the wild than any other attachment style.

Avoidants after all spend more time dating than in actual relationships, on account of their struggles forming healthy attachments. 

Secures are also a lot harder to come by. Why? The ease with which they form healthy attachments means they’re more likely to remain in relationships, and are less likely to ever appear in the dating pool.

Takeaways

  • Identify your attachment style: secure, anxious or avoidant.
  • Use the five steps to determine your partner’s style.
  • Seek compatible partnerships.

* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all individuals discussed in this article.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Are you a gay dating app sociopath?

gay dating app sociopath thoughtful gay
Reading time: 6 minutes

Much of the small talk that happens on gay dating apps is, in my experience, a preface to a request. 

“What you up to?” someone may ask, and behind this seemingly polite question, invisible gears are turning.

Maybe this stranger will hear my response and respond authentically, or maybe they will continue with the subterfuge of trying to gauge whether I’m willing and able to sustain a fantasy – or fulfill a desire.

Subscribe for more Thoughtful Gay

This is very much in keeping with the commodified, gamified nature of online dating, where chat apps involve little more than a mutual cranking of slot machine handles.

For someone who is seeking to build connections, these obvious attempts at assessing sexual eligibility can quickly become soul-sapping.

So the last time someone asked “What you up to?”, it was hardly any surprise that I responded with, “Getting a frontal lobotomy”.

I was in my own way trying to shake my chat partner out of automaticity, but all I got in return was the acronym “lol”. 

Clank, went the invisible gears, and within seconds, my chat partner was proceeding with his script. 

“Cool. You looking?”

Some people may describe this kind of attention as affirming. Personally? I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m being treated less as a human being, than as a prospective reward.

Apps are basically Skinner boxes

Previously I compared gay dating apps to Skinner boxes. For those of you who don’t know, Skinner boxes are small glass cages used by experimenters to teach animals how to perform certain actions, like hitting a lever.

These boxes reinforce desired behavior by dispensing a reward such as food, or punishment in the form of a shock from an electrified floor grid.

Andreas1/Wikimedia Commons

Skinner boxes are a perfect analogy for gay dating apps. The difference here is that messages, or more specifically, the attention they represent serves as the reward, while being ignored is a form of punishment, or negative reinforcement.

As app users, we maximize reward and minimize punishment using strategic and even deceptive self-presentation and engagement. We tailor profiles and our behavior in ways that will gain and sustain attention, even if they aren’t necessarily authentic

We may boast about our preferences or prowess, while using erotic photos as bait for our chat partners.

Some of us may go so far as to create fake profiles, or message someone exclusively with the aim of receiving a response. 

Messaging purely for attention, however, may be the first signs we’re developing a process addiction. Here’s why.

Why gay dating apps are addictive

At one point during his studies, the inventor of the Skinner box – American scientist B.F. Skinner – modified his boxes to dispense food pellets according to a random number of lever presses. 

His pigeon test subjects, rather than being deterred by the unpredictability of the exercise, quickly learned to press the lever at random, even when no pellet was immediately forthcoming. 

What Skinner realized was that this very same unpredictability had created a tension of expectations, which was released the moment the pigeon received their reward.

Skinner credits this tension-reward loop, also present in slot machines, as being the main driver behind addiction.

We can see that loop widely incorporated today in video games, social media, and even dating apps.

Consider the unpredictable nature of “rewards” on Grindr, Scruff or Tinder: users log on and off at random, and the rate of replies can vary completely, sometimes even within the span of a single conversation.

Meeting someone off the app may begin as a tantalizing fantasy, but it’s one that ultimately can’t compete with the dopamine seeking reward-loop offered by the back-and-forth of instant messaging.

The result is an experience that could be broadly described as ineffective, at least where it comes to generating face-to-face interactions.

Of course, if you were to canvas a group of gay men at random, I’m not sure a consensus would ever be reached on what constitutes an “effective” dating app chat session. 

After all, everyone’s definition of a reward will vary from interaction to interaction, day to day, sometimes minute to minute. Yes, humans are a fickle bunch. 

Dating apps don’t help, in that they all seem designed to facilitate any variety of interactions. Some may use the app with the intent to meet, while others are simply looking for distraction, or the thrill of erotic chat or photo exchanges. 

Suppose we come to the apps with a specific goal in mind. Gamification in many cases will nudge us towards abandoning specificity, towards being open to any and all interactions, if only for the momentary gratification they promise.

Our sole purpose thus becomes the maintenance of the tension-reward loop.

Sustained use will lead many users towards a nebulous middle ground, simultaneously craving all of the above, yet never finding true satisfaction. And yet we keep coming back. Why?

Notably, Skinner found that pigeons in his experiments continued to peck a lever even once their appetite had been sated. His conclusion: the action of cranking a lever had in and of itself become “fun”. 

You can see the same behavior among gay dating app users. Like edgy, risk-averse stockbrokers bidding in an incredibly volatile market, we hedge our bets, messaging indiscriminately just to see who will bite.

After firing off scores of messages to multiple chat partners, we wait for the replies to trickle in. 

Too much tension and frustration – not enough replies, significant delays or “inferior” rewards – and our sense of enjoyment will diminish. 

Our only recourse then is to either adjust our expectations, or spread our net more widely in order to maintain the loop. 

Profile grids and swipe stacks will come to resemble an ever-shifting buffet in what feels like a perpetual famine. 

Prolonged use of gay dating apps thus sees other users reduced to mere units in a digital meat market characterized by extreme scarcity. 

gay dating apps sociopaths the thoughtful gay

Addiction creates gay dating app sociopaths

In the 10+ years in which I’ve used gay dating sites and apps, I’ve often caught myself logging in just to see who had messaged, less interested in the content of the communication than the sheer fact of its existence. 

It became clear to me that so long as I was caught up in tension-reward loop – in the split-second objectification, relational multitasking, devaluation, and dismissal that seems baked into digital modes of interaction – I could hardly expect to form healthy relationships with other gay men.

How, when I was treating chat partners as mere levers to be pulled for personal gratification?

The single-mindedness with which we perform this action, according to researcher Simon Baron-Cohen, is the antithesis of empathy:

“Single-minded” attention means we are thinking only about our own mind, our current thoughts or perceptions. “Double-minded” attention means we are keeping in mind someone else’s mind at the very same time… When empathy is switched off, we think only about our own interests. When empathy is switched on, we focus on other people’s interests too. 

It is in the absence of such empathy that we adopt sociopathic behavior. And just like the sociopath, many of us – consumed by our process addiction – will go to extreme lengths in the pursuit of satisfaction.

Consider these traits, as laid out in the seminal work on sociopathy, The Mask of Sanity

  • superficial charm
  • absence of anxiety or guilt
  • undependability, dishonesty, egocentricity
  • complete inability to form lasting intimate relationships 
  • failure to learn from punishment
  • absence of emotion
  • lack of insight into the impact of our behavior
  • failure to plan ahead

For those of you who have or continue to use gay dating apps, I ask you this: have you not experienced or dabbled yourself in superficial charm and unpredictability?

Or worse still: deceit, manipulation, and outright nastiness?

The system is hopelessly broken

Chances are you’re alone. Tragically, the addictive qualities of gay dating apps have created an environment where sociopathic behavior is now the status quo.

Strangers will issue demands and unsolicited erotic photos, interrogating our sexual preferences before blocking us at random.

While these tendencies are not specific to gay men, app-based reward loops positively reinforce these behaviors while failing to offer real accountability. 

The result is an endless chain of victimization in which bad behavior is normalized and internalized and we all unwittingly find ourselves either in the company of, or becoming, gay dating app sociopaths.

It’s no secret that gay dating apps aren’t designed to foster genuine, heartfelt connection, or for that matter to enforce personal accountability.

Their goal, rather, is to gamify interactions with the goal of sustaining use, indefinitely. But in so doing, they train us to associate self-worth with constant affirmation

In our pursuit of that affirmation, we will find ourselves pulling out all stops to feed it, even if it means completely disregarding and discarding others along the way.

The system may be broken, but it remains profitable for app makers, so there is little motivation for change. But as individual users, we can and must hold ourselves to a higher standard of personal conduct.

We can do this by:

  • Exercising self-awareness: curbing usage motivated only by the desire to get a “fix”. 
  • Empathizing, rather than objectifying: treating people with kindness, consideration and courtesy. Being honest and upfront with our intentions and not stringing people along when we aren’t interested in them. 
  • Voting with our feet: registering our protest by quitting and pursuing more wholesome forms of interaction, offline.

Takeaways

  • Gay dating apps employ a reward loop to keep us addicted.
  • Addiction leads to single-mindedness and a temporary loss of empathy.
  • In its absence, we may behave in antisocial ways.
  • Be self-aware and empathic. Be accountable for your own behavior.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 1: ‘I am sending you’

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Reading time: 10 minutes

This is a story about how I almost died. Almost. Well not exactly. But I COULD have died. I could die anytime, as a matter of fact. Is that a lump I feel in my armpit?”

Anxious Seeks Canine is a memoir blog series about a gay man living with Asperger’s, mental illness, and the relationships that may very well be fueling it. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all featured individuals. Except for the dog. Here’s part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Subscribe for more posts.


I

“I think we have good energy.” I stared at Derrick, trying not to laugh. 

“You realize horses cost a lot of money, right?”  

“A few thousand dollars, at most,” Derrick replied.

“Really,” I said. “And where would you keep it?” Our tiny apartment was hardly big enough for two people and a dog as it was.

“At the stables,” Derrick said. “See, I think it would be a great investment. I could rent it out to other riders. Before long the costs would cover themselves. I’d even be able to turn a profit.”

Subscribe for more Thoughtful Gay

I was on the verge of disputing the claim when the pointlessness of it all struck me.

Derrick was mercurial where it came to life decisions. This I figured was him trying to persuade himself as much as me. 

And sure enough, when Derrick returned from his riding lessons a week later, he was under a cloud.

“Bitch,” he muttered. I gave him a look. “The trainer,” Derrick added. “She quoted $12,000 for the horse. Can you believe it? Then she had the nerve to ask for a commission.”

I knew better than to rub vinegar into my boyfriend’s wounds. But still, I had to ask the question.

“So…are you still going to buy a horse?”

“I’m not giving her a damn cent!” Derrick said, storming into his room.

Reality had dealt his modest dream a death blow. But by the next day, his mood had changed.

“Good news,” he said, bouncing through the door. “I’m going to buy a motorcycle.”

“You’re- What?” I replied.

“I sat on one today,” Derrick explained. “It was so cool. Look.” He showed me a photo.

“But you don’t even know how to ride,” I pointed out. Derrick scowled.

“I’d learn,” he said.

Still, I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for this latest obsession. Last time it had been a trip to Coachella. And the time before that, an overwater bungalow in Tahiti. Derrick was quietly treading the waters of a mid-life crisis.

I made myself a bowl of cereal. Derrick’s expression got all furtive.

“So… How’s your therapy going?”

It was a fishing expedition – I was sure of it. I tried to keep my tone neutral.

“Pretty well so far.”

“Have you told her about us?” I hesitated.

“No, not yet. See, she’s Christian,” I said. “I’m worried she’ll pass judgment. You know, about us.”

“You should really tell her,” Derrick insisted. As if doing this might somehow help crystallize our relationship.

Right now, Dr. Kukosian was impartial. Trying to keep your private life private while stretched out on a therapist’s couch might sound like a losing battle, but the last thing I wanted to do was incite her prejudices. 

Defending one’s “lifestyle choices” was not a task I particularly looked forward to, especially when it might result in me being more or less kicked out of therapy. 

The therapist pickings were slim. Los Angeles was a city ripe with dysfunction, with not enough sympathetic ears to go around.

Though if I was being honest with myself, Dr. Kukosian’s religion was an excuse, and Derrick had good cause to be worried.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
This picture captures my initial joy and optimism during the first few weeks of my relationship with Derrick.

II

Dr. Kukosian’s office was on the ninth floor of a high-rise at the heart of Glendale. This floor, I eventually learned, had been rented to a private Christian college. The doctor’s counseling room – more of a booth, really – occupied a far corner.

Dr. Kukosian sat in an armchair, clad in a cardigan, capris and an unfaltering smile, listening patiently as I ran through the week’s events.

Fifteen minutes into the session, I ran out of things to talk about. Dr. Kukosian’s encouraging smile loomed before me.

Her nondirective therapy style had left me with a chronic fear of silence. Broaching the subject of Derrick was no longer a choice, but a necessity. It was time to let the homo out of the bag. 

I opened by mentioning that I had a partner. Then I casually slipped in a masculine pronoun, carefully watching Dr. Kukosian’s face for a reaction. Nothing. 

“So you moved in with him after only two months of dating?” she asked. Her lack of disapproval was anticlimatic…disappointing, even.

“Well, my lease was up at my old place,” I said. “He had a spare room. The rent was cheaper. I wanted to save money.”

Here I was, trying to justify my decision, less worried about being condemned for being gay than I was for being, well, reckless.

“Seems like that happened very quickly,” Dr. Kukosian observed. 

“Anyway, it’s just temporary,” I said, hearing a criticism where there wasn’t one. Dr. Kukosian processed this with a sagely nod.

“And how are things between the two of you?”

I considered how best to respond.

“Well, he has an anxiety problem,” I began.

My therapist would have to be deaf not to hear the irony of this. I was here, after all, because my own anxiety had recently migrated to my face, leading to weeklong bouts of jaw clenching.

“Derrick’s a workaholic,” I continued. “He’s often go-go-go all day, night and weekend. We don’t have any time together. He forgets all our couple’s appointments and blames me for not reminding him. I’ve basically become his maid and dog-minder.” 

“And how does that make you feel?” Dr. Kukosian asked, perhaps sensing my exasperation.

“Like I’m a…a fixture in his household,” I said, grappling for a metaphor. “Like a lamp or a chair. Like my needs don’t matter. The dog isn’t mine. She shouldn’t be my responsibility.”

That, however, wasn’t the worst of it. I’d known from the beginning that Derrick had anger management problems.

Early on in the relationship, he’d mocked my taste in music during a car ride. I’d mimed slapping him and an instant later his fist connected with my face. 

It had not been deliberate, but rather a knee-jerk (or should I say elbow-jerk?) reaction. Still, it had made me cry, and in an unexpected show of contrition, Derrick had pulled over and gotten down on his knees to apologize. 

A few days later, on the return drive from a visit to see his family in Sacramento, Derrick had woken from a nap to hear me telling his dog, who was misbehaving at the time, that she was “out of control”.

“Maybe you’re the one out of control!” he shouted, before turning over and promptly falling back asleep.  

At first, I was bemused. But the outbursts had continued, eroding my sense of security.

Another time, we were driving through his friend’s neighborhood while he was in the car. I made what I believed was an inoffensive observation, noting that the houses around us looked “rather squat”.

Perhaps Derrick thought I was, by extension, insulting his friend’s home, because his reaction had been to snap at me.

“Just shut up, okay?”

And when Derrick wasn’t taking his frustrations out on me, he was usually humblebragging.

As a manager at a tech startup, Derrick had crossed paths with more than a few industry luminaries. But after weeks of namedropping, I’d taken to joking about Derrick’s claims to fame.

“Elon Musk and I are totes besties,” I’d once exaggerated. “You don’t believe me? I’ve got his father’s phone number in my phone. Look, see? Wes Musk. We’re on great terms.”

Derrick’s had retaliated by threatening to kick me out of his apartment. 

Derrick was in his 40s, so my expectations had admittedly been skewed towards him possessing a certain degree of maturity. Skewed, if not faulty.

Over the course of months, Derrick had gone from charm offensive to lashing out at random, until finally, I’d withdrawn into my room, taking with me all my goodwill.

Our lives from then on had been parallel, occasionally crossing but never connecting. When my attempts to bridge the divide had been ignored and even scorned, parting ways had seemed the inevitable conclusion.

“It sounds like a very stressful situation for you,” Dr. Kukosian said. “Maybe for the sake of your relationship it would be best if you just moved out?” 

Later, after the session, as I stood at the university urinal relieving myself, I noticed a poster taped to the wall.

“I am sending you,” it read. It was a quote, attributed to none other than Jesus Christ.

Sending me where, I wondered? And more importantly, why? 

I considered the Korean characters beneath the quote. Supposing this wasn’t just a mistranslation, the phrase could have once made sense, in some other time and place. It was also equally possible it never had, and never would.

All the same, I decided to take it as a sign. Jesus or no, I was going to leave Derrick.


III

The following day, Derrick asked if I would be willing to volunteer my services as a personal assistant at his startup.

The business was short-staffed, and given Derrick had helped me with picking out my first car, I figured I owed him the favor.

But shortly after I arrived, I witnessed Derrick ball out another manager in front of several other employees.

Over lunch, I hinted to Derrick that I was worried about the possible fallout.

“Perhaps it would be better next time if you just walk away?” I suggested. Derrick glowered.

“Well, maybe next time I just won’t ask for your help,” he replied.

I studied my lunch. For the better part of the morning, I had been running around doing errands on Derrick’s behalf. Was this his idea of gratitude?

That night, Derrick missed yet another couple’s dinner, returning home hours later to find me practicing yoga. Trying to look as defiant as I possibly could from my position on the floor, I announced I was moving out.

“Okay,” Derrick said. Uncertainty flickered across his face, hardened into something else entirely.

“I don’t have any hard plans yet,” I said, trying to soften the blow, “but I have started looking around.”

I braced myself. Having laid the groundwork, I figured now was as good a time as any to pull the trigger.

“I was thinking,” I began, “it might be best if we both took some time out from the relationship.” 

The subtext being forever – not that I was going to spell that out. Right now, Derrick was a powder keg I had no intention of lighting.

Derrick leaned back on his heels.

“I think that’s a good idea,” he said.

“… You do?”

“I’m pretty busy right now with work,” he said, playing it cool. “And you want more than I can give you.”

Was that a jeer I heard in his voice? If Derrick was hoping I would rise to the accusation, he was going to be sorely disappointed.

“Are you sure you’re okay with it?” I pressed.

“Fine,” Derrick insisted. His refusal to meet my eyes told me he’d suspected this was coming. 

And really, how could he have not? I’d told Derrick on multiple occasions how his behavior was driving me away. His response had been to label me “too sensitive”, or worse still, ignore me completely.

Fearing my short credit history and lack of savings would hinder me in my search for a new apartment, I’d dragged my heels. But then my mental health had taken a turn, and moving out had become a matter of survival.

Over the next week, Derrick wavered between anger and brittle formality, staying away from the apartment. I began to walk on eggshells, fearing that if I wasn’t careful, Derrick might try to evict me on the spot.

A friend heard I was looking for a place and asked if I might want to take over his lease. The studio proved tiny, but it had recently been renovated, with exposed brickwork and a kitchen sink the size of a drydock. Cute, serviceable and – most importantly – available right now.

In less than 24 hours I’d signed the lease, packed my belongings and booked a moving truck. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
I suspect Derrick thought I was bluffing, that sooner or later I was going to “come to my senses”.

IV

Moving day rolled around and I received a text message from Derrick, stating in precise detail the condition in which he wanted my room left. 

“Make sure when you move out to vacuum,” he wrote. “I want you to clean all the dust off the skirting boards.”

This from a man whose idea of cleanliness involved letting his dog defecate in the house while the Rumba was on.

All week conflict had been brewing. And soon it would explode.

At 9.30 pm, I made my final trip back to the house to collect some potted plants. While collecting the last one, I spotted movement through the open front door.

After a day’s absence, Derrick had returned home. His earlier silence over text told me he was itching for a fight. 

I leaned over the threshold and dropped the keys on the TV stand. 

“Here’s your keys!” I called, turning to leave. Derrick poked his head out of the bathroom.

“Wait a second,” he said, drying his hands and hurrying over. “I want to talk to you.”

“Really – I have to go,” I replied. My friends were waiting outside in the car, and we were long overdue for dinner.

“That’s fine,” Derrick blurted, using a word I’d come to associate with its exact opposite. Then he launched his opening salvo: “You need to stop talking shit about me.”

I stared, deadpan. Derrick forced a smirk.

“It’s actually kind of sad, the fact you need to go around talking about other people behind their backs.”

Yes, I had complained to a mutual friend about Derrick’s emotional abuse. So far as I was concerned, I could shout my story from the rooftop if I wanted to.

Suffice to say, Derrick didn’t really want an apology. He wanted a scene. But I was not going to give him one.

“Bye,” I said. And off I went, bounding down the front steps. Derrick rushed out onto the landing after me.

“Good luck with your writing career!” he screamed. “I hear it’s going really well so far!”

It was a knife-twist out of some soap opera playbook. 

Giddy with the ridiculousness of it all, I launched myself into the waiting car. 

“What happened?” my friends wanted to know.

I looked back at the security gate to Derrick’s apartment complex. Any second now I expected him to burst into view, a spurned lover set on shrill revenge. The idea left me torn between laughter and mortification.

“Just drive!” I said. “Quickly!”

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
My new studio apartment.

The next day I received a text message from Derrick, written in the frosty prose of a job rejection letter. I was hereby notified he would be invoicing me for all outstanding bills. Derrick also demanded I remove myself from our shared auto insurance plan. 

“Well ahead of you there, buddy,” I wanted to reply. Derrick was so out-of-touch he hadn’t even noticed when I’d cut the tie two weeks prior.

If I’m being honest, the relationship had been a slow-motion train wreck.

It was not first, and as circumstances would soon prove, it would not be the last.


Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 2: ‘Too soon bro’. Subscribe to receive all future posts.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 2: ‘Too soon bro!’

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Reading time: 8 minutes

Anxious Seeks Canine is a memoir blog series about a gay man living with Asperger’s, mental illness, and the relationships that may very well be fueling it. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all featured individuals. Except for the dog. Here’s part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Subscribe for more posts.


I

My tendency to plunge headlong into things often created problems that could easily have been avoided. My relationship with Derrick was just another case in point.

“It’s the anxiety,” Dr. Kukosian said at our next session. “Anxious people move too fast.”

A politer version perhaps of “fools rush in”. But was there anything I could do to fix it? 

“My patients who have overcome their anxiety continue to face this problem for the rest of their lives,” Dr. Kukosian explained. I stared at the ceiling.

“You’re saying I’m stuck with it?” She nodded slowly. 

I eyed a canvas print of an oil painting on the wall behind her. It depicted a scene of biblical rapture. What right did these apostles have, being so happy?

“So… What should I do?” I said, feeling more than a little helpless.

“Every time you feel yourself rushing into something, slow down,” Dr. Kukosian said.

Slow down? I only had one speed, and as far as I could see, the gear stick was broken. But if the Derrick experience had taught me anything, it was that I shouldn’t jump into another relationship ever again.

My new resolve lasted a total of four months.

One day, while scrubbing myself in the shower, I caught myself talking to my dead dog. By talking I mean babbling, something between doggolingo and baby speak.

“Oh Deedeesco, bwye you so kyute?” I said in a singsong voice. “I bwanna sqbuish dat. Gib cuddle?”

To the casual listener, it would have sounded like I was suffering from pathological echolalia. But it all made perfect sense to me.

Soon I was babbling while dressing and cooking dinner. I stopped strangers in the street.

“Can I pet your dog?” I’d ask, my hand already halfway to their pet’s mane.

“Oo… You iz berry sbweet, isn’t you?” I’d coo to the dog. “Oy loik dat.”

The owner would force a smile, but their body language would be practically screaming: “Could you just please get AWAY from my dog?”

Before long I was staying up nights, scanning pet adoption websites. 

Many of the ads read like personals, some adopting a pitiful, pleading tone.

“Marisol is a sweet, affectionate pit bull cross. Her previous owners were, unfortunately, unable to keep up with her energetic nature.”

Other ads bordered on insolent.

“Must have a large yard. No small children. Adoption possible after two weeks of successful fostering.”

Some came with detailed questionnaires or requests that struck me as a tad over-the-top.

“In the event your dog became ill, how much would you be willing to spend for treatment? $500? $1000? $3000.”

“Record a video tour of your home to give a sense of where the dog would be living.”

Most hotels didn’t even offer a video tour, and yet here was a pet adoption agency demanding a visual guarantee you could offer their homeless dog a picture perfect abode.

I winnowed my options and made a few calls. The first on my list was a scruffy, adorable-looking Chow by the name of Thompson. 

“That dog is not available for adoption,” the lady at the pound told me.

“Well, why not?”

“He has aggression issues,” she said. “He’s only available for adoption to specialist shelters.”

“So why list him at all then?” I asked, genuinely puzzled. The woman hung up on me.

Moving my way down the list, I fired off emails. My selection criteria, as it turned out, were entirely superficial, cuteness prevailing over practicality. 

One response arrived. Yes, Sandra the low-slung black mutt with tender eyes was still available. I sent an email back, expressing my interest in meeting her.

“Unfortunately you cannot meet her until after you have adopted her,” went the reply.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
If I’m being honest about myself, my tendency to plunge headlong into things almost always resulted in disaster.

Say what? The lister confessed then that Sandra actually lived in South Korea.

Only once I had forked over the adoption fee would the agency fly Sandra out to Los Angeles to begin her new life with me.

It was potentially the canine equivalent of a catfish – a dogfish – and a risk I was not willing to take.

A few days later, a shelter contacted me about a tan Jindo called Ki.

“Ki’s foster Miska has offered to come by and talk you through the ins and outs of Jindo ownership,” the email read. “Miska will bring Ki along for you to meet. Please do not touch Ki during the meeting, as Jindos are generally wary of strangers.”

I crammed information about the dog breed in preparation for the meeting.

There were a few warning signs. Jindos for example were wary of strangers. But as had been the case with Derrick, I chose to focus only on the positives.

Wow! Jindos were a breed known for their bravery and their loyalty towards a single person – traits largely absent in the people I dated. What was not to like?

That afternoon Miska arrived with Ki in tow. 

“First thing you should know,” Miska began, sitting on the edge of my desk, “is Jindos kill.”

“Er,” I blurted.

“They have a high prey drive,” Miska explained. “Ki kills something about once a week.” 

“How-” I began, and stopped.

“Just last week we were walking and he suddenly pulled free,” Miska went on, oblivious of the effect her words were having. “Next thing, I see him tossing a rat into the air.” She mimed, laughing in what I hoped was chagrin. “Then he broke its back.”

My eyes went to the dog perched on the windowsill, staring intently at something I couldn’t see. Prey.

“He’s killed pigeons before, and a few stray cats,” Miska added. My eyes returned to her.

“How do you know they were stray?”

“They didn’t have collars,” Miska said, as Ki came over to study me. I dry-swallowed.

“Otherwise Ki is just lovely,” Miska said, as if this would negate everything that had come before. “He’s so protective. As a woman I can walk him anywhere at night.” She stared down at her foster pet. “I’m going to really miss him.”

“I bet,” I said dubiously. Doubts piled on. “So the shelter told me Ki would need more than an hour of walking every day?”

“At least,” Miska said.

“But Ki wouldn’t like it if my friends touched her, right?”

“Definitely not,” she said. “Sometimes if I touch her while she’s lying down, she growls at me.”

And there it was: the soft hiss of escaping air. The balloon of my Jindo aspirations had been pricked and was rapidly deflating. 

Maybe Miska was trying to be funny. Maybe she’d overstated her case. But truth be told, any murderous tendencies were for me an immediate dealbreaker.

My reservations expressed, I thanked Miska for her time and saw her and Ki out.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
The dog I would ultimately adopt would prove to be a husky-corgi called Cash. 

II

Days later, I got a callback for an ivory-haired husky-corgi called Cash. 

There had been a lot of interest in Cash, the adoption agent informed me. Given how cute he was, it was any surprise he was such a hot ticket. But, the agent told me, I was still welcome to come by and meet him tomorrow.

Nursing the beginnings of a cold, I drove to the adoption center in Eastside Los Angeles. As I walked through the door, I spotted Cash sitting beneath a chair, a red bandana twined about his neck.

He peered up at me, bushy tail wagging, and I was smitten. To hell with all the other contenders – this dog was going to be mine.

I sat down beside his current owner Anja, a silver-haired woman with a voice as soft and sweet as cotton candy. As Anja gently patted Cash, she explained she’d only recently adopted him, but that he hadn’t been the right fit for her household.

“He kept jumping all over my other dog, who’s pretty old,” she said. “Once he scratched her in the eye. I had to take her to the vet for treatment.”

The excitable fur ball between her knees strained to the end of his lead, sniffing the gap beneath a door.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
My first glimpse of Cash. I was smitten.

I made kissing noises to get Cash’s attention and he trotted over to lick my hand. Next thing I was squishing my face into his. This was my attempt at affection – and probably the textbook definition of the worst way to introduce yourself to a dog.

Cash gave a Husky growl of protest.

“I’ve never heard him make that noise before,” Anja said, fascinated.

The adoption agent came over to ask how things were going.

“I want him to adopt Cash,” Anja said. “Can he take him today?” 

The face squishing trick, it seemed, had worked. Anja had sensed our special, instantaneous bond; had recognized that there would be no greater owner than I.

The agent frowned.

“There are still a few families who would like to meet Cash first,” she said. Anja insisted. A gentle tug of war ensued, until, finally, the agent caved.

An hour later I strolled out of the agency, Cash’s leash in one hand and a box of dog supplies in the other. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash following his arrival at my apartment.

III

Getting my newly adopted child into the car proved something of an ordeal. The instant Cash realized what was happening, he flailed, bracing his paws against the frame of the door, like a cartoon character resisting a lifetime of imprisonment.

It took two of us to get him inside. Cash immediately settled on the floor, unmoving and unresponsive.

I searched for “dog relaxation music” on YouTube then connected my phone to the car’s audio system. Soft, languorous synths oozed from the speakers.

These were the kind of sounds you’d expect to hear in a crystal shop…and probably the closest thing to musical waterboarding. Whether Cash enjoyed it, I couldn’t tell, huddled as he was beneath my chair.

When we got home, I carried my new pet over to the bath and ran some warm water, rubbing strawberry-scented shampoo into his fur. 

Cash struggled with a desperation born of certain hydrophobia. I drew the shower curtain to prevent him from leaping out, and when that didn’t work, blocked the path of escape with my body.

Afterwards I dried him and he sat, staring at me with doleful eyes as I ran a brush through his tangles. The adoption was beginning to hit home.

But so was my cold. My throat in the last few hours had grown raw, and my nose was watering.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash lost about half his body weight after I brushed him. He had that much hair.

Binning a fist-sized wad of hair, I flung the brush away and sat, exhausted, on my bed. An uncomfortable pressure built inside my sinuses, giving way to pain.

“Cash?” Cash wandered over. I sat him on the edge of the bed, buried my face in his fur, and proceeded to cry.

Cash was having none of it. His eyes bulged. “Too soon bro!” they seemed to say.

He leapt down, vanishing into the kitchen. 

I lay back, trying to repress a sneeze and failing. Lying on my back, with my face parallel with the ceiling, this had the unfortunate effect of simulating rain.

There came a noise, like someone trying to squeeze ketchup from a bottle, and levered myself up. That was when I spotted Cash squatting, in preparation to defecate.

“No, Cash! No!” 

Diarrhea spattered the tiles. Completing the motion, Cash stepped backwards, directly into the puddle.

“Cash stop- No! STOP STOP STOP STOP!”

At the sound of his name, Cash trotted back over to the bed, leaving a trail of muddy pawprints.

His pale, arctic-fox face peered up at me. Wary, expectant. My tear-stained face stared back.

Here we were: two sick, miserable beings in need of love and comfort. It was, if anything, a promising beginning.


Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 3: ‘You’re weird’. Subscribe to receive all future posts.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 3: ‘You’re weird’

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Reading time: 6 minutes

Anxious Seeks Canine is a memoir blog series about a gay man living with Asperger’s, mental illness, and the relationships that may very well be fueling it. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all featured individuals. Except for the dog. Here’s part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Subscribe for more posts.


I

“Why do you want to date me?” The question hung in the air for a few awkward seconds. Derrick scrambled to find an answer.

“… Because I like you,” he said, his face devoid of emotion.

“And why do you like me?” I was like the four-year-old who’d just discovered the word “why”. Once I started, I absolutely refused to stop.

“You’re weird,” Derrick replied. “I like that.” As good a reason as any to be with someone, I suppose?

What Derrick had failed to articulate, however, was that I was there – and that was enough.

Whether we were actually compatible was a question to which Derrick was not interested in devoting his attention. And I accepted this. Broken, complicated ol’ me. Probably didn’t deserve any better.

You see, when I met Derrick, I was recovering from the worst illness of my life. Since my teen years, I had struggled with an undiagnosed gut disorder. 

For a decade, I had believed my symptoms – gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, eczema, fatigue, severe mood swings – to be the result of gluten intolerance. After removing gluten from my diet, these symptoms improved but didn’t resolve completely. 

Gradually I removed other possible offenders like dairy, with varying degrees of success.

After years of on-and-off illness, I made an appointment at a leading allergy clinic. Every single test came up negative. 

At one specialist’s suggestion, I adopted a diet eliminating naturally-occurring food chemicals: salicylates, aminos, and glutamates, which can be found in anything from fruits, to cheese, chocolate, and sauces.

While these chemicals can cause reactions in some people, they didn’t appear to be a source of bother to me. Next I trialed going off animal products altogether…only for the symptoms to intensify. 

A large red rash appeared on my back, and neither anti-fungal or cortisone creams could persuade it to go away. My gut became permanently distended, prone to swelling every time I ate.

With my health in shambles, I had no choice but to cut back completely on dating.


II

WebMD told me I was probably suffering from a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS was a somatic condition linked to anxiety and depression, and given my predisposition to the latter, this made me an ideal candidate. Notwithstanding the fact that feeling like I was in the third trimester of pregnancy wasn’t depressing in its own right…

A doctor confirmed the diagnosis and suggested I undergo a test for a secondary condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

The results confirmed that I had indeed had well and truly become a human incubator for single-celled organisms. At last, I had an explanation for my symptoms.

Where IBS could be treated with ongoing dietary restrictions, SIBO required antibiotics. A couple of weeks of treatment reduced my gut to its normal size, only for new symptoms to emerge: chronic fatigue, followed by dizzy spells.

After petitioning my doctor for help and receiving a handful of taciturn emails, I flew to Australia to stay with my folks while trying to figure out what the hell was happening.

A helpful country town doctor put me through a battery of new tests. Receiving the results was like opening a grab bag, only to find a cluster bomb.

IBS and SIBO had left my gut ravaged, and in their wake some kind of parasite had set up shop, requiring yet another course of antibiotics.

On top of this, I was suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency, on account of all the sunlight I was not getting from lying in my sickbed.

But the kicker was that the cause of my chronic fatigue was something altogether unrelated: infectious mononucleosis – the so-called “kissing disease”.

Turns out I hadn’t been wrong to stop dating, only that I probably should’ve done it sooner. In my ailing condition, I had sought comfort in the wrong person, and he had given me a case of mono. It had been a teen rite of passage, a decade too late.

I swung very suddenly from a state of chronic fatigue to one of chronic embarrassment.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
The mono let me bedridden for weeks on end.

III

Still only partially recovered from my illness, I returned to Los Angeles. To say the experience had left a dent in my spirit was something of an understatement. 

Look people – I almost died. Almost. Well not exactly. But I COULD have died. I could die anytime, as a matter of fact. Is that a lump I feel in my armpit? 

Being so sick had only heightened my existing anxiety, leaving me overwhelmed. It might’ve helped if I’d had friends or family around to care for me in LA, but I was a newcomer to the city.

Any surprise then that I warmed so quickly to Derrick. From the very beginning, he lavished attention on me, taking me out to dinner at least twice a week. 

He was solicitous about my health, swearing I could always count on him for help. It was the kind of care I’d secretly longed for.

Other people fantasize about filthy rich dreamboats, but not I. What I wanted was a nurturing parental figure who doubled as a part-time chef. Realistic, I know. 

But Derrick couldn’t have been any less equipped to provide that, given he himself wanted to be parented. By the three-month mark, suspicion had set in.

Derrick had a mantra he liked to repeat, usually every day, sometimes at three-minute intervals: “I’m tired”. I’m not entirely sure what he wanted to accomplish by telling me this.

Around this time, Derrick also shifted from charm offensive to preoccupied and avoidant. We went from eating out every second night to not eating together at all.

While I could make do without bribery by takeout, a complete lack of companionship was pushing it.

At first, I tried sympathy. When Derick continued to complain about being tired however, I changed tactics. I bought a shirt with the phrase printed on it and gifted it to him, “so he wouldn’t have to keep telling me”.

Derrick was so offended he threw the shirt into the bottom of his closet. There it remained, until I, tiring of my boyfriend’s tiredness, dug it out and wore it myself.

They say there are five stages of grief. When I broke up with Derrick, I discovered a sixth: absurdity.

In the week after, I’d broached the subject, and Derrick had airily declared he was “done with this relationship”. “This relationship” being the one from which he’d quickly become absent anyway.

With that, he had stalked from the room, only to reappear moments later to ask if I would mind his dog over the weekend. When pressed for an explanation, he said he was going away on a road trip to Vegas – and I was not invited.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Anxiety had a way of keeping me stuck in situations that were ultimately detrimental to my wellbeing. This is me during a research trip to Turkey, for one in a string of projects I was juggling at the time.

IV

To his credit, Derrick made a few tangential attempts to ingratiate himself after the breakup. Once, he dangled the possibility of ex-sex. Another occasion, he coyly asked if he could wear my hat…because he “liked it”. 

Once I even caught him spritzing himself with my cologne, as if he were trying to savor my soon-to-be lost odor. It was almost too painful to watch.

Having weathered Derrick’s outbursts, forgiven his shortcomings, and soothed his insecurities, I’d been forced to overlook my own needs, until at last my reserves of empathy had finally run dry. 

Soon I began drawing lines in the hardwood. When I caught Derrick trying to smuggle yet another bland mid-century credenza into our apartment, I responded simply with: “No”. 

Derrick hadn’t allowed me to bring my own furniture into his home, telling in me in uncertain terms that it looked “cheap”. To diss my taste in furniture was one thing, but furnishing his apartment without my input? Unforgivable.

When Derrick insisted on keeping his latest acquisition, I wrapped a clawhammer in newspaper and placed it atop the credenza.

I’m not entirely sure if I’d “nailed” the Godfather reference, but the next day, the credenza was gone. Still, the little battles waged on.

Derrick had a habit of burning California white sage in the house in the place of air freshener. The smell had a rancid quality which he seemed to favor over that of his dog’s various messes. 

It was an odor that happened to leave me with blinding headaches, such that I was forced to keep the door to my room closed. During the Vegas trip, I started throwing out every bundle of the stuff I could find.

The day before Derrick returned, while doing his laundry for what felt like the fiftieth time, two twenty dollar notes fell out of Derrick’s jeans pocket. I didn’t hesitate, pocketing it as compensation for all the thankless janitorial duties that had been fobbed onto me. 

This moment turned out to be the last high point in our steadily declining relationship.

Did I linger to savor it? No. What I did instead was divide our Q-tip supply into two neat piles, stuff my share into a zip-lock, and departed his life as fast as humanly possible.


Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 4: ‘See cash? Like this’. Subscribe to receive all future posts.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 4: ‘See Cash? Like this’

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Reading time: 7 minutes

Anxious Seeks Canine is a memoir blog series about a gay man living with Asperger’s, mental illness, and the relationships that may very well be fueling it. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all featured individuals. Except for the dog. Here’s part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Subscribe for more posts.


I

With Derrick gone, I fumbled towards the appearance of equilibrium. 

My employer agreed to put me on part-time hours so I could focus on a few side projects. Superficially, conditions changed, and yet the very same thing that had first propelled me towards Derrick did not.

Not a desire to be cared for as such, but rather, the inability to look after my own wellbeing. I was still a devout workaholic, cooking up responsibility after responsibility for myself.

For weeks on end, I would work around the clock, rarely taking breaks for socializing, leisure activities, and exercise. I’d eat at my desk, and when there wasn’t even time for that, I’d skip meals entirely.

Adopting a dog was my attempt to embrace a more well-rounded, enriching life. It would, so I told myself, be opening the door to the company and peace of mind I’d long denied myself.

And there was also the fact that I did, and always had, loved dogs, so much so in fact that I often preferred their company over that of other human beings.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash wasn’t just a pretty face. He represented new resolutions.

Cash arrived at my home in what I believed to be a lull in life commitments, but what was in truth a franticness of my own making.

While trying to meet multiple writing deadlines, I was also finalizing the release of my first feature documentary. Cash’s adoption added yet another stressor to the equation.

When you tell people you want to get a pet, some may try to caution you: “It’s not going to be easy.”

“Well,” I’d thought, “point me to a single thing in life that is easy.”

The absence of fine print disarms you. Yet I, ever the responsible pet owner, had vowed to be as informed as I possibly could with the help of my trusty friend, Google.

The forum posts I read warned the first few days would be rocky. A bit of tummy upset, a possibility of separation anxiety. But Google alone could not have possibly prepared me for what was to come. 

The first week, I was woken every day at 7 am to the frantic sound of nails against fabric. This was the sound of Cash trying to escape his foldable dog crate. 

The walls shook and bulged in what looked like a cartoon punch-up. Cash’s shrill machine-gun barks suggested he was enduring some heinous form of torture, rather than mere separation by canvas.

No sooner had I managed to work the zip open an inch than he was launching himself out like a fur cannonball.

The crate was meant to serve in principle as his “den” – a place of rest and familiarity. But to Cash, it was the equivalent of an iron maiden. 

To me, it was a sea wall holding back waves of diarrhea.

Cash, I had been told, was housebroken. Yet the stress of the adoption – and his recent surrender by not one, but as I later learned, three owners – had thrown all of his training out of whack.

Having a dog and being mildly OCD were two things that did not mix well. Still, if being occasionally triggered was the only cost of a cute dog’s company, it was one I was willing to pay.

But after climbing out of bed in the middle of the night and stepping into a foul-smelling puddle, I’d decided it was time to try containing the issue.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
The first few weeks were as trying for Cash as they were for me.

II

I had entered dog ownership knowing there might be complications. But I had also gone into it expecting an emotional support pet…only to find myself becoming a dog life support system.

Years prior, I’d witnessed the antics of a friend’s equally needy dog and vowed I’d never adopt an animal like that. And here I was new with a puppy who nudged me the second I stopped patting him.

My expectations may have been unrealistic, following as they did the high bar set by our household dogs.

The first, Kimi, slept beside my crib when I was a baby. The instant I awoke crying, he would go into my parent’s room and wake my mother.

On weekend picnic trips with my family to a local river, I’d push Kimi into the water, cling to his tail, and wait for him to tow me to the far side like a dutiful rescue dog. Never mind he was half the size of his lookalike Lassie.

I mean, what was not to love?

As for his successor, Rumi, he had been a gentle, refined creature who could only be stirred to a state of excitement by my mother’s return from work.

Early on, I learned he could be duped by a single phrase: “Mummy’s home!” Within seconds, his gullible bottom would be waggling.

Rumi’s worst offense was howling when left alone. Compared to Cash’s daily hysteria, Rumi’s crooning was a deeply moving show of love and loyalty.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Kimi was tireless in his love of my family.

Notwithstanding the fact Cash was lacking the same degree of charm as my previous dogs, his “accidents” would have been forgivable had he been actually capable of going potty outside.

The closest thing to “outside” Cash had ever known it seemed was a suburban yard, with none of the distractions and threats of a street frequented by people and other pets. 

Each outing thus proved fraught. The sight of people, other animals, or babies sleeping in their strollers would often spark bouts of temporary madness.

Cash would growl at anything that moved, bark at every approaching figure, lunge at other dogs. Having never been lead-trained, he would pull me down stairs, into walls and car doors with careless abandon, leaving me with an assortment of cuts and scrapes.

When we finally did get to a grassy verge that served as a toilet for the neighborhood dogs, Cash would just stand there. Sometimes he might pace, other times he would sniff the leavings of his predecessors. But he would not, for reasons I could not fathom relieve himself.

After twenty minutes of exasperated waiting, I’d take him back up to the apartment. Before long, however, Cash would be at the door, crying to be let out. Up and down the stairs we would go, over and over again, with nary a bowel or bladder movement. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Rumi was Kimi’s equally adorable successor.

I wondered if I was being subjected to some kind of canine mind game. But then I would look into Cash’s gentle eyes, and my exasperation would soften into pity.


III

One day, upon returning from my seventh lap to the grassy patch, I found my own bladder was full. As I stood at the toilet relieving myself, Cash entered the bathroom, hunkered down on the bathmat, and urinated in tandem. 

Cutting myself off mid-stream, I turned and gave him a look heavy with disapproval.

Cash for his part stared up at me in what appeared to be guilt…or perhaps blame. I’d made him wait, after all, inflicting my unreasonable expectations upon him.

This? This was payback.

The stair-climbing routine began to grind on my nerves. I was facing down multiple deadlines, and to make matters worse, I was still ill.

Over the past few days, I’d coughed so hard I was pretty certain I could now see my abs. It was a first, but one I wish I had only achieved by virtue of exercise, rather than repeated attempts to lose a lung.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Caught in the act!

The combined stress sent me into a downward spiral of dog shaming.

“Pee or do not pee!” I caught myself screaming at Cash. “There is no try!”

My wisdom, however, fell on deaf ears.

Once more, I turned to the forums for help. One post suggested I could fix Cash’s problem by collecting a sample of Cash’s urine and using it to “mark” the desired spot. 

Ever the dutiful parent, I squeezed the contents of a puppy training pad into a jar. I took Cash downstairs, dribbled the pee onto a patch of brown, stunted grass and told Cash to go potty.

Cash didn’t so much as look at me. Instead, he sniffed at a passing homeless woman, pushing a trolley laden with garbage bags at the far end of the block.

“Cash! Go potty.”

Still he ignored me. 

Growing up, I’d seen parents accompany their toddlers into toilets. The idea of guiding anyone through such a process had revolted me. Helping someone perform a basic biological function? No thank you.

But what choice was left to me now? The situation called for desperate measures.

Checking to see the coast was clear, I lowered the front of my pants and urinated. Not a full stream mind you – just a few discreet squirts.

“See Cash? Like this.”

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash, in one of his frisky, post-bath moods.

Cash looked at the pee puddle, then his attention returned to the homeless woman.

I had just publicly exposed myself – all for the sake of my dog. But if I was expecting gratitude, I certainly wasn’t going to get it.


IV

It was some days before Cash mastered outdoor peeing. Around this time the fount of diarrhea dried up, and now he was suffering from the exact opposite problem. 

My relief was swiftly replaced by concern. So, back to the online forums I went.

One post suggested I give Cash some pureed pumpkin to help move things along. What it mostly did was earn me some serious canine side-eye.

Cash’s symptoms were, as it turned out, psychosomatic. He was a very anxious dog, and his anxiety prevailed long after most dogs would have otherwise “settled in”. 

Losing sight of me sparked for my pet what sounded like an existential crisis, every departure and arrival greeted with a furious storm of barks. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
As for closing the bathroom door, that was not happening – not on my dog’s watch.

A dog training website told me I should ignore Cash until he calmed down. Yet my snubs only made him double down with the protesting.

Another site suggested I desensitize Cash to all the familiar cues of my leaving. I began jingling my keys at random intervals. I’d go through the motions of putting on my clothes and shoes before sitting back down at my computer.

Each time, Cash would leap up as if he’d just heard an air raid siren. If I dared move, he would stick to me like a piece of Velcro. If I closed the door on him, he would bark incessantly. It was like having the world’s clingiest boyfriend.

One morning, tired of my dog’s bottomless need, I decided to try sneaking away. As I quietly prepared to head out for work, I paused to listen. Cash seemed to be still sound asleep in his crate. 

Finishing dressing, I crept over to the door, unlocking it. Carrying my shoes out into the hallway, I eased the door closed. 

It was two inches from the jamb when a sneeze came on. I tried to hold it in, but the effect was like trying to swallow a sneeze: all the air went out my nostrils.

Snot geysered, dribbling only my chin.

And just like that, my cover had been blown. The apartment rang with a series of high-pitched yelps. 

Scrape-scrape-scrape went Cash’s nails against the canvas as the crate bounced in place. 

Sighing, I closed the door and walked away.


Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 5: ‘Doesn’t like cuddles’. Subscribe to receive all future posts.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 5: ‘Doesn’t like cuddles’

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Reading time: 7 minutes

Anxious Seeks Canine is a memoir blog series about a gay man living with Asperger’s, mental illness, and the relationships that may very well be fueling it. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all featured individuals. Except for the dog. Here’s part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Subscribe for more posts.


I

After weeks of preparation, I released my first feature documentary, marking the occasion with a free screening at a local community theater.

It should have been an occasion to celebrate, yet my mood at that point was far from celebratory.

Juggling work, my side projects, and Cash had left me drained. Then I’d gone and added organizing venue hire, promotion, and catering into the mix. 

There was only so much time in the day, and so I’d been forced to cut down on my sleep. My immune system crumpled, and within days came down with yet another cold.

When it came time to stand in the wet, open-roofed lobby of the theater and greet attendees, I was in the height of my illness, complete with a croaky voice, stuffy nose, and fits of sneezing.

At my back stood a promotions board, covered with faded photos, dogeared flyers for elementary school productions, and posters celebrating a one-woman show by a Jewish comedian titled “I’m Just Yidding”. 

Within stood what might have passed for a wood-paneled rumpus room that hadn’t been renovated since the 60s. Even with the lights turned on, it was dim, grotto-like. The chairs were fuzzy plaid, the color of mulch, and the projector was about as bright as my phone screen. 

Backstage, I’d found an antique computer for controlling the lights. It came equipped with a monitor so antique it displayed one color only: acid green.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Before the big sure.

It wasn’t much, certainly – but it was the best I could afford on my budget. Having not yet sold the film, I was paying for the entire launch party out of my own pocket. In true anything-for-art fashion, I was spending money that I should have been saving for replacing threadbare socks.

The film was warmly received, even getting a few laughs. Yet afterwards, sitting in my car, I couldn’t help but feel dejected.

Of the 70 people who had RSVPed, only 10 had shown up, most of which had been friends of friends. Then again, a documentary about disability wasn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a perfect Friday night date movie. 

And, much as I’d like to have believed otherwise, I wasn’t a big name filmmaker with a loyal following.

Expecting moviegoers to brave the late Winter rains may have been a touch unrealistic, free tickets or no. Heck, I shouldn’t have been braving it myself – not in my current state.

The minute I got home, I planned to turn off the lights and collapse into bed. But then again, there was Cash to consider.

He’d probably need a walk, a toilet break, and oodles of attention. My days of bachelor-style living were, as of a few weeks ago, firmly behind me.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
I was saddled with a dog who was literally clingy.

Sliding the keys into my car’s ignition, I turned on the heater and pulled my coat up over my head. Up one arm it went, then the other.

The coat snagged on my elbows and I lifted my arms still higher, wriggling as I tried to draw the fabric free. Then something very bad happened.

When I was a teenager, I’d discovered the ability to contort my arms into unusual positions. A good party trick – but one with a clear disadvantage.

Hypermobile joints, as they’re known, were are by weak, undeveloped muscles. As a result, sufferers can find themselves prone to accidental dislocations. 

I’d throw a ball and next thing my shoulder would be out and I would be screaming, charging into walls in an attempt to relocate it.

This weakness only grew when I didn’t exercise…just as I’d failed to do the past few weeks.

Given this painful history, I should’ve known better than to try pulling my coat over my head. And yet there I was, roaring in pain as it dislocated.

With my hands trapped over my head, I tried to wave down my friends – standing on the sidewalk a few cars away – a movement that only translated into a lackluster shimmy. 

With my window up, no one could hear my cries, and opening the door was out of the question.

I rolled my shoulder one way, then the other, hoping against hope it would reset itself. To the casual onlooker, it probably looked like I was wrestling with some invisible demon.

After what felt like forever, there was a meaty clunk, and my arm popped back into the socket.

Flinging off the coat, I sagged back against my seat, breathing raggedly, in a daze of pain.

This, surely, was what rock bottom must feel like.


III

Boy was I kidding myself. 

What I took to be the encore of my previous cold proved to be the flu. Within hours I was hit by total exhaustion, weakness, and fever. I had pushed my body to its limit, and now, like a rubber band, it was snapping back.

The next week I spent in bed, mostly sleeping. Twice a day I took Cash downstairs to do his business, an exercise which in my current state was incredibly taxing.

Perhaps aware of my condition, Cash sat patiently on the end of my bed, nose to bottlebrush tail, waiting.

By day five, however, cabin fever had set in and my dog started nibbling my toes. When that didn’t work, he seized my foot and dragged it to the edge of the bed, in a deliberate plea to be taken out.

A friend agreed to take Cash out for a walk, and while they were gone, I fell to brooding.

The only reason I was so sick was that I’d neglected my own needs. And not just my needs – Cash’s as well. I was a bad owner and not cut out for this responsibility.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
After Cash violently resisted being placed in his crate, I allowed him to sleep in my storage closet instead.

The barrage of self-doubt rose to fever pitch. I had failed Cash, would continue to fail him, just as I failed everything and everyone else.

The adoption had been a mistake, and Cash would be better off without me.

What I did then was something every rational, emotionally balanced person would have done: I conducted a SWOT analysis of my dog.

Under “strengths” I wrote: “He’s an acceptable size for most apartments”. “Very cute”. In the “weaknesses” column I added: “He’s anxious and needy. I don’t know how to give him what he wants”. “He doesn’t like cuddles”. 

This last point in my opinion represented a very serious breach of the Domesticated Canine Obligation Act of 15,000 B.C. If a dog wasn’t helping me hunt or guard my livestock, he sure as hell should be justifying his presence with a little reciprocal affection, at the very least.

But when I tried to touch Cash, he pulled away. When I tried sitting him next to me, he would flee, shying from closeness as if he too suffered an autism-related aversion to touch. 

Indeed, if Cash was my child with autism, then I was the struggling mother, and this was a tearjerker Oscar-bait film.

There would be a scene in which I tried holding my child, only to be rebuffed. Ever stoic, I would invent new ways of trying to get close to him.

Again and again, I would be thwarted, until finally, my spirit battered, I would retreat to my room to wail and beat the wall with the flat of my hand, overcome with pain and frustration.

In reality, however, I refused to surrender so easily, instead forcing my way into Cash’s affections. 

Every day, I would trap him against the bed with my body, kissing him repeatedly on the muzzle. Cash would flail, growling to be let free. 

While I’m not certain he appreciated my efforts, I knew that as his dutiful parent, they must be made all the same.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
My first dog Kimi, playing the dutiful rescue dog.

Despite Cash’s many contractual breaches, I decided to list his companionship as an opportunity. This I weighed against the potential benefits he might enjoy in the care of a more giving, more responsible owner.

For “threats”, I listed: “Too many ongoing commitments. Can’t give Cash my full attention”, and “He eats s—”.

The latter was not a joke. Cash had developed a habit of snapping up other dog’s stools during our walks, which meant I had to keep a close vigil every time we went out.

It also meant I’d been forced to temporarily suspend my daily kissing ritual. This probably wasn’t my dog’s end goal in eating s—.

Chances were, he was actually suffering some kind of nutritional deficiency. It was not in any case a trait I had found endearing.

When my friend returned from his walk with Cash an hour later, my sense of guilt intensified. When in the last three weeks since I’d adopted him, had I given my dog this much attention?

After my friend left, Cash trotted over to the walk-in closet and sat in his doggie bed, a recent substitute for his loathed crate, complete with a baby gate. 

The function of this gate was to prevent Cash from sneaking into the kitchen and stealing food scraps when I was cooking. On top of being anxious, Cash like me had a very sensitive stomach. 

I think Kimi may have set an unrealistically high bar.

Anything other than Cash’s regular dried dog food was enough to induce the runs. Without the gate, my carpet didn’t stand a chance.

This of course hadn’t stopped my dog from leaping over the gate at the peak of his separation anxiety. What it had done nevertheless was provide me with a temporary barricade for my dog’s incessant neediness. Not the total respite I was secretly craving, but enough for now.

As Cash drifted off to sleep, I decided this compromise was surely more proof I was a terrible owner; that my dog indeed deserved better.

Dragging myself over to my computer, I chipped away at the mound of work I had amassed during my week of illness, fielding email inquiries and paying bills.

My work was interrupted a short while later by a yelp from the closet. Cash appeared, rushing over to lean against my leg.

At first, I thought he hurt himself; brushed up against some sharp object in the closet. When a search of his sleeping space turned up nothing, I concluded that he must have just been a bad dream.

Muttering reassurances, I patted my dog, and he snuggled against me, his eyes full of gratitude. 

However much I might see myself as inadequate, this was not a view my dog appeared to hold.

My eyes returned to the incomplete SWOT analysis, considering. Then I turned it over and climbed back into bed.


Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 6: ‘This is MY diva moment’. Subscribe to receive all future posts.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 6: ‘This is MY diva moment!’

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Reading time: 7 minutes

Anxious Seeks Canine is a memoir blog series about a gay man living with Asperger’s, mental illness, and the relationships that may very well be fueling it. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all featured individuals. Except for the dog. Here’s part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Subscribe for more posts.


I

The guinea pig nibbled contentedly away on a lettuce leaf. A pool of urine spread out from beneath her, leaving the newspaper lining of her hutch soaked.

“Now I want you to focus on that memory,” my therapist Dr. Kukosian said. 

As far as exercises in healing went, this was to, put it mildly, a strange one.

Settling back on the couch, I closed my eyes. I tried. I really did. Then other thoughts started to intrude.

I recalled how my pet had given birth in that same filthy hutch. How I’d returned home to find Nightblack, named so for her lustrous ebony fur, and her newborn pup, the-soon-to-be-christened “Princess”. 

The two of them were munching on a lump of raw meat, resting amid droppings. Only later would I find out what exactky this was: the placenta.

What still strikes me as an indescribable act of self-cannibalism, was apparently not all that unusual where mammals are concerned.

Yet the fact my mind had chosen this memory in particular I knew was my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at play. As was, as per usual, trying to one-up itself with grotesquery.

One day, I might be in the midst of a breathing exercise, striving for clarity and peace, and I’d suddenly see an animal defecating.

For this reason, starting a meditation practice had proven next to impossible.

“Why don’t we talk about the attack?” Dr. Kukosian suggested.

Studying her faux oil painting once more, I pretended it was a meditation focus prop and not the estate donation to a thrift store that it surely was.

“Well, it started when I went out into the backyard,” I began. “I saw the neighbor Lillian’s Doberman. She was standing with her head in the guinea pig hutch.”

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
To say I was obsessed with my guinea pigs would be something of an understatement.

I related to Dr. Kukosian how I’d raced, screaming, to confront the dog. How it had bolted, carrying off my beloved Nightblack to the rodent equivalent of the pearly gates.

How I’d cried, utterly helpless, and turned to see my mother watching from the kitchen window, frowning slightly, but otherwise unmoved.

I told Dr. Kukosian of the sense of betrayal I’d felt when she hadn’t so much as acknowledged my grief. The fact of the matter was my mom probably hadn’t known how to acknowledge it, courtesy of her own hard-knock upbringing.

Yet that crying six-year-old had stayed with me, living in a sort of emotional time-capsule – until this very moment. And now Dr. Kukosian was asking me to let him loose.

My gaze fell to the coffee table between us, to the plastic orchid, and the pink box of tissues. I determined then and there that I would not, under any circumstances, cry; that I would hold out for something more traumatic than the death of a rodent, at the very least.

“That must’ve been very hard for you,” Dr. Kukosian said. “Having to deal with that sorrow on your own. And your mother – ignoring you in your time of need.”

My resolve went suddenly flaccid. I teared up.

A guinea pig. I was crying over a goddamn guinea pig, an animal had shrieked every time I had touched her. I had written my pet poems of adoration, sung love songs to her, and Nightblack’s only response had been to poop on my lap.

Of all the confessions I had made to Dr. Kukosian, my one-sided friendship with this creature was perhaps the one that embarrassed me most.

You really had to hand it to this woman. During our first session I’d laid out the sum of my dysfunction in offhanded bullet-point, and she’d received it all with the same standard-issue therapist’s frown.

“Just FYI, there are some things you should know about me,” I’d said. “I was really ill earlier this year. I have this chronic health condition called IBS. I also have Asperger’s syndrome. I suffer from anxiety and depression.”

After a pause, I’d added: “Plus I’m a little OCD. And by the way, most of my childhood friends were animals who reciprocated my love by biting me, running away, and dying.”

Dr. Kukosian could have scoffed. But to her credit, she didn’t. 

Instead, she just listened, listened so much in fact I started to want her to get impatient, to pass judgment – to give me anything other than the same gentle impassivity.


II

In my defense, I didn’t choose dysfunction – it chose me.

My response had been to run. From my problems, from my disintegrating family, from the “friends” who rejected me because of my autism, from my own vulnerability, until the running became the new norm.

And so I had lived a kind of half-life, devoid of feelings I chose to keep bottled up.

My needs it seemed weren’t viewed as a priority to anyone other than myself, and so I’d tried burying them. When others told me directly or by implication that I was worthless, I began treating myself as such. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
The death of Nightblack broke my heart. I think this was her daughter, Princess.

In the race to try and find a solid sense of personhood, I pinned my identity to a somewhat Protestant philosophy: salvation through a strict work ethic.

As a teen, I applied myself to my goals with fervor, writing novel after novel, studying so hard I graduated at the top of five classes.

Surely sooner or later the scales would balance, and recognition and happiness would replace pain and suffering.

For years afterward, I denied myself care, rest, holidays, and the company of friends and family, spending all my money on advancing my career.

Yet no matter my successes, the goalposts always seemed to be shifting, and the validation and peace of mind I so sought increasingly out of reach. There was always a new novel to write, a new short film to edit, a new degree to complete.

My workaholic lifestyle was, at first, a refuge. A way of distracting myself from the absence of emotional support in my life. Eventually, it became my prison, and my hypercritical inner bully, my keeper.

“You’re incompetent,” the internal dialogue would go. “A failure. A walking disaster. You’re physically inept and everyone can see it. Your disability makes you an insufferable person to be around.” 

This was a sort of defense mechanism, born of past hardships. Existing solely for my protection; to keep me small, stunted, yet “safe”.

For years I’d acted on this bully’s advice. Thus empowered, the bully whittled away my confidence, telling me what I would never be enough. And so the bar kept on rising.

Shutting off that little voice was like trying to correct embroidery. Not impossible, but difficult, requiring a lot of unpicking.

For a long time, I took his words as the undisputed truth. Why question something that had more or less ensured my survival? 

If I tried dismantling the bully’s arguments, my whole life could come crashing down. But in failing to conquer my anxiety and depression, I had allowed it to conquer me. I was trapped, in pain, with no one to hear or help. 

My shoulder dislocating in the car was, I later realized, the perfect metaphor for this situation. The fact I’d crashed so hard after the premiere of my first feature documentary was no coincidence.

After a week spent in my bed, barely eating, I emerge one pant size smaller and fighting the deepest of despairs.

It’s one thing to recognize you have a problem, and another to figure out how to fix it. So here I was, back at therapy, talking about my guinea pig.

Reaching for the pink tissue box, I paused. There appeared to be some serious gender color-coding going on here. Pink is for girls, and only girls cry, and all that.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
A part of me knew I was struggling, and yet I was too frightened, too confused to ask for help.

Being forced to use this box therefore could only be some underhanded attack on my masculinity. Was the therapist even aware of the symbolic game she was playing with me? 

Dr. Kukosian smiled, then glanced at her watch. Her attitude was perfectly polite, but at the end of the day, her empathy was strictly professional.

She didn’t really care about my turmoil. No one ever did, least of all me. And maybe that was half the problem.

“So. Shall we pick this up next week?” Dr. Kukosian said.

“Fine,” I replied. And snatching a handful of tissues, I went out. 


III

I like to consider myself a pragmatic person, squeezing life’s bumper crop of lemons into lemonade. So, driving home after my session, I decided my current crisis was going to be an opportunity.

I would not let myself continue to be shackled to the past. I would move forward with my life; become a new, happier person.

But then the emotions came crashing back in. That freaking guinea pig. How dare she let herself die.

Had the treacherous creature spared me a single thought before being brutally shaken to death?

Big, blinding tears flowed, and all I could think about was getting off the road before I ran into another car. Swerving to the curb, I hit the hazard lights and wailed into the crook of my arm. 

The sound that came out of me was almost primal – the kind your body reserves for moments of true grief. Was that what this was?

When I finally got home, I laid down on the floor, wallowing.

Talking about depression, most people think it’s an experience that exists exclusively in your head. But right then and there, my entire body felt depressed. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash became a welcome, if persistent, distraction from my workaholic lifestyle.

And then there was the sense of helplessness that came with it – the certainty that I never had and never would be happy.

It was like someone had just detonated charges along a dam wall and the whole thing was collapsing before a flood of pain. The best I could do was just lie there in the fetal position and wait for the waters to recede.

While I might have wanted to stay there for hours, mourning one pet, there remained the question of the one still living, nagging for my attention.

No sooner had I laid down then Cash had started nudging me.

“Give attention,” his eyes seemed to plead. When I didn’t respond, he nudged me again. “Now? Now? Now?”

Such extravagant displays of emotion as the one I was currently making was, evidently, no longer practical. I had a dog, and he wanted – no, needed – my attention. 

“I’m sorry, Cash,” I croaked. “Not right now.”

Cash’s wet nose brushed my face. Did I not understand his urgency? Why not? 

Changing tactics, Cash thrust his snout into my undefended ear. I covered my face with my arms and Cash growled, trying to paw them away.

“Damn it, Cash. This is my diva moment!” 

For so long, I’d failed to listen to my own needs, and now I’d gone one step further, taking charge of another’s.

But if I was going to get better, this would have to change. It was high time I indulged in a little radical selfishness.


Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 7: ‘Kooft!’. Subscribe to receive all future posts.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 7: ‘Kooft!’

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Reading time: 7 minutes

Anxious Seeks Canine is a memoir blog series about a gay man living with Asperger’s, mental illness, and the relationships that may very well be fueling it. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all featured individuals. Except for the dog. Here’s part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Subscribe for more posts.


I

When I finally managed to scrape myself up off the floor and kick my flu, the resolution to splash out in the self-care department had fallen by the wayside. 

To my credit, however, I threw myself with renewed effort into my role as do-it-yourself dog dad.

Reasoning that Cash’s anxiety must be the result of excessive energy, I decided to take Cash out for three brisk walks a day.

But at the first sight of other dogs, this “excessive energy” quickly transformed into aggression.

Cash would run barking towards his new foe so suddenly the leash would whip past my leg, leaving me with rope-burn.

“He’s so cute!” the other dog’s owner would tell me, as I was yanked toward them with a strength belying Cash’s size.

It was a refrain I came to hear every time I took my dog out in public. Cafes, parks, hiking trails – wherever we went, strangers were sure to gush their approval.

“Sure,” I’d say through gritted teeth. Cute, and utterly uncontrollable. They weren’t, of course, living with the daily chaos. 

Where was the ideal pet I had envisaged, the one who walked placidly at my side? The dog who greeted other dogs with tail wags? Who looked at me with unconditional acceptance, rather than unconditional need

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Me collapsing on the floor usually was an excuse for Cash to collapse on me.

Was the canine comforter who remained at my side in times of stress, who welcomed my use of his fur as a tear-sponge, just an improbable dream?

The warning signs had been evident at the dog adoption center, and yet I’d chosen to interpret Cash’s hyperreactivity as excitement. He was clearly overjoyed by our instant connection, and looking forward to his new life in my “forever home”. 

And yet everything and nothing it seemed had warranted the divided attention of my soon-to-be-pet: a car door slamming out in the carpark; a dog yapping behind a closed door; the coming-and-goings of staff members. 

Due diligence had been exercised…due diligence being simply asking Cash’s then-owner Anya if there were any behaviors I should look out for, or special needs that might require my attention.

Anja had had nothing to say on that account, and her silence had lulled me into a false sense of certainty.


II

It’s quite possible that in the single month in which Cash had been in Anja’s care, she hadn’t seen the side I was already too familiar with. She’d lived a quiet suburban life, one involving a yard, and as such, hadn’t felt the need to walk Cash.

By the time I realized my pet probably had a behavioral disorder, the ownership transfer documents had long since been signed and processed. 

My initial concerns had initially been put down to cold feet. 

“He’s fine,” I told myself. “I’ve totally got this.”

Cash was my responsibility now, his anxiety a problem we would have to overcome together. With blind pluckiness, I’d pushed on, stocking my apartment with all the amenities a puppy could possibly need: stuffed animals, chew toys and dog treats.

Surely this abundance of gifts would be enough to cure any dog’s anxiety.

Cash took an immediate interest in the toy giraffe. He spent the next few days pulling out stitches, tearing the toy limb from limb, and strewing its stuffing across the apartment. 

“Okay,” I’d thought. “Don’t panic. He’s just a puppy. Puppies do this kind of thing all the time.”

But the speed with which Cash dismantled first this toy, and then several others, suggested otherwise.

Still, if Cash had been destabilised by the adoption, then getting him back on course was merely a question of granting still more loving attention.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Unlike the other dogs, Cash spent more time in the shade than on the actual hiking trail.

Treats were offered, only for Cash to sniff disdainfully at them and turn away. This canine caviar apparently wasn’t cutting.

So I tried bringing him along on outings. During hikes, Cash would refuse to walk with me, insisting on darting from shade patch to shade patch, shying from sunlight.

He’d spend the entire trip like this, lapping greedily at every brackish pool of water we might happen to come across, in spite of all my shouts that he was going to catch dysentery.

As the summer heat intensified, I figured that what Cash needed was a respite from the unnecessary insulation of his long hair.

But when I sat him down to cut his fur, Cash ran yelping away from my trimmers, vanishing beneath the bed.


III

A stretch of chain-link offered a glimpse of a small dog park enclosure, a barren patch of dirt that was empty save for a couple of sheltered picnic tables.

Cash’s aversion to hiking and his resistance to having his hair cut meant now that forays into the local dog park were now our only alternative.

The small dog enclosure seemed the natural choice over the larger enclosure, as Cash tended to pick fights with larger dogs.

I entered a knot of nerves, less worried for Cash than for what he might do to the multitude of Teacup Terriers that awaited us. Legal compensation and vet bills weren’t exactly something I’d budgeted for.

As Cash padded over to meet a pug, I braced myself, watching for the first trace of hostility. Cash stared at the pug, who waggled a tail. Cash for his part offered no response, his expression one of apparent bemusement.

His would-be playmate quickly lost interest, racing off to join another group of dogs.

Leash still clutched tightly in one hand, I let Cash lead me over to the next candidate: a blue and tan Dachshund. 

A round of rear-sniffing ensued. This time I tried to be more optimistic. This interaction, I told myself, could very well crystallize into a friendship, one with the power to transform Cash from antsy wallflower to fun-loving socialite.

Cash’s attentions however were met with a growl of warning.

He crouched in an invitation to play. The Dachshund didn’t respond. Oblivious, Cash leapt on his wouldbe playmate, almost bowling him over.

The Dachshund rounded on Cash, peppering him with barks. Cash shrunk back, uncomprehending, then made as if to jump a second time.  

Seeing disaster on the horizon and swiftly approaching, I hoisted a spray bottle. My dog blinked daintily against the squirt of water and backed away. From whence had come this noxious blast? 

Cash shot me a dubious look and was soon eying his next candidate. The leash went around and around my fist, drawing tight as I pulled my dog closer, guarding against the possibility of conflict.

Maybe my jitteriness was palpable, for a stocky park matriarch wandered over.

“Can I ask why you’re keeping your dog on a leash?” she asked.

“Because I don’t know what Cash will do if I take it off,” I said. The woman placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

“He’ll be fine,” she said. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

My gaze went to the curmudgeon of chihuahua at the matriarch’s heels. One tiny leg was in a cast. One accidental push from Cash, and the chihauhau would surely be finished.

I drew Cash even closer.

“Just give it a try,” the matriarch suggested. “And if it doesn’t work out, you can go back to the leash.”

Yet this woman had the air of a seasoned professional. Surely, she knew what she was talking about.

“Okay,” I said, and snapped off Cash’s leash.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
I know what you’re thinking. “What a sweet looking dog!” But appearances, as the old adage goes, can indeed be deceiving.

IV

Against all my expectations, tragedy did not follow, though Cash soon proved wanting in the etiquette department. Sticking his nose in unwelcome areas, he would pursue terrified Maltese and Pomeranians until they turned and snapped in his face. 

My dog appeared entirely ignorant of his powers of intimidation, let alone how they were affecting his beady-eyed counterparts. 

He didn’t send the normal tail-wagging “friend” signals that came effortlessly to other pooches; rather, his preferred method of interaction involved sidling up to his playmates and butt-sniffing them with the efficiency of a parking enforcement officer checking a meter.

The sniffing usually escalated into mounting, which left me mortified. It was as if I were extension guilty for these shows of sexual dominance.

The worst part of it was that Cash went after the most vulnerable dogs: the dopey ones that didn’t know how to resist, or were too small to extricate themselves from his hold.

Their shrill barks drew looks from other owners, frown lines offers sketches of unspoken criticism. What was I thinking, bringing an unsocialized – scratch that, sexually aggressive – dog into the enclosure?

As someone with Asperger’s syndrome, I know the perils of being socially impaired. Trying to not accidentally alienate my friends with Asperger bluntness remained a daily battle. Yet for all my awkwardness, you didn’t see me trying to mount other people. 

Each time Cash tried the maneuver, he’d cop a spray of water, wince, and within seconds be right back to it. I resorted to calling, clapping, shouting, until finally, my dog restricted himself to just sniffing.

Somehow he still managed to unnerve the other dog. After they had hurried away, Cash would wander back to me wearing a look of incomprehension. 

“Has done wrong?” 

And I would look back at him, honestly wondering what he wanted me to do.

My exasperation was, without a doubt, unfair – if somewhat inherited.

As kids, my siblings and I would sometimes ask my mother: “What’s for dinner?” A fairly innocuous question. At least, that was what we thought at the time.

Kooft!” my mom would reply, using the Farsi word for poison. What she had really meant to say was: “Don’t bother me, work it out yourself”.

Each time, I’d opt to receive my mother’s curse as a stale joke, meanwhile promising never to model this kind of behavior for my own children.

Yet now that the shoe was on the other foot, and it was my dog approaching me for help, I was at something of a loss.

The fact I was already getting exasperated with my dog spoke less to faults on his behalf than on me.

The impatience I felt towards him was the byproduct of depleted inner stores. Maybe the solution, therefore, was self-replenishment.

But before self-replenishment could occur, I would first have to do something I so often refused to. I would have to indulge in a little radical selfishness.


Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 8: ‘Why not bite?’. Subscribe to receive all future posts.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Anxious Seeks Canine – Part 8: ‘Why not bite?’

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Reading time: 7 minutes

Anxious Seeks Canine is a memoir blog series about a gay man living with Asperger’s, mental illness, and the relationships that may very well be fueling it. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all featured individuals. Except for the dog. Here’s part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Subscribe for more posts.


I

Our visit to the small dog enclosure proved brief. No matter how many dogs snarled at Cash, he didn’t seem to get the message, but instead kept on with the pushy behavior, ruffling fur wherever he went.

After an ancient, hairless creature that might have once been a Yorkshire Terrier screeched at Cash, I hurried out of the enclosure, my cheeks burning, Cash trailing behind me.

One way or another, however, I was determined to see my dog socialized. Not eventually, but today.

Despite my exasperation, I persevered. Reattaching Cash’s leash, I hustled him to an adjoining enclosure more than three times the size of the first.

Here, I told myself, Cash stood less of a chance of dwarfing his peers and thus intimidating them. 

A Labrador bounded over keen to meet the newcomer.

“Go on Cash,” I said, snapping off the lead. “Go say ‘hello’.”

Cash padded forward, sniffed delicately at the Labrador’s behind, barked once, then raced back to my side.

His gaze rose to meet mine, in what I took to be entreaty.

“What?” I said. “What’s the problem?”

Our visit to the dog park was meant to be a fun break – for the both of us. Cash was supposed to play with total abandon while I caught up on some much-needed leisure reading. 

Instead, I was being asked to reassure with my presence, to hover like a helicopter parent. Where in the previous enclosure, the somewhat oversized Cash frightened away potential playmates.

Now, without the advantage of size, he had promptly reverted to the ol’ Velcro dog routine.

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Cash during a chance meeting with a full-breed husky and a Pomeranian-Husky.

Perhaps Cash merely didn’t know how to play. Elementary as such an ability seemed, it was a line of inquiry warranted further exploration.

To this effect, I dropped into a play crouch. Cash mimicked me. I waited a moment, my eyes locked with his, then shot away.

“See,” I said, as Cash scampered after me. “You do know how to – Hey! What the hell?”

Cash had just tried biting my ankles. He zipped past, circling back. Again he looked at me, no doubt attempting some form of telepathic communication.

“Why not bite?” I could almost hear him thinking. “Is fun.”

Fun, but a tactic bound to alienate. This was something that would definitely have to be worked on.  

“Come on,” heaving a sigh. I led him over to meet a German Shepherd. 

“Hey buddy!” I called. Ears raised, tongue lolling, the dog turned to look at me. “Cash, be friendly.”

When Cash, who was cowering behind me, did not budge, I added: “He’s not going to hurt you. Go on already.”

Raising my voice didn’t seem to help matters. Perhaps a more competent owner – A kind soul with deep reserves of patience, an empty schedule, and money to throw at a trainer – would have known what to do.

This was what Cash likely needed, but right now, all he had was me, with my worryingly low bank account balance, homespun advice gleaned from internet forums and less than stellar parenting techniques.

Puppy training school? He could just forget about it. But tough love? That was something his stingy daddy had in spades

It was time I put my formidable skills to practice.

“Alright Cash,” I said, shooing my pet forward. “You’re on your own now. Start paddling.”


II

Ignoring the German Shepherd, Cash did a cursory circuit of the nearest canine social circle, before returning to my side. 

On I went with the shooing, until at last my dog ventured out on his own. It was possible I was forcing my child to run before he could walk, for very quickly Cash went from ignoring other dog’s friendly advances to snarling.

“Okay, crazy,” the other dogs’ expressions seem to say. And off they would trot to play with someone else.

Mustering his courage, Cash resumed his previous mounting routine, sizing up potential victims before swooping in. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
There were times when Cash seemed to get on okay with other dogs, but these were few and far between.

“Hey!” I shouted as I pulled cash off a Beagle. “Cut that out.”

Cash went off in a huff, laying claim to a water bowl currently in use by a Husky. 

“Mine! Mine! Mine!” he barked, before diving in to claim it for himself. When a bull terrier tried to join him, Cash resumed the barking.

“That’s enough,” I snapped. “Leave them alone.”

When my attempts to summon Cash to my side went ignored, I grabbed him by the collar, chaperoning him away. 

Not long after, Cash took an interest in an Australian sheepdog, crouching and barking. There was none of the usual tail wagging one might have expected; rather, he had all the focused intensity of a schoolyard bully.

The sheepdog didn’t respond; merely threw Cash a cursory look and wandered away.

Clearly, Cash’s tactics weren’t doing him any favors.

When he wasn’t being bossy, he would sit on the sidelines, forever awaiting the chance to insert himself; a chance that never seemed to come.

In my dog’s hesitation, I saw my seven-year-old self, standing at the edge of a sandpit, while the other kids – engrossed in their own play – ignored me. Me, the oddball who talked to insects. The nature boy who longed for friendship; a thing whose mechanics eluded me well into adulthood.

And while I’d long stopped communicating with six-legged creatures, the insecurity that I would never truly understand others, nor they understand me, had remained.

But my fate was not one Cash need share, a belief that was renewed in the few instances when both he and the other dog play bowed and burst into a game of chase.

It didn’t take long however for the same worrying behavior I’d witnessed earlier – the heel nipping – surfaced again. It was a habit that elicited annoyance, and even yelps, bringing the pursuit to a swift close.

“That’s, like, a cattle dog thing,” one dog owner advised me, as she motioned her brown labradoodle to sit.

Googling “Husky-Corgi” on my phone revealed she was right. Cash’s tendency to drag me as if I were some kind of human sled down I’d attributed to Cash’s Husky side.

But the barking and heel-biting – that likely had its origins in his other Corgihalf. Corgis were bred to herd cattle, and this, I reasoned, was why Cash tried to strong-arm every Great Dane he came across.

Maybe their cattle-like size was sparking my dog’s latent herding instinct?

If my awkwardness was the result of my being on the autism spectrum, then Cash was equally the product of his genes. No squirt from a spray bottle, therefore, was going to salvage a nature as deeply ingrained as his. 

anxious seeks canine the thoughtful gay
Back from a run to the water bowl.

III

Still, I wasn’t going to let any child of mine was going to terrorize others – not on my watch. I knew, after all, that it was only a matter of time before one of Cash’s victims turned on him. And it didn’t take long.

During a later visit to the large enclosure, Cash tried to mount a mutt three separate times. By the third time, the mutt had had it and turned on Cash. 

Before I knew what was happening, the two were snapping at one other, then Cash was on his back, squirming like an overturned turtle, as his opponent loomed over him.

Somehow I managed to drag my dog away, scolding him. But if Cash was meant to learn something by my admonishment, he certainly didn’t. 

The incident repeated just moments later with a second dog. Fed up, I clipped Cash’s leash to his collar and marched him back to the car.

If anything was going to change, new measures would need to be taken.

When I was back home at my desk, I ordered a training collar equipped with a beep and vibrate feature. Remote controller in hand, I would now be able to catch Cash out the very instant he acted up. 

But on a return visit to the dog park, Cash simply ignore the beeping and thrumming of the collar.

Next I tried dialing the shock down to the lowest setting, then zapped myself. The sensation, wasn’t technically painful, but it was alarming enough to get Cash’s attention. 

Yet once I fitted the collar, it became apparent that the collar’s prongs barely penetrated Cash’s thick fur. The few occasions it did, Cash seemed to associate the resulting shock not with my disapproving “No!”, but rather with the dogs he was harassing.

Wariness swung into open hostility. Like clockwork, Cash would approach another dog, forgetting to wag his tail and going rigid with tension. 

The other dog would either walk away or growl. In the latter case, Cash would growl back, and I would quickly intervene. If we were lucky, the conflict would end there.

Upon further reflection, Cash didn’t seem so much to be an antagonist by nature as someone with a severe Napoleon complex. He responded to his own fears by overcompensating, charging headlong into confrontations, and body-slamming fences. 

Certainly, one could admire his persistence in the face of all this rejection and hostility, a quality I associated with my own survival. And yet, now that it wasn’t me in the spotlight, I could admit how that very same quality was driving potential allies away.  

People told me I could be stubborn. Obviously they hadn’t met Cash, who was by far my superior in that regard.

And for all my efforts to corral and correct, nothing seemed to take. 

My dog, I decided, was the cosmos testing my mettle – and finding it sorely lacking. Not knowing how to do better, I redoubled my efforts. But trying to coerce Cash into becoming something he was decidedly not – namely, an obedient, well-adjusted dog – was, as I would later realize, an effort bound to fail.


Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 9: ‘A short-term solution’. Subscribe to receive all future posts.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.