He caved and let his sister give him a kitten. Which taught him a lot about how relationships really work.
Time to throw the stereotypes out the door: I am a cat guy (or is it “cat man”?) It’s taken me 20 years to overcome denial and get my own four-legged house pet. Keeping it real, my sister found her on the street and “gifted” the kitten to me. My guess is she’s not more than two months old. The cat is stubborn, rambunctious, affectionate, and could easily sleep 14 hours a day. A cat after my own heart.
So far I’ve learned that 4:00 a.m. is a good time to jump on and off the bed repeatedly. Anytime is the right time for sleeping. And skinny jeans provide good leverage for climbing to someone’s lap. She’s also taught me a few things about what it means to express and receive love.
Here are a few of the lessons being a cat guy taught me about love.
Call it Love. I had no idea that my refusal to name her would create controversy. Trust me; she’s more concerned with having fresh litter, water, and a bowl full of kibbles n bits than anything else. Got me to thinking about our label hysteria and obsession with giving each new connection an official tag. The labels are irrelevant, my cat is loved.
However, since beginning to write this article I have decided on a name: Trust.
Take it Slow. It was not love at first sight. She spent most of her first day hiding behind the refrigerator and hissing whenever I came close. Fair enough. She had no reason to trust me and was still working it out in her head where the hell she’d been taken to. I fed her, placed litter close by, and then left her alone to get familiar with the place. I noticed the loud meowing stopped as long as she could see me. Still, it took time for Trust to decide that coming close was a risk she wanted to take. Our connection grew slowly, one step at a time. As opposed to taking it slow, too many of us race to deepen romantic connections. We want intimacy, emotionality, and sex on demand; choosing to treat romance like Netflix. As a result, collapse is inevitable as such connections were not built to go the distance. Don’t get it twisted; I would have been overjoyed if she was compliant and affectionate from the first minute. But I had not earned her trust. That took time and I was willing to be patient.
In Good Times, But Even More in Bad. Speaking of earning trust, I’m starting to realize that cleaning out her litter box earns me major cool points. Matter fact, the only time Trust intently watches me move about the room is when I change out the litter. As soon as it’s done she dances about the room and then becomes affectionate. This message is clear. Anyone can express love when everything is all good. Real love means putting up with the shitty times too.
Boundaries. Trust lives in the bedroom. Initially she had access to the entire house. It was too much too soon; she needed boundaries. She’s been more comfortable since restricting her access to one room and the sense of safety has enabled her to be playful and affectionate. Of course no relationship is perfect, and she loves to push boundaries at times. Right now she’s trying to violate the “no walking on the computer rule.” If she was not so adorable I would be more dogmatic about enforcing that rule. Point is — structure within any relationship is necessary for closeness. Romance requires clarity about expectations and boundaries. Discussions about things like monogamy or frequency of communication are all about clarifying the relational structure. In the case of my cat, she accepts that there are places she cannot go and I accept that there are nights when I will wake up to a paw in my face.
Your Attention Please! To be clear, she only walks on the computer when I’m using it. Usually she stands on it and looks at me as if to say “give me your undivided attention!” Does not matter if I sit and watch her run around the room, or playing “chase the string” with her as long as she has my attention she’s good. As a result, I’ve learned that when I give her my attention first and then get on the computer, she’s more likely to chill until I log off. Fact is, no relationship can survive without attention. The quality of the attention is also important as it lets your partner know how much they are a priority in your life.
No Money, No Problem. Trust has no toys, nor do I dress her in kitten-clothes, and she has no siblings. Right now I do not have the time or money to invest in any of that, however this does not prevent her from enjoying herself. Her favorite game is biting my socks while my foot is in them. She also enjoys jumping on the furniture and jumping on my lap. When you are loved and can be entertained by chasing your tail, you don’t need material goods.
Appreciate Strengths. Another reason the whole “cat name” is ridiculous is this is not the type of pet that is going to come when called. She responds when she’s ready. She is affectionate when she’s ready, and she’s playful when she’s ready. There are times when I fill her food bowl and her look says “so what, I’m not even hungry.” Then I leave and return and she’s fully into the grub. Trust is at her best when maximizing her autonomy. For the record, I love her individuality and autonomy; the worst thing I can do is try to control or change her into behaving differently. Too many of us try to play the role of “mad-scientist” in relationships, attempting to fix or modify other people into being different. Connection deepens when we choose to accept and appreciate the strengths of those we are close to.
Time Away. As much as Trust likes attention, she also takes space away from me. She can sit in the window for significant periods of time or lay in her area on the far side of the room. During these moments she values being left alone. The distance/connection dance is necessary for any relationship as we all need time to ourselves. She will return to my space when her time away has been sufficient. The temporary absence and subsequent reconnection only strengthens our bond.
Photos: Author’s own