Pre-warning: if you haven’t read this short story yet, go back one stage and do just that. The below will make zero sense without this context. Find it here: ‘Cat Person’ by Kristen Roupenian for The New Yorker.
Reading Cat Person made me realise I’ve dated several of these men before. I may even be dating one now. We read so much about the over-attached young woman, but the insecure slightly older man is a less documented character. How many memes, articles and films are based on the ‘crazy’ love obsessed woman? The stereotypical one, who goes on one date and then immediately becomes clingy; demanding marriage and babies. That’s why Cat Person has gone so viral – it’s the first time many of us have read anything that focuses on this very real, very common character.
“We live in a culture that enshrines the male ego, constantly tiptoeing around and mollycoddling, through fear of offending or damaging it”
We live in a culture that enshrines the male ego, constantly tiptoeing around and mollycoddling, through fear of offending or damaging it. It’s a trap most women have found themselves in; staying in a certain situation that makes us uncomfortable, because we fear the consequences of being honest and potentially hurting a man’s pride. It’s the pretending you have a boyfriend, your friends swarming around you in a club to bat off an unwanted advance, or staying on an awful date and then replying to his texts afterwards. Toxic masculinity means that we’d rather lie, remain unhappy or sugar-coat situations to avoid male confrontation.
This rather sad figure, Robert, embodies a lot of this. Because, for the most part, he seems ‘nice’ but also unstable and insecure. Thus, Margo has disappointing sex that she doesn’t want to have, in order to spare his feelings. Masculinity is so tied up with the idea of being a god-like performer in the bedroom, with power and prowess. When a man can’t achieve this status, understandably due to its unrealistic standards, he can become volatile. And we, as women, become secondary figures to his pleasure. Doing all we can to ensure he doesn’t feel emasculated. We’ve all turned down a man’s advances only to be called a whore, a slut, a cocktease. Denting a man’s ego can have sinister consequences at worst and at best it usually results in a sexist slur. Can we be blamed, then, for putting up with the occasional Robert? Margo’s attempt to inflate her own ego in the process, as a mechanism to enjoy the experience, feels understandable. And familiar.
b) it’s so sad that women have to, or choose to, pretend to enjoy sex because the implication of saying no is that you’re ‘awkward’
— sara (@saramacauley_) 13 December 2017
Reading Cat Person made me realise that I’ve put up with far too many Roberts, and as I get older the less willing I become to entertain such men. The age gap is of paramount importance in this short story, because he should and does know better. The Roberts of the world, maybe subconsciously, know that dating a younger woman will mean their ego gets stroked, and therefore they can regain some of their ‘power’ that was lost in past bedroom experiences. By acting paternally, and in turn patronisingly, to whom they’re dating, they feel validated. Cue vom break.
When I was reading the #CatPerson short story, my first reaction was to be annoyed with the protagonist, but then I realized that I was annoyed because I myself have felt powerless to stop situations that felt bad to me in the past because I didn’t want to hurt the other person.
— Mina Salome (@Mina_Salome_) 11 December 2017
From the beginning, try and suss out the red flags – constant reference to your age, patronising comments about your understanding of life, an air of sensitivity that feels easy to throw into imbalance, could all point to your very own Cat Person. As for me, reading this short story was a wake-up call. I’ve never seen in such starkness that this dating habit is a real, and unhealthy, one to perpetuate. I’m cutting out the Cat Person in my life; and I don’t need to explain myself to them or feel guilt.
The three group chat discussions about this story I’ve had, endless Twitter threads and think pieces similar to this one show that, most women, know a Cat Person – let’s not feed this viscous cycle anymore. It’s tiresome, and no one comes out winning.