A Love Story
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I just Googled, "Do cats take on the personality traits of their owners?" because my (very thoughtful) boyfriend, Mike, suggested that my anxiety may have worn off on my cat, aptly named Chub Chub for the little pad of flesh that hangs below his lower haunches.
I don't think Chub Chub is that anxious, necessarily. He just throws up if he's left alone for a day or two, and doesn't eat when we're not home, and follows me blindly from room to room. When I cook, when I clean, when I work, when I pee. While I believe he follows me, I also follow him. If I don't see him for a while, I search the apartment, peeking under the beds, checking the cushioned chairs around the dining table, the sun spots by the patio, the giant cat bed that perches on the end of the couch. I think Chub Chub likes having me around, but really, I like having him.
So, I Googled, "Do cats take on the personality traits of their owners," because I assumed that cats are not all that concerned with us silly little humans. I thought cats had personalities baked into them, right out of the womb, allowing for certain environmental factors, of course. The environmental factors that influence cat behavior, it turns out, are cat owners. The first few sentences that popped up on Google were:
"Recent research suggests that cats may not be as cold and aloof as many of us think, and that they may in fact bond with their owners like a child bonds with their parents. Therefore, just like a child’s personality is impacted by their parent’s personality, a cat’s personality may be impacted by their owner. Finka et al. (2019)." The study that sentence came from took the Big 5 personality traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) and studied them in relation to cat behavior. Turns out, a cat owner's neuroticism specifically can influence a cats' personality and behavior. Chaotic and unstable home environments create chaotic and unstable cats (or people, probably).
One of my therapists told me that children who grow up in chaotic environments tend to create chaos later in life. "Chaos is what they're used to," he said, "so for them, chaos and uncertainty feel like love." I wondered if cats were the same way, and decided that yes, they probably are. My grandmother had a cat that was mean and crass to everyone but her. I was terrified of the thing, and took great lengths to avoid it as it sat in a basket at the edge of the hallway, hissing at anyone who dared pass. That cat probably had a mean life at some point, and never got past the idea that life needn't always be mean. I've known people like that, too.
The long and the short of it is that Mike was right. Chub Chub is like me, or I am like him, and I am madly in love with the pair of us. Sometimes, I joke that Mike is the third wheel in this relationship, that maybe he's jealous of the strong bonds I've formed with Chub Chub. He has never admitted the truth of my kind accusations, but I think there may be a small kernel of jealously wedged beneath his back molar, like the remnant of a stubborn popcorn kernel.
If Chub Chub is me and I him, and I'm madly in love with Chub Chub, it stands to reason that I may also be madly in love with myself. I love the way Chub Chub sleeps, his tiny white paws, his pink smiling mouth, his wide green eyes, and his soft, tawny ears. I even love the way he smells, if you can believe that. Mike cannot believe it, claiming (not incorrectly) that Chub Chub smells of rotting fish.
Chub Chub entered my life in a haphazard way, as I imagine most cats do. We find them in dumpsters and alleyways. We build cat cafes and give cats away on Facebook marketplace and NextDoor. Although many of us never really wanted a cat, we end up with them. First we tolerate them, and before we know it, we're paying thousands of dollars to keep them happy and healthy and groomed. I've spend thousands on pet rent and pet deposits alone, not to mention vet bills and flea treatments; cat food and litter; toys and a giant cat scratching tree that Chub Chub is wholly unimpressed by and uninterested in. I never wanted him, exactly, but now, I'm dizzyingly in love.