When FM first told me that he wanted to adopt a cat, I groaned. Why could it not have been a dog?
I knew why. He was religious and his religion didn’t allow for dogs as household pets. But I liked dogs and could see myself falling in love with my boyfriend’s dog easily. Cats, I could not stand.
It’s a family thing — my grandmother hated cats, my dad and all his brothers did too, and now I hate them. I’m convinced it’s genetic but no one buys that. So I try other ways to explain it.
It’s their eyes, have you seen the way they pierce into you? They hate humans! Also, can we please talk about their walk, the way they place each paw before the other with such masterful command? They trod with knowing, and their knowing scares me.
I dislike cats in a way I can’t logically explain, with a fear that feels primal, visceral, potent. The very sight of one puts me on edge.
But I loved FM. So I caved and decided to try being encouraging about his journey with cat-adoption.
It started with looking up different cats online. He sent me pictures of multiple ones he was considering. There was a white furry one, a Persian cat, that I thought was sort of cute. But he said that those cats would require too much maintenance. He was ready to nurture something, but not devote his life to it.
A few weeks later, he went for an open adoption where he met a few cats he liked. There was one in particular that caught his attention. He said that the cat called out to him in some way (pet owners often feel such intuitions strongly, I will refrain from making any comments about that). But he needed a few days to think of it.
In a couple of days, he decided that Tigger would be the one. He went and picked his new baby up from a middle-aged woman with short dark hair who lived in a large, fancy villa. He was now officially a pet parent. And I, the long-distance partner of a pet parent.
Tigger was exactly the type of cat that made my skin crawl. He was grey with ash and black stripes across his fur. He had golden eyes. He looked at you scornfully and walked with arrogance. My man was in love.
His days began revolving around looking after the cat. In making it feel at home, creating a corner for it in his room, making sure it was vaccinated, fed, and always had a toy to play with. I got updates about every single move Tiggs made. Most of them were picture updates.
Soon, my phone’s gallery started to fill up with pictures of a condescending grey feline. I’d delete the majority of them after one look, but I kept a few as reference material to look up when FM spoke about his eyes or his fur or his tail. It was hard to love Tiggs, but it was impossible to not love something that my boyfriend loved with his entire heart and soul.
In an attempt to hold space for this love, I started to move my eyes away from the grey furry creature and onto my boyfriend in the photos he sent me. I’d focus on how he allowed the cat to perch itself on him. On how still he kept his arm so the cat could ensconce itself into a nook in his elbow. On the way that he stroked it lovingly with his slender, gorgeous fingers.
I imagined myself the cat. I imagined that someday when we met, I’d curl up in his arms and lace my fingers through his. I imagined what it would feel like when he would stroke my hair.
Sometimes the cat would lie on his lap. This ideal position was rare and I knew how he cherished it. My insides felt that corny fuzzy feeling people talk about when they imagine their lovers to be happy.
There were times he got Tigger to take a selfie with him. Looking at their faces beside each other, father and son of different species, always made me chuckle.
Eventually, I began to get accustomed to receiving pictures of the cat. If there were days he didn’t send me any, I’d get worried. Was Tiggs alright? Was FM alright? — Tiggs had just been aloof all day. Cats! You know!
Over time, I could even look at pictures of just the cat with adoration. My mind had created such a strong and fantastic filter that even without FM in the frame, I found him there. I’d imagine that this is what his eyes were looking at as he clicked. This is what his mind was thinking of. His mind was also probably thinking a bit about sending it to me, that made me happy. Oh, how he must love this creature! And oh, how I love him! Love is the perfect filter, isn’t it?
I started to feel the love too. I could feel it blow into me and expand me, bit by bit, day by day.
I found myself thinking of Tiggs when I crossed the pet store near my house. I wondered what I should get him for when I met him someday. I wondered how it would be to meet him. He wouldn’t care much about me, I was certain. But what about me? Would I be able to pet him? To hold him? To allow him to perch on me?
I realized I wasn’t looking for my boyfriend in pictures of him anymore. I wasn’t even looking through my boyfriend’s eyes. I liked Tiggs now. A lot. I cared for the cat.
When FM and I broke up a few months later, I brought up Tiggs in our last cry-rant-farewell to each other.
“You even made me like a cat!” I wailed. “What am I going to do now without knowing how Tiggs is?”
“I’m sorry,” he sobbed. “You didn’t have to like him!”
I didn’t, that’s true.
You never have to like a cat or a person or anything, really. But sometimes, there is no other option but to like them anyway.
It’s been years since then. I have not seen FM after we broke up but we remained good friends. He still sends me pictures of Tiggs occasionally (I ask for them).
I’ve never met Tiggs and probably never will. I did not start to like other cats, although I can tolerate them being in my vicinity now. I’m just not a cat lover, I can’t be, it’s genetic!
But there are days I think of cats, of men with cats, of women who love men with cats, of women who hate cats but love men who love cats, and I smile. Now that’s a story I like.
This essay was originally published on PS I Love You. Relationships Now.