Single Women Aren’t Your Easy Joke (And Neither Are Our Cats)

Pairs well with This Is Real by Best Coast.

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Being single isn’t enough. It doesn’t paint a sad enough picture. Without accessories, a single woman could be enjoying being single, for all the world knows. And we can’t have that. So we give her a cat. One is the minimum, two are preferred, four are ideal. Three won’t work, they won’t photograph well for the Christmas card.

The cat is the perfect pet for the single woman. It is unfavored, like her. It’s in the nature of a cat to sometimes be a total bitch for no reason, or with very good reason, highly relatable. Married women and girlfriends are the smiling, slobbering Golden Retrievers everyone wants to give treats to. Life has dealt the cat and the modern single woman two similarly raw deals, and thusly they get along very well together. There is a mutual understanding and a similar hatred of leaving the house. Then of course there’s the whole earned affection component. Single women, provided they aren’t wildly slutty (those sluts), require a certain amount of effort put forth in order to receive physical affection. Cats are no different. You have to earn their love, their snuggles, their little kitty feet digging into your stomach on repeat, before they curl themselves into a ball on your tummy as you email a customer service representative at Sephora.

Cats are roughly the size of babies, and we all know how much the uterus of a single woman hurts as it shrivels. The cat/baby fakeout is what’s been keeping us hanging on so long, it really is. We get to name them, feed them, hold them, play with them, but they never learn to speak or want to go to college far away from home. They never ask to play games on our phone and anything they want us to buy them at a store is $9.99 or less. They don’t keep us up all night because they’d rather be sleeping, too, and toys are never harder to come by than the tissue paper that was wrapped around your new top from Zara. It’s the perfect situation, really.

And oh god the knitting! The knitting you guys! It’s perfect. Learning to knit, aside from being a hobby that might actually produce a useful result, is the ultimate single woman activity. It can be done alone, while watching Netflix, and no one ever has to know you do it. Bonus: Cats love yarn! They love string of any kind. And a single woman with her knitting projects strewn about the house has inadvertently created an in-home theme park for her cat(s). The real thrill is when we learn how to knit our cats little outfits and dress them up and send their photos to cat blogs in hopes of a feature because our babies are so ready for their close-ups, amiright? Ladies, show me your skeins!

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And those Saturday nights spent alone, we’re not alone! We’re playing to a packed house, an attentive, fur-coated front row of fans, who never judge us when we pop open the second bottle of wine, or watch The Labyrinth for the fourth time this week. Why would they, one of the cats is named Jareth for fucks sake! A night at home is the ideal activity for a cat. The human being sits in one place long enough to become a heat source, the optimal nap location. The only thing cats judge us on is the hour we rise from bed in the morning, and even then they only shoot those scornful glances our way so we’ll get up and feed them. They don’t care how late we sleep, so long as their bellies are full. If they had thumbs, they’d let us sleep ‘till noon and have coffee waiting.

But that’s what society thinks of the single, cat-having woman of a certain age. A knitting, wine-swilling, friendless shell of a person who stays home on Saturday nights hemming cat clothes while fantasy films play in the background. And the hilarious part is that they think that scene is sad. What isn’t sad to them is the same night out, at the same untz-untz club, every single weekend, pouring money down their throats and nursing the same hangovers with the same brunches until someone caves, gets married, procreates, moves to the suburbs, and leads a life of jealous longing for her former existence. My cat and I prefer a frugal city life for the foreseeable future, thank you.

Oh, you twentysomethings with your cats. How sweet. Did you take your cat from your parents’ home or did one just wander into your studio apartment one day? If you still have to ask your parents for money to cover the vet bill, you aren’t a cat person. You are a babysitter. Us? The thirtysomethings? We handle our shit. We pay our bills and have the foresight to purchase pet insurance and book a cat sitter while we’re away instead of inconveniencing friends every single time we leave the city for a weekend. That animal has fresh food and water every day. Every. Day.

By and large, we are caregivers, we have the capacity to love. It’s called being a person. As luck and Tinder would have it, the only way we can really express that love is by bestowing it on the only living thing we can get to hang around for longer than an evening. A cat. And what does the world do to us? It memes us. It pigeon holes us. It assumes that because we have a cat, cats are what our worlds are about. We are consumed, we care for nothing else. Purrrrrrrrrrrrr.

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How easy have single women and cats made the life of a basic bro standup comic? Always a fallback visual, the dead single woman being eaten by her cats for the length of time it takes someone to notice she hasn’t been around much lately. Could it be days, weeks, a year? Who’s to say? She’s a single woman, it’s unlikely she has friends or loved ones in her life beyond her feline family. We Cathy Comic her into being a mess, an angry, downtrodden sack for whom like just isn’t working out. It’s the joke of least resistance, because in the end, for all the jabs and suggestions that single women and cats are the ultimate unfortunate duo, we don’t fight back. How can we fight back?

“No! I’m not a sad person! I’m really great and I do things guys, stop making fun of me!”

Like they’ll believe us. We don’t bother, there’s no point. Because even if we somehow convinced them we’re happy, positive, socially unawkward members of society, we actually do have cats.

I have one cat. Her name is Clementine. That is her real name. I feel no need to conceal her identity here, I won’t discuss anything she wouldn’t admit to freely. I adopted Clem during my second year of being single. My house was always so empty, and still. I wanted and had room in my life for a pet, but the idea of picking dog shit up off the sidewalk was a degrading, disgusting thought too horrifying to entertain. Not even dogs are willing participants in sidewalk shits. You can see the shame pouring from their sad, desperate eyes. They sincerely want some grass, but their owner chose to live in a concrete-clad city, thus reducing them to public, open poops on cold ground. The humanity. My little lady does her business in a box, after which I scoop and dispose of evidence promptly and privately. It’s all very civilized.

I also don’t like the idea of being tethered to something on such a consistent basis. Post-work happy hours, post-date sleepovers, these things can’t happen if you have a dog, you always have to go home and let him or her out. It’s not an option, if you want your rugs un-defiled. I’ve ended nights out with the girls wasted at 3:00 am on a sidewalk begging an animal to relieve itself while wearing high heels and back-baring dresses as we get catcalled by the only men left on the street at that hour, and they ain’t gettin’ my number. I’ve seen dogs trying to go in the middle of blizzards, it’s a sad spectacle, no one enjoys himself. I’ve had the flu and been unable to move, much less take a dog outside. I’ve been hungover and unable to leave the bathroom for hours, a dog would simply need to fend for itself. Everyone loooooves dogs but nobody ever wants to talk about how goddamn high maintenance and demanding they are. I’ll pass, and settle for smiling at dogs on the street more often than I smile at dog owners.

The societal views on cats and single women are primarily negative in nature. Allow me now to argue for the defense. We can start here: I enjoy the freedom, the independence associated with cats. Provided a bowl of food and one of water are present, a cat can care for and entertain itself for days if need be. How odd then, that single women are so often made fun of for having cats, while cats are truly the only pets we can have that will also allow us the freedom to go out and pursue the possibility of not being single anymore? It’s insanity! “Omg you’re a cat person? It’s really lame to be a single woman with a cat. You should really get a dog so that you can go out even less.” Good thinkin’.

I also take offense to the simple idea that I shouldn’t have my cat in general, just because I’m a single woman who doesn’t want to be the butt of a joke. Married people with cats aren’t made fun of. They’re just married people with cats. A bit boring perhaps but certainly not comedic fodder. It’s like the presence of a man suddenly evens out the pH balance of a cat lady, and she’s normal now.

And really, when you break it down, what have I actually done? I’ve taken my warm, rent-paid-early-every-month home and I’ve offered it freely to an animal doomed for lethal injection and living in a cage the size of a mailbox. My, what an unlovable person I am. I have a living presence in my apartment that allows me to arrive home after a long day at work and hug something. I’m sorry, is it preferred that I keep my home empty and void of love, lest I feed into stereotype? Clementine runs to the door to greet me every single day and there isn’t a dog on the planet I’d give that up for. Sometimes I think there isn’t a guy on the planet I’d give that up for.

And there it is. The real, ugly truth. What if I meet a guy I really want to build something with, but he’s allergic to cats? Or just hates them? How could I ever give up this meowing loofa? Give up the longest running, non-familial relationship in my life for a man I’ve known for…what, weeks? My baby’s been with me the last six years, where the fuck has he been?! Maybe that’s what drives the stereotype, and the jokes. Our attachment. The fervor with which we love another living creature, and because dating is itself a cruel joke, that creature has four legs and fur because we’ll never have to worry about her texting us back. Either way I don’t care. I don’t care about the laughs reaped at my expense. I don’t care that every workplace Secret Santa gift I get is cat themed. I don’t care that men explicitly ask me to swipe left if I have a cat, that something as benign as my pet choice is something they won’t even, for a second, entertain. I won’t entertain their Banana Republic button-downs, either, so maybe we’re even. I refuse to live an affectionless life, void of comfort and companionship. I don’t think I’ve done anything to deserve living without those things. I will bring love and affection into my home any way I can, and since the single male population is thus far, to my knowledge, entirely useless, meow motherfucker, she stays.

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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