probablytom

A library of thoughts and things worth sharing.

Cat Person

Cat Person from New Yorker explores a few things — the way we decieve ourselves when we date, how modern dating works, and gender dynamics in modern dating.

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Margot laughed along with the jokes he was making at the expense of this imaginary film-snob version of her, though nothing he said seemed quite fair, since she was the one who’d actually suggested that they see the movie at the Quality 16. Although now, she realized, maybe that had hurt Robert’s feelings, too. She’d thought it was clear that she just didn’t want to go on a date where she worked, but maybe he’d taken it more personally than that; maybe he’d suspected that she was ashamed to be seen with him. She was starting to think that she understood him—how sensitive he was, how easily he could be wounded—and that made her feel closer to him, and also powerful, because once she knew how to hurt him she also knew how he could be soothed. She asked him lots of questions about the movies he liked, and she spoke self-deprecatingly about the movies at the artsy theatre that she found boring or incomprehensible; she told him about how much her older co-workers intimidated her, and how she sometimes worried that she wasn’t smart enough to form her own opinions on anything. The effect of this on him was palpable and immediate, and she felt as if she were petting a large, skittish animal, like a horse or a bear, skillfully coaxing it to eat from her hand.

I don't think any two people are going to take the same things away from this article, and I'd encourage both sharing it around and actively discussing it.

To get the most out of this though, I'd encourage you to read the accompanying interview with the author afterward. It's enlightening and fascinating and just as interesting as the accompanying story.

Louis C.K., who has obviously been in the news a lot lately, echoed Margaret Atwood’s line “Men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them” in a standup routine, by talking about how the equivalent of a woman going on a date with a man would be a man going on a date with a half-bear, half-lion. In the bar, Margot thinks of Robert as “a large, skittish animal, like a horse or a bear,” that she is taming, coaxing to eat from her hand. But what would happen if she stopped trying to coax and pet and charm him—if she said, bluntly, that she doesn’t want him, that she’s not attracted to him, that she’s changed her mind?

That option, of blunt refusal, doesn’t even consciously occur to her—she assumes that if she wants to say no she has to do so in a conciliatory, gentle, tactful way, in a way that would take “an amount of effort that was impossible to summon.” And I think that assumption is bigger than Margot and Robert’s specific interaction; it speaks to the way that many women, especially young women, move through the world: not making people angry, taking responsibility for other people’s emotions, working extremely hard to keep everyone around them happy. It’s reflexive and self-protective, and it’s also exhausting, and if you do it long enough you stop consciously noticing all the individual moments when you’re making that choice.

It’s in this context that Margot decides to have sex with Robert. In order to avoid an uncomfortable, possibly risky exchange, she “bludgeons her resistance into submission” with a shot of whiskey. Then, later, she wonders why the memories of the encounter make her feel so sick and scared, and she blames herself for overreacting, for not being kinder to Robert, who, after all, didn’t do anything wrong.