late to the cat lovers party
Up until my early twenties, I was a vehement dog-person. Within my friend groups, I was the dog-obsessed one. It became a running joke - to the point where I sort of inadventently integrated it into my personality. I told myself it was a kind of energy that I exuded. I told myself a lot of things.
Conversely, I made it pretty clear that - while I didn't hate them - I wasn't all that fond of cats. I remember saying,"We just don't really get along. They freak me out! I can never get a read on them."
You can imagine my surprise to find myself, years later, sitting here writing what is essentially a letter of appreciation to my two cats, who have been with me for almost five (wow!) years now. And yet, in hindsight, it really isn't all that surprising at all.
It's funny, the innocuous things that we ascribe as aspects of ourselves. I'm not saying this can't be a good thing, but I've found that sometimes I do this to my own detriment. I paint the box around me and then tell myself I can't step outside of it.
You might be saying, Eve, are you seriously trying to posit that learning to like cats made you realize you were being too rigid and unchanging about who you are and want you want in life?
Yes! Yes, that's exactly what I am saying!!!
Please, let me explain. It took me a(n embarrassingly) long time to realize that the reasons that I didn't get along with cats were:
- I was treating all of the cats I met just like I treated dogs.
- I had already decided that we just didn't get on, so I wasn't trying as hard as I could have.
I mean, not only was I starting every interaction with a bad attitude, I was going about it the entirely wrong way, and I wasn't even considering the fact that I might need to try something different in order to get a different result. In short, I was setting myself up for failure from the get-go.
Luckily, I had an observant friend with a particularly patient cat, who took note of my aversion and made a point to put me in the room with her cat at every opportunity. (And also, to tell me, "If she's sweeping her tail like that, she wants some space. She's not wagging it like a dog; she's getting annoyed.")
Eventually, I started to pick up on the things that Mittens loved versus tolerated versus loathed; and once I had the one victory, I was greedy for more. If I knew there was a cat in the house I was visiting, I would ask politely if they liked people, and then I would carefully make my way over and test out my new-found cat-befriending knowledge.
It totally worked. 1 I was ecstatic! I'd spent so long thinking cats were these mysterious and unknowable creatures, but they're actually wonderful communicators - I was just speaking the wrong language. And I never would have known, if I hadn't had someone to help me see that I was going about it the wrong way and being too stubborn to allow myself the space to try to change the way I approached it.
(So, yes, this is mainly about my learning to appreciate cats - but can you kind of see where I'm coming from with the whole "it's actually sort of a whole life lesson" thing? Even just a little bit?)
I still love dogs with all of my heart, but once I began to understand cats, I became absolutely enamored with them. When I moved for graduate school, I found myself alone a lot of the time. To assuage some of the loneliness, I would drop by the nearby pet shop where they would sometimes have cats up for adoption (brought in from the adoption center a little further away). I would just...hang out there, trying to give the cats a little fun and enrichment. I went so often, the staff knew me by name and would tell me immediately as I walked in whether they had a cat in-house that day. 2
I broke down eventually and started going directly to the adoption center. Long story short - I now have two cats, and they are my absolute darlings. (Even when they're a little evil and commit crimes and are sharp to me. 3)
They're so sweet and hilarious and wholly themselves. I love every little nuance of them - how Al rattles his whole tail when he's happy to see me, how Willow does the funniest meow when she's tired (she opens her mouth ten times wider, but the sound is somehow a fourth of her usual volume), how they both hate when I take too long washing my face at night and will come stand on either side of me and take turns trying to get my attention.
They have routines they like to follow, and they'll try to corral me if I'm not following the script. They both hate when I won't go to bed when they're ready, because they like some time to cuddle before I fall asleep. They love it most when I act like a room is "off-limits" and then let them "sneak into" it. (I left the door cracked on purpose).
In truth, Al & Wil have gotten me through some incredibly lonely points in my life. I love them so, so much - and I never would have known how much I could, if I hadn't given myself the chance.
And this applies to so many areas of my life, now that I'm aware of it! Recognition of my tendency to put up self-imposed restrictions has changed the game.
Instead of thinking, "Well, I tried this and it went poorly, so it must not be for me," I think, "Maybe I'm coming at this with preconceived notions; I should try again, but without all of the expectations" or "Maybe I'm putting up blocks around things I can do and things I can want, because of this image I have of myself. Is this something that truly defines me, or a box that I'm locking myself into for no reason?"
Two relatively simple questions, but they give me the tools to override the fixed mindsets I’ve accidentally worked into my life. The amount of times this has actually worked would make me laugh, if it wasn't so very obvious.
(Oh, who am I kidding? It makes me laugh anyway.)
Good luck out there,
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(Update: immediately after I posted this, I saw this post by Rat ᘛ⁐̤ᕐᐷ, which I thought was a lovely and hilarious coincidence! I am also allergic to my cats, but they’re soooo worth it!)
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Well, 85% of the time. Some cats (much like people) just don't want anything to do with you at all, ever. And that's fine. Another good lesson to learn.↩
I tried very hard not to be annoying about it. I just figured that the cats that were brought in probably spent most of their day in that single cage. Before I moved, we used to volunteer at the animal shelter nearby and one of the activities was just getting the animals out of their rooms for some love and affection and mental enrichment, so I hoped it wasn’t too much of an imposition.↩
Me, to Willow, eight times a day as she puts her claws directly into my thigh while hard at work in her biscuit-making shop: "PLEASE, don't be sharp to me." (Al's crimes are being way too cute and that he won't let me go to sleep without thirty minutes of cuddling, and he'll bap me gently on the face to wake me back up to make sure he gets it.)↩