At 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday in November, I found myself surrounded by a swarm of Bernese mountain dogs. “Be careful,” said Dave, the guy I had been dating for about a month, as he watched his Berner, Freya, frolic with her lookalikes. “They can knock you over.” This fact I conveniently learned for myself a moment later when two of Freya’s silken-haired, 100-pound friends hurtled into the back of my knees. Dave caught me before I fell. Then we laughed, which is usually what we did when we were together.
We were at a monthly meetup in Central Park for Bernese mountain dogs and their owners, all people like Dave, whose obsession with their pets rivaled only each other’s. He was a regular at the meetups — he’d even brought other girls, I later learned — but this was my first invitation to one, which is how I knew things were getting serious.
I had been seeing other people, too. After a year and a half of pandemic living, I happily threw myself back into the swirl of dating in New York City. I was 27 years old and racking up a list of exchanges that would entertain even Carrie Bradshaw. Based on how I felt around Dave, though, I knew my time in that phase might be limited.
That evening, I was scheduled to go on what I called my “last first date” with someone else. If the date went well, I’d continue on with my “Sex and the City” lifestyle. And if it didn’t, I would commit to exploring my connection with Dave. I should have been happy: After countless right and left swipes, I’d actually landed on someone whose stride matched my own. But the thought of getting closer to him — to anyone, really — terrified me.
I should have been happy: After countless right and left swipes, I’d actually landed on someone whose stride matched my own. But the thought of getting closer to him — to anyone, really — terrified me.
In my last relationship, I lost myself. Worse, actually: I began to hate myself. After years of being verbally berated and criticized by a man who believed “clean” was the highest compliment a person could receive, I thought I was more a bundle of flaws than a person. His favorite refrain was that no one but him could ever love me. For years, I believed him. Being single, I realized he was wrong: I could love me.
When I met Dave three years later, I’d done the work to heal — which involved, in no particular order, journaling to remember my own voice, speaking to friends and family to process what happened, reading romance novels for their examples of healthy love, and letting loose for better (and for worse). I even tapped into my spiritual side — pulling tarot cards, meditating and taking every cardinal that flew by as a sign that I was on the right path in life. I was finally at a place where I felt whole and accepted myself for who I was. A relationship, I feared, would rob me of the peace and contentment I’d found. Single was synonymous with safe.
Perhaps that explains why, at every turn, I tried to find reasons to ditch Dave. Sabotaging this relationship was ironic, considering earlier that year, I had written a list of 28 qualities I would like to find in a partner, and he had them all — including some of the more specific ones that I had put down on a whim (long hair, many siblings, a pro at making breakfast).
Dave also had qualities I wasn’t imaginative enough to dream up. He was an excellent storyteller who conducted himself in a way that gave him excellent stories to tell. He told deadpan jokes you only caught if you were paying attention. He specialized in a kind of soul-seeing, soul-melting stare that the actors in “Bridgerton” could learn from.
Dave and I were also precisely the same kind of weird. On our first date, we both walked to the bar Dave suggested, even though each of us had separately Googled the hours before the date and learned it was closed in the evenings. But instead of texting to make other plans, we decided to see how the other person would handle the situation. Would Dave be calm, despite learning the place he’d chosen was a dud? Would I be flexible, he wondered? Weeks later, we learned about this shared approach and couldn’t stop marveling. Only we would do that, and we had found each other.
Still, our obvious connection wasn’t enough to keep me from wanting to run. I collected a running list of our differences, which would justify my eventual flight, and constantly updated my tallies of pros and cons.
So I went on the date. The other guy was perfectly nice: enthusiastic, charming, asked thoughtful questions. He checked the boxes I said I wanted. But sitting across from the other guy at a wine bar, I knew I wouldn’t come home smiling, like my roommate said I did after my first date with Dave. I went to the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror, and teared up as an epiphany washed over me: Face it. You like Dave.
I needed a sign. At the end of the date, as the guy droned on about his investments while I chewed on a brownie, I asked for one. Looking up at jumbo-sized Christmas stars hanging from the ceiling, I put in my request with the universe’s mysterious forces. “Universe,” I thought, “If I’m supposed to be with Dave, send me a Bernese mountain dog on my way home. It can even be a Bernadoodle.” Over and over, I repeated it like a mantra: Send me a Berner before I get home.
At 11:00 p.m., I left the date believing two paradoxical things to be true: If I didn’t get the sign, I would still pursue what I had with Dave — and that I would get the sign.
I got on the subway and grabbed a seat nearest to the sliding doors. At the next station, my heart stopped. A large dog with curly hair and the coloring of a Bernese mountain dog walked through the door directly next to me.
A laugh began to build, but I stopped myself from rejoicing. A journalist, I needed to fact-check my instinct, even if it entailed breaking the cardinal rule of the subway: minding your own business. “What kind of dog do you have?” I asked, turning to the man. He replied that his dog, Theo, was a Bernadoodle, but had extra curly hair (not unlike my own).
A Bernadoodle. The smile began in my belly, a full-on yellow feeling. Then, I saw something that took my breath away. Around Theo’s neck was an evil eye charm, similar to the necklace that I wear every day. The universe seemed to be abandoning subtlety. If you don’t take this as a sign, it said, then you’re a hopeless case. It spoke, and I listened.
The universe seemed to be abandoning subtlety. If you don’t take this as a sign, it said, then you’re a hopeless case. It spoke, and I listened.
The next day, I buoyantly walked over to Dave’s apartment for breakfast. My approach that morning was different. I didn’t wonder, as we were making egg sandwiches, whether or not we should be together. No, we were together. I would accept him as the person he was, instead of trying to scan him for any potential personality traits that might, one day, cause me pain.
Our relationship didn’t change after my encounter with Theo on the subway — but my behavior did. Before, I’d hidden behind a wall of mystery. I was hoping either Dave would valiantly climb those walls, or simply let me keep them up. After meeting Theo, I started to dismantle the walls myself. I told him who I was. I let him in.
I’ll never be able to say, definitively, whether the incident on that November night was a sign crafted just for me, or a meaningless coincidence — though if it isn’t already clear, I don’t believe in meaningless coincidences. This much isn’t up for debate: Out of every subway car in New York, a Bernadoodle named Theo walked onto mine. And because of that stroke of synchronicity, I allowed myself to fall in love again — even if that means I’ll now spend one Saturday a month surrounded by a herd of dogs twice my size.