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I once went on a date with a man who diagnosed my eccentricities succinctly, "You're an outdoor cat," he said. We were on a hike, walking side by side down a thin trail I used to run almost daily until I moved to my tiny cave-like studio. I loved those trails. I loved that they were relatively empty; the only company I had most mornings was the same elderly couple who would smile and wave. We never spoke, and I loved them for it. I could have run those trails blindfolded: I knew where every rock was, knew every turn and twist and incremental change in elevation. There was a small lake at the bottom of one trail, where ducks would bob in and out of the water, where old trees hung heavily over the mossy banks, and where the sunsets made colorful portraits across the rippling water.
"What do you mean?" I asked him. Sometimes, you know the answer to a question but ask it anyway. I do this with people I'm trying to sell something to, because it shows that I'm actively listening and that I care about whatever they're saying. I do this with men sometimes too, because it makes them feel important and needed and smart, and who doesn't like to feel that way? So, I asked him what he meant, and he said, "You just don't seem domestic. There are girls who are indoor cats," and here he pointed down at the ground emphatically, as if indoor cats were all to his left, "and girls who are outdoor cats." He pointed down at the ground in the other direction, his arm strong and sure. For a moment, I almost believe him.
His monologue was past the point of stopping, "Indoor cats like to be comfortable and stay home a lot," he explained, as if such a concept needed further explanation. "You seem like you like to be out, doing stuff, exploring." I couldn't fault him for his conjecture because he was right, if unoriginal. But I couldn't help but laugh, just a little, at how serious he was. Not only was he comparing women to cats unseasonably early (Halloween was months away), but he seemed certain that the woman-to-cat comparison was an original idea of his.
We stopped on top of a large hill that overlooked a canyon. It was a warm summer evening, and sweat dribbled down both our foreheads. "What an interesting analogy," I said, "you seem correct." Correct, in that, if I were a cat and if the comparison of women to cats were anything notable, I'd categorize myself more as an outdoor cat with perhaps some hybrid indoor-outdoor tendencies. I'm less domesticated than I'd like to be but I do like to shower. I'm neat enough, but I like to get dirty. I clean because I need to, despise decorating, and cook only enough to sustain life. I would rather be out in the world than home on my couch, and this propensity to not be home much is why I can live in 250 square feet. My eagerness to bathe and need for a home address is why I have an apartment at all. But I knew all of that before my date told me, and I began to find him irritating.
"I'm more of an outdoor cat, too," he said. "But I'm looking to settle down and start a family. I'm 37 and all that's missing from my life is a wife and kids. I need a wife who is an indoor cat, if you know what I'm saying." He seemed almost apologetic, and I couldn't help but really laugh this time. "No worries," I said, "I understand, trust me." He wanted a wife who would cook and clean and pop out a few children and make a home homey. He wanted someone who would give him a dose of domesticity while allowing him some freedom to still do what he wanted to do.
We walked back to our cars. Mine, a little grey Prius and his, an enormous, old pickup truck. I gave him a hug goodbye and he said, "you're a good hugger. Like you mean it." I said, "thank you," because I did mean to hug him, although I wasn't sure why. This was a long time ago, and I don't know if he ever found an indoor cat-wife, or if he ever had little cat-children.
His desire for a certain type of partner may be seen as small-minded or applaudable, depending on who you ask. Preferences within partnerships aren't bad though, and his preference wasn't anything I'd ever be able to fulfill. I could never be the type of partner some men might want-the girlfriend who cooks dinner every night or steams the carpet or decorates the bedroom with soy candles and gold-plated picture frames. I could never be the wife who packs her husband lunch or color-codes the contents of his dresser. I could never stay home and rear children because, as I've already said, I'm not home much. I am barely adept domestically, and that will never be how I show love. Instead, I show my love by listening. Planning trips. Holding hands. Writing poems. Convincing whomever I'm with that they can do whatever thing it is they dream of doing. Exploring ideas and places and figuring out what it means to be a human in love on this wild, weary planet.
It's okay to have preferences, especially within dating. I think this is obvious, though often condemned. Some people like tall partners, or strong partners, or partners with nutty personalities. Some men want traditional wives and some men want other men. All of it is valid, and by learning this guy's preference for an "indoor cat" early, we both saved time and energy. We were both able to depart feeling good for trying, and good for letting a bad match go. As the French say, c'est la vie.