“Yes, I have a cat,” I said to the gentleman taking me out on a first date.
It was out of my mouth so fast that I heard it when he did — a lie that came out so smoothly, so confidently, that it would have been awkward to immediately amend.
I’m pretty sure that I didn’t bring up the subject of felines, although maybe I did. The truth is that I do have a cat.
And I also have two others.
In fact, in total I have three cats, a reality that only became uncomfortable to me when I became single. Three cats didn’t seem so extreme to me when I was married, and living in a house that could easily accommodate three cats. (Although that is also a bit of an exaggeration, since my marriage played out in apartments more often than in houses…but at the end we were living in a house.) We got our first cat in college, then we got another cat to keep the first one company, and then we had to adopt the sweet cat with the missing leg. I drew the line at three cats.
So it was for a number of years, he and me and the cats that numbered three. When they got old and started dying, each loss seemed unbearable, and by then, three cats seemed right to me, it just seemed like regular life. We adopted our way back up to three cats.
Immediately after our separation, there was some talk of my ex taking one of the cats — but I decided against that plan when I learned that he had another woman. You’ve had enough pussy, I declared. (I actually didn’t, but I totally should have!)
Anyway, the reality of being a single woman with three cats is somewhat different than being a married with the same pet complement. It’s not that three cats are so much more daily work for me to handle than one, although there is a bit of that. It’s not even that it would be very hard for me to evacuate the three living creatures in my apartment, plus myself, in the event of an emergency, although it would be. It’s that having three cats and no husband makes me seem a little insane. It makes me seem like a crazy cat lady.
Life for me is much like what is described in A Man and His Cat, a most-emailed essay by Tim Kreider, about a man and his close relationship with his cat. I identified with a lot of it – that my home is never empty, that the interior lives of the cats I share the house with is often interesting, sometimes zany – like why did Henry decide that it would be a good idea to squeeze himself inside the pillow case, along with the pillow, this morning?
But I also thought that it was an essay that would not have been published, had it been written by a woman. There is something especially clichéd pathetic about being a single woman and having a cat, that does not apply to being a single male cat owner. It strikes me as the difference between the two words applied to single men and single women respectively: bachelor and spinster*.
And yes, these are outmoded gender roles. But I’m not sure why, when you hear about a lady and her cat(s) that what leaps to mind is a cat who is prickly and solitary and hard to know, and not a sleek sexy cat costume, not Eartha Kitt? And when there is more than one cat in the mix — or heavens, more than two — why does it speak to some sort of a deep hunger for connection, some kind of a collection of ersatz connections to replace the “real” human kind?
Kreider talks about this in his essay: “I’ve speculated that people have a certain reservoir of affection that they need to express, and in the absence of any more appropriate object — a child or a lover, a parent or a friend — they will lavish that same devotion on a pug or a Manx or a cockatiel, even on something neurologically incapable of reciprocating that emotion, like a monitor lizard or a day trader or an aloe plant.”
My instinct here is to reject this assertion by protesting that I had plenty of connection when these cats were adopted, and don’t really lack for that today. (And as for the question of cats being inappropriate substitutes for the children I’ve not yet summonded forth from my own uterus… I’ll leave that topic for another day.) But then I will say that I have decided that I will not be replacing two of this crew of three whenever they make their final exits, whatever my marital status or living situation. (Okay, maybe I won’t replace one of the three…you really can’t trust my first take on this subject at all.)
So back to my first date lie. I nonchalantly corrected it on the second date, casually worked into the conversation the phase actually I have three cats. And it didn’t make much of a ripple. So could it be that the notion of being a crazy cat lady is…all in my mind? And if so: does that make me even crazier?
*I recently learned that the word “spinster” didn’t always have a negative connotation. A woman who could spin wool was able to support herself and therefore was not forced into marriage by financial exigencies. If she married it was because she wanted to.