|When I was 29, I had a steady boyfriend, so my desire for a cat met with the full approval of family and friends. But I never got around to serious kitty shopping until after Grant and I broke up, and then suddenly everyone from my mother to my auto mechanic got worried. They warned me that a pet would tie me to my apartment. They predicted I'd start choosing nights alone with the cat over nights on the town. They said that before I knew it, I'd have a second cat, and then a fifth, and I'd refer to them all as "my babies." |
"Single women just should not have cats," my friend Greg declared. "If you want something with a heartbeat to greet you at the end of the day, get a dog."
I pointed out that dogs are much more time-intensive than cats and would tie me down more. Plus, I explained, I like cats better.
Greg winced. "Don't ever say that again. Men love women who like dogs. They're afraid of women who like cats." Besides, he told me, walking a dog is a great way to connect with male dog lovers, whereas owning a cat is a great way to connect with a dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice.
I grew up in a household of cat lovers, male and female, but it turns out that many of my friends agreed with Greg. Several remarked that the traits of the two species align with certain longstanding gender stereotypes: Dogs enjoy romping and eating and humping things while cats are moody, skittish, and unpredictable in their affections. Men imagine that a woman who likes dogs will also like them, Greg concluded, whereas a woman with a cat may not.
"That's the dumbest, most sexist thing I have ever heard," I said.
He shrugged. "Just don't invite me to your cat-adoption shower."
Negative associations about single women with cats go back, of course, to witches. But witches' familiars were not necessarily feline. In Macbeth, for example, one of the three witches has a cat, but one has a toad, and the third's species is never specified. In the interest of taking Shakespearean scholarship to a new level, I'd like to be the first to suggest it was a golden retriever. But more to the point, the fear of witches is essentially a fear of powerful, self-sufficient women, and I wasn't going to give in to that anxiety.
However, I was nervous about the impact of cat parenthood on my social life. Like buying property solo, getting a cat felt like one of those loaded decisions of single life.
Fortunately, the chance to cohabit with a cat on a trial basis presented itself. My father was about to hike Machu Picchu and asked if his tabby, Diva, could spend the week with me. After Dad dropped off Diva and her litter box on his way to the airport, I spent 10 minutes thinking how very pleasant cat ownership was. With a purring tabby on my lap and a date that night, there was nothing to worry about - until I began to sneeze.
I told myself it was just dust, but after vacuuming and opening all of the windows, I continued to sneeze. Then I decided I must have one of those rare, sudden-onset colds (you know, the kind that comes with no warning or sore throat whatsoever) and gobbled some vitamin C. I kept sneezing.
One red-nosed date, three days, and four brands of maximum-strength allergy medication later, I had to admit defeat. Somehow, I'd gone from being a kid who slept curled up with a cat to being an adult whose eyes itched the moment I touched one. The question was no longer whether a cat would ruin my social life. The question was whether FedEx would let me ship the cat to my father in South America.
So I've vowed to hold out for a human companion. Still, if Prince Charming comes along and turns out to have a cat-familiar of his own, I'm prepared to channel my inner witch one more time.
"Abracadabra," I will cry, as I submit to allergy injections. And we'll all live happily ever after.