What Bunnies Taught Me About Life
A lot more than I expected
Four years ago, my boyfriend and I bought two bunnies for $30.
$30. For the pair of them. That makes each only $15! I don’t think I’ve ever spent less adopting or purchasing a pet, except for maybe a hamster when I was eight years old.
(Sidenote: We did buy our buns from a mom and pop pet store. We were young and naïve! Next time, we’ll definitely adopt. #AdoptDontShop)
I had no idea how much that $30 would change my life.
That isn’t to say I went into bun-ownership blind: I did a ton of research, bought all the hay, food, litter, and supplies the Internet said we would need, and asked my boyfriend a bajillion questions about bun ownership (he had a much-loved family bun for years).
We named our two new buns Milo and Otis… then discovered that Milo was actually a female, so she became Mia. But Mia didn’t seem to quite fit her, so instead we started calling her Grey, after her fur (in hindsight, I wish we’d just kept calling her Milo like true hipster parents, but hey, you live and learn).
Four years of glorious bun ownership later, here’s what they’ve taught me:
1. Pluck up your courage
This is a big one. When people hear the word courage, they don’t usually think of bunnies, but trust me when I say they’re some of the bravest critters out there.
Courage isn’t the absence of fear — it’s pressing forward in the face of fear. Grey & Otis are TERRIFIED when we cook anything on the stove. The sound of sizzling onions or boiling water just sets them off.
But they won’t race to their enclosure and hide, not immediately. They’re worried about us! They need to warn us that there’s danger (I don’t think they understand that we’re the ones responsible for the sizzling sound in the first place). So even though their eyes are wide to the whites and they’re trembling with fear, they stand their ground and thump several times to sound the alarm… then they let themselves hide.
I have a lot of fears — fear of heights, loss, failure, illness, you name it. I get nervous before video shoots, or when I have a phone meeting with a client (why not email?? WHY?). I’m on edge while camping, on planes, and publishing articles like this one.
The idea of facing my fears makes me uneasy, sometimes nauseous… but I remind myself that fear is just the body’s reaction to something out of its comfort zone, and really, getting out of my comfort zone that isn’t a bad thing. It’s how we grow.
So, like our two little buns, I do my best to push fear aside and show up, even if it’s scary. Especially when it’s scary. It’s always worth it.
2. Have some self-compassion
Bunnies are the champions of self-care. They nap all day, eat all the hay they want, and don’t beat themselves up if they miss the litter box.
Obviously as a working human, I can’t nap all day… but I can definitely take a few cues about self-compassion — and I don’t just mean the “I do a lot in a day, I deserve to watch an episode of House tonight”, but the big stuff.
I tried a different career path in 2018, in the unionized film business. The job was well-paid, had solid long-term career opportunities, and it was exciting to work on Hollywood-level productions with big stars. My parents were so excited (and a bit relieved, I think) that I’d moved from freelance videography.
But at the end of the day, I hated the job. I hated the 15-hour days, the ego involved, and everything about the work itself. It was really hard to let that ship sail, but I did.
And I didn’t beat myself up over it.
3. Being In Charge Doesn’t Mean Being an Asshole
Wild buns exist in groups underground called “warrens”, and have complex social hierarchies based on dominance.
Our female bun, Grey, is dominant. We know this because when she and Otis greet each other, she shoves her head under his chin to demand affection. It’s the universal bun signal for, “I’m the boss, so you have to snuggle and groom me.”
Can you imagine a world in which dominance was asserted by asking for affection, or even a world in which affection wasn’t considered a negative thing?
Sometimes Grey lets Otis demand affection, and lends him the dominance stick for a while. It’s a really effective way to keep the peace.
Watching our two buns interact every day is an excellent reminder that compromise and mutual respect are key to any relationship. When people are confronted with anger, they tend to respond in anger… which only leads to, you guessed it, more anger.
If I have difficult clients at work, I always take the bun route of dominance and keep my cool. I’m reasonable, clear, and sympathetic to their concerns. And you know what? I’ve never had an angry client at the end of the day. People appreciate someone listening to their concerns and providing actual solutions.
P.S. Did you know that bunnies are usually matriarchal? That’s right, female buns are usually in charge. FEMINISM!
4. You can’t (and probably shouldn’t) change people
I spent a whole year — a year! — of bunny ownership picking up Grey & Otis constantly, trying to get them used to it… but all it earned me was terrified glances and general apprehension. They tensed up whenever I came close. The difference between how they responded to myself and my boyfriend (who wisely never tried to pick them up and would tsk whenever I did) was startling. He was a safe haven, and I was the giant monster with the hands of doom.
When I finally stopped trying to bring the mountain to Muhammad, everything changed for the better over the course of a couple months. The buns’ guards came right down. They started greeting me when I came close, played with me, and hung out around me. Success! I was also a safe haven!
Ironically, after I stopped trying to pick them up, Grey & Otis also decided they LOVED cuddles. When there was no threat of being picked up with hands, they started to associate them with cuddles, and actively sought out affection (which is amazing because bunny fur legit feels like the softest cloud).
It’s the same with humans. When we respect another person’s way of being, we develop a more meaningful, fulfilling relationship.
When my boyfriend and I started dating, I was always pushing him to go out with our friends. The more hangouts, the better! I was offended whenever he said he wanted to stay home and play video games, read, or watch a movie. I thought he was pushing me away.
Really, he was just introverted.
Every time we went out, it took a ton of effort for him — effort that I didn’t see because I’m an extrovert. It didn’t even occur to me.
Luckily, we talked and came to an understanding. We go out with friends a couple times a week, but definitely not every day.
If he feels overwhelmed, he lets me know. It’s cool.
If it means a lot to me that he comes to an event, he does. It’s cool.
But if I’d kept pushing him to change over the years, to adapt to my needs without thinking of his needs, I may have pushed him away for good.
5. Let yourself be happy
Bunnies do these things called “binkies”. They kind of look like convulsions, but they’re actually just buns leaping into the air and twisting with joy: joy that they’re alive, that there’s a carrot in the food dish, that they just felt sunshine on their fur… who knows? It could be anything, and it’s absolutely adorable. It’s hard not to admire such an unabashed show of happiness!
Many people (myself included) have a tendency to downplay our own happiness. We don’t smile as broadly as we could (maybe someone said something mean in grade school), we don’t laugh loudly (we don’t want to be seen as obnoxious), and we tend to qualify our happiness: “Yes, we love our renovated kitchen, but it took so LONG!” (we don’t want people to feel bad about their own kitchen).
But most of the time, people like happy people. It’s nice to see someone throw their head back and genuinely laugh. When someone do that, have you ever seen someone keep a straight face, not crack a smile? I haven’t.
Happiness is a rare, elusive feeling at the best of times. Let’s celebrate it.
Four years ago, my boyfriend and I bought two bunnies for $30. Whoever thought it would go so far? Certainly not me… and I wouldn’t change a dang thing.
As I finish writing this article, there’s a blizzard roaring outside. I’m on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket with a tea. Grey & Otis are cuddled up together in their favorite spot, under the kitchen table… where they can keep an eye on both me and their food dish.
That’s another lesson — always keep your eyes on the food.
Buns are so wise.