There’s a standard joke every one of my single female friends has made after adopting her first cat. It goes something like this:
“Yep, why delay the inevitable? Well on my way to becoming a crazy spinster cat lady!” *nervous laugh*
Personally, I like to go one step further.
“Yep, eventually I will have a whole house full of them. Each named after a man I have tried and failed to maintain a fulfilling relationship with.” *maniacal laugh*
This is a good litmus test to see which Americans can quickly catch on to my dependence on sarcasm as a defense mechanism, and which are slowly backing away with fear in their eyes.
Joking aside, the crazy spinster cat lady is a very real trope in our society. And here is why I think that is completely ass-backwards: owning a cat teaches you extremely important lessons about relationships. Here are five examples:
1. Cats only want you when they can’t have you
My cat, Oscar, is a shelter cat. When I adopted him with my room mates, the shelter worker said that he may take some time to warm up to us. When we got home, he immediately darted under a sofa and, despite all our attempts to coax him out, remained there for quite some time. Rejected, I headed to my room to console myself with some Netflix. Within ten minutes of shutting the door, I heard a plaintive meowing outside. I opened it. Oscar peered in, then scrambled back under the couch. He’s a little bit friendlier now, but the basic pattern remains. If you want to cuddle up and watch a film, he will fidget on your lap for ten minutes then scuttle into a small space. If you want to do something private, like, say, do your human business in the bathroom, he will be scratching at the door until you relent, open it, and tell him that seriously, dude, there’s nothing in here you want to see. Trust me.
You may observe the same behavior in people. When you aren’t that into spending time with someone, they will be pestering you for a chance. When you acquiesce, and, after a couple of great dates, decide that actually, you could see a future here, they will suddenly be all woah, this is moving too fast! and dash away under that metaphorical couch so quickly you can almost see cartoon dust clouds by their feet. I recommend a human version of the compromise I have developed with Oscar: if he is meowing at my door, I open it just a crack, forcing him to do the work of pushing it all the way open. I leave the door open, and, if he jumps up onto my bed, I give him a quick scratch under the ear and go back to whatever I was doing. He knows the door is still open, if he wants to leave. Most of the time, he stays.
2. Cats (or my cat, at least) won’t trust you if you play games
I know, I know, some cats love laser pens and toys. Cute. Also, dumb. For the sake of this analogy, those cats are the sort of people who believe everything they hear on Fox News, or forward chain emails because they genuinely think a murdered little girl with no eyes might pop out from under their bed otherwise. Not a long-term relationship prospect. When we adopted Oscar, we bought all kinds of toys for him. Laser pens, dangling mice on sticks, catnip-filled lobsters. No dice.
“Look, Oscar!” I would exclaim, with faked wonderment, as I shook the little mouse in front of his face. “Mouse!”
He would look up at me with disdain, and I could see that he was thinking “Human, I know that that is not a real mouse. It’s a piece of rag that you are jerking around in my face while I am trying to snooze. Leave me alone.”
And he was right. It wasn’t a real mouse, and if he had caught it, he would only have been disappointed, or confused, or a ton of other not-very-positive things. And then why would he have any reason to believe me when I tried to prove that no, there isn’t anything fun happening in my bedroom at 3am, and he should really, really just shut up and go to sleep?
Likewise, if I give you my number, and you call me EXACTLY THREE DAYS LATER, I will know what the deal is, and I will think that you don’t respect me, or my time. Or if you sidle up to me in a bar and tell me I have “nice teeth… for a British girl,” I will think, bitch, everyone and their mother has read The Game by now, and now I think that you have so little personality you have to try to trick women into sleeping with you.
Let’s all just be honest. No, this isn’t a real mouse, Oscar. Yes, I am both interested in, and terrified of, pursuing a real relationship with you, romantic prospect. Not so hard, right?
3. (Adopted) cats have had a life before you, that you will never know about
As I mentioned earlier, Oscar is a shelter cat. When we adopted him, we were told he was three years old. When we took him for his check-up, the vet said that his teeth and eyes indicated that he might be as old as seven. We will never know. We will also never know: Where he lived before he lived with us; who his mother was; whether he lived with other cats; how many previous owners he had; whether he loved any of them more than he loves us. And I’m fine with that. I guess the dating lesson here is: Don’t worry about your partner’s previous owners. They’re with you now, they seem pretty happy, and that’s going to have to be enough for you.
4. Cats do not respect personal space when sharing beds
Your cat will sleep in the middle of your bed, leaving you clinging vertiginously to the edge of your mattress. Your cat will make strange noises while they sleep. Your cat may accidentally tear up your sheets, and they are sorry about that. You may one day wake up to find your cat’s face pressed up against yours, just watching you sleep. This is all good preparation for the negatives of sharing a bed with a romantic partner. The romantic partner also comes with extra positives that your cat does not, like the ability to make you you breakfast in bed. And… other things.
5. Cats may be independent, but they always come home to the person they love after a night out
Note: This does not apply to Oscar, who is a house cat due to not having the opposable thumbs required to open a staircase door or operate an elevator. But one time, he tried to dart out into the corridor, and the overwhelming smell of bad cooking and stale urine (yay, living in New York in your twenties!) turned him straight back around.
Cats are independent creatures. Unlike dogs, who have to be kept on leashes by law, and who wait patiently by the door to jump up and smother you with love on your return, cats do their own thing. And that’s cool, because so do I. And I hope the people I date feel similarly. You know what’s cool to me? Someone who does something that is completely different to what I do, and is good at it. And who wants to tell me about it, and help me expand my horizons a little bit. Granted, cats are useless at that last bit, seeing as they can’t, as a rule, verbally communicate with humans. But although they might head out through the cat flap at 8pm for a night of who-knows-what with their feline friends, you know that they will be back before morning. Sometimes with a present.
It’s the same with people. If you love someone, let them go out drinking with their friends and don’t be so goddamn needy that you have to check up on them all night. If they love you, they’ll come back. Hopefully with a present (for reference, the human equivalent of a half-eaten mouse is a bottle of wine, a breakfast burrito or a drunken text, depending on circumstances.) And if they don’t come back, then all that’s happened is that you’ve lost another mangy Tom Cat to the mean streets of New York City.
So there you have it. Don’t buy The Rules, or The Game, or He’s Not That Into You Because Men Love Bitches, Or Whatever. Mostly because those are terrible and restrictive manuals on how to live your life, and they sound like no fun at all, but also because cats. Just adopt a cat and then, through observing their unique feline blend of utter detachment and complete adoration, become a master of interpersonal relationships.