I know it’s a bit of a hot topic right now, and therefore probably being talked about to death, I have some thoughts about Kristen Roupenian’s short story called “Cat Person” that was published by The New Yorker recently. It’s about a young woman named Margot who meets and eventually goes on a date with a man named Robert, before cutting off contact with him. The two characters are actually quite unlikeable in a number of ways (she’s fatphobic and unable to be straightforward and he is in some ways the worst stereotype of a fedora bro, just for starters). Roupenian has taken these two characters and made quite a compelling story about them; they feel human in their flaws. I’m simplifying the premise quite a bit because I really do think you should read it (especially before you read this blog post as there naturally may be spoilers).
I’ve already read through it twice, and could see myself reading it again. It’s a piece of writing that’s got its hooks into my mind in a way unlike anything else I’ve read recently. I think it’s because there’s a certain universal quality to “Cat Person,” particularly for women, particularly for young women, particularly for young women who want to date men. I happen to fall into all three of those categories so the story resonated with me quite a bit.
I haven’t been in Margot’s exact shoes, but I’ve been in similar ones many times. After reading “Cat Person” I couldn’t help but think how if maybe I was more outgoing, or more conventionally pretty, then I could be another Margot. It definitely also made me consider all of the potential Roberts that I have dodged. For instance, every man on every dating site who has responded to me in abhorrent ways when politely turned down.
I have a few different stories I could tell (and originally did tell before I made substantial edits to this post), but probably the place in my dating life where my experience most intersects with Margot’s is with a person that my friends and I call The Ghost. He earned this nickname by ghosting me in the summer of 2016. We’d been on a few dates and hung out a few times before he disappeared. The last time I saw him that summer was when I went over his house after being sent a dick pick that I’d indicated I didn’t want via a gentle joke (“Let’s just wait until we see each other in real life to show all that~~ ; )”) and then telling him that he shouldn’t get too excited because I was on my period (a lie texted to him in a state of mild panic about being out of my depth in this situation, as his actions to that point had left me unsure if he was actually romantically interested until he offered me the dick pic).
Up in his bedroom he gave me a backrub that evolved into him touching my breasts and kissing my neck while I reacted awkwardly and stiffly because it was the first time I’d gotten any kind of action in three years. It wasn’t that I didn’t want it, I was just out of practice and nervous. We texted a little after that, but when he finally fully dropped off the map it wasn’t a surprise; I figured he’d lost interest because of the way the whole backrub thing went down. It was disappointing because he was smart and funny and cute, but life went on and I thought I’d never speak to him again.
But in the spring of 2017, we wound up reconnecting. I’d been dating someone between December and April, before my then-boyfriend ended the relationship seemingly out of nowhere. I’d deactivated OKCupid when I was in the relationship (duh), but after a few weeks back in Single Land I reactivated it, figuring that by the time I’d glued my shattered heart back together and was actually ready to properly date again, I’d be comfortable with the idea of talking to new people again. The first night of my reactivation I spotted The Ghost’s profile and thought that maybe I’d send him a message, just to say hey and see how he was doing, because in our last few texts he didn’t seem like he was doing too mentally well. But I was on the fence considering the way things had turned out the year before, so I decided to sleep on it. Lo and behold, in the morning I woke up to a message from him.
We got caught up with each other and decided to meet up again, starting from scratch with a coffee date (or in my case, a smoothie). The solid banter between us was still there. He made me laugh, a lot, which was something I desperately needed in my life at that point, as I was experiencing deep depression because losing my boyfriend had made me realized how generally dissatisfying much of the rest of my life was. I figured that if I was going to do the rebound thing, that it might as well be with someone I already knew. I needed a distraction from my troubles, and I saw how The Ghost could provide one for me, even if it didn’t work out long term. Which, who knew, maybe this time it would?
So eventually I went to his house again. He offered me another backrub, but I said something like, “Well, shouldn’t you actually kiss me sometime?” Because despite everything that had happened the year before, the damn guy still hadn’t tried to kiss me at all. So I got to finally actually make out with him. It happened standing up, which was kind of weird to me, and also he cut it short when he started to get hard. Maybe he figured I wouldn’t be willing to do anything about it that day? Or maybe it was because his parents were just downstairs. I don’t know, I didn’t ask. Regardless, I was disappointed because I love making out, and have quite happily done it for extended periods of time with happy willing partners even in situations where sex hasn’t been on the table for whatever reason.
But there was one more disappointment: kissing him had brought the discovery that he was actually a pretty terrible kisser. Now, I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on kissing, but I’ve never had complaints from any of the six guys that I’ve properly made out with. The Ghost kissed very hard, without ever varying the amount of pressure he used, without varying the angle too much, and he didn’t try anything even slightly saucy like biting my lip or slipping me tongue. And he also completely neglected my neck, which is a Very Important Location for me. But I thought that he could perhaps be teachable, that next time if I just showed him how I wanted to be kissed by kissing him that way, then he would adjust his methods accordingly. So I invited him over my house the next time my mom was out of town. I knew that I didn’t want to have sex with him yet, but figured that the absence of a parental figure might open up some other spicy opportunities.
So we’re making out on my bed. Tops come off, a bit of groping is happening, but pants (trousers for you Brits) are still on. My eyes are closed, my mouth is focused on varying my kissing in the hopes that he’ll mirror me. (Fun fact: he doesn’t.) I feel him adjusting something around his waistline; I figure he’s getting hard and trying to make himself more comfortable. I happen to open my eyes and glance down and that’s when I realize that, no, he’s actually taken out his penis.
I experience a moment of hesitation and mild annoyance. (Note to all men: ask if it’s okay before you whip it out, for god’s sake. Never assume that willingness to see your penis is implied.) There’s a quote from “Cat Person” that when I read it, it felt so strongly connected to this story I’m telling you now: “…the thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming; it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon.” At this point I could’ve told The Ghost to put himself away, but I figured it was easier, less complicated to just roll with it.
So I summon my inner flirt from the depths of my soul (she’d gone to sleep because the kissing was so bad) and I say, “Do you want me to do something about that?”
He says, “With what?”
I reply, “With my hands?”
He consents, and I’ve just barely begun to execute the handjob when he says, “It’s dry.”
I hesitate, brain scrambling for an idea, and hitting on, “I’ll spit on it?” But before I can say the words, he starts kissing me again and jerking himself off.
I am baffled, because his penis is STILL DRY no matter who is jerking it and why would he not prefer the woman who gave him the erection in the first place to do the tugging?????? And yet, I say nothing and just let it all happen, hoping he will come quickly so this can all be over with. I try to facilitate his orgasm via little caresses and a whole variety of kissing styles that he responds to with the same kiss over and over. He doesn’t use his free hand to caress any part of me at all. I feel a deep, painful longing for my ex.
When The Ghost finally comes, some of his semen gets on my blanket despite my best efforts to keep it clean by keeping him on his back. I give him some tissues so he can clean himself up. He gets dressed without offering me an orgasm too. I’m so turned off at that point that I wouldn’t have accepted, but the fact that he doesn’t even offer frustrates me and seems unfair. However, I say nothing to show my displeasure, because I don’t want to make a big deal of the situation. I firmly believe that if somebody manages to give you an orgasm, making a proper enthusiastic attempt at reciprocation is the polite thing to do (even if an orgasm doesn’t actually happen, because although lady parts can be finicky sometimes, it’ll still probably at least be pleasurable for your partner). He may have done the work for himself, but I would have totally done it for him if he hadn’t gone off on his own strange little path. As I discovered for the first time in the relationship I’d just gotten out of, I enjoy the odd sort of power that I feel when I give a handjob, the weird joy of being the boss of my partner’s orgasm, and The Ghost had robbed even that small bit of pleasure from me.
After he went home and I thought about the encounter, I realized I was frustrated (in more ways than one), confused as fuck, and like I was owed something. The physical aspect of a relationship isn’t the most important part to me, but I do need to be compatible with my partners in that way, so knew it would never work with The Ghost because his kissing was just so terrible it was basically anti-arousing. But I didn’t have the heart to tell him that, so when I texted him goodbye I used the good old standby, “I don’t want to lead you on, so I need to tell you that it’s just not clicking for me the way I need it to.”
He responded, “Ok, well thank you. I hope I wasn’t an ass.” And I reassured him that he wasn’t an ass, because he wasn’t. The Ghost did treat me well as a human being. He had some quirks that I could have lived with if we had continued to date (like his repeated applications of hand sanitizer in situations where he hadn’t even gotten his hands dirty?). However, his bedside manner was just too fucking terrible to tolerate. But I’m non-confrontational by nature, and also don’t like to hurt people who don’t deserve it, so I took an easy, vague way out of the situation. And thankfully, he easily accepted it and hasn’t contacted me since.
When I tell the story of The Ghost’s visit to my house in real life, using my vocal chords instead of dozens of typed out words, it’s a comedic tale. But “Cat Person” made me consider this situation more seriously. I identify with Margot, but because she is unlikeable, I worry that I am unlikeable, even though many of her actions are ones that woman do all the time to survive encounters with men, and also to avoid further unwanted ones. I do, in a way, feel bad for not being more honest with The Ghost, but if I’m just following the patterns of all the female ancestors in my DNA, who did what they had to in order to survive with as much of themselves as intact as they could, am I really so bad? Because at the end of the day, I want to survive as intact as I can.