I read “Cat Person,” then I read it again and a third time before writing this, trying to come to terms with how I, feel about the piece.
“,” a short story written by Kristen Roupenian and published in The New Yorker, chronicles the inner thoughts of 20-year-old college student Margot through her time talking to Robert, 34, as they get more romantically involved but ultimately part ways.
After I posted to Facebook that I related to “Cat Person,” my best friend texted me, “When I read the Cat Person thing all I thought about was u.”
I knew that I saw bits of myself in Margot, a fellow college student with the similar sexual experiences, but couldn’t pinpoint why the author’s words struck a chord with me.
I tried to break down the story to understand what went so wrong between Margot and Robert.
Neither of these characters are meant to be perfect, and even more, it’s clear from the beginning that they don’t seem meant for each other. Margot and Robert meet at the artsy movie theater where she works, and there isn’t any chemistry during their first interaction. She said he was “cute” and liked that he was tall. The second time, they talk across the concession stand counter; Robert’s rude to her but gives her his phone number anyway.
The texting that ensues wasn’t too special. Margot and Robert mostly joke with each other and don’t get personal. She mentions that he fashions his texts based on how long it takes her to respond, and she must reinitiate the conversation when communication stalls. Robert seem less invested up until the night of their date. When he finally asked Margot to a movie, she agreed immediately — if only because she had become desperate to see this man because he claimed to be busy most days.
Robert took the date seriously by dressing up and choosing an artsy Holocaust film to impress her, which ultimately set a weird vibe for their time together as she put less effort in. The date falls flat and should have ended after the movie. However, Margot agrees to drinks after the showing because the date didn’t yet meet the high expectations for him that she had, and she wanted to give the connection more time before giving up.
Throughout the short story, readers get a glimpse of Margot’s thoughts when interacting with Robert. He feels increasingly invested in Margot while they get to know each other and she feels guilty for questioning her feelings at times. She attempts to put herself in his shoes and ultimately makes him out to be a better, more sensitive person than he actually is. Margot often assumes that Robert puts a lot more thought into his decisions than he probably does. She wrongly bases her actions on these assumptions and later finds out that her ideal of Robert doesn’t align with the actual person.
Robert isn’t a terrible guy, aside from constant condescending comments, but they both kind of misunderstand what the other person wants. He thinks that she likes him a lot more than she actually does because of how she behaves due to pity.
When they’re finally about to have sex, Margot doesn’t feel attracted toward him. She fears being seen as spoiled and capricious if she rejects him because she pushed things forward so much. Margot feels uncomfortable while they make out but ends up having sex with him until his eventual orgasm. One thought that carried her through it was a sweet forehead kiss at the beginning of their time together as if one moment could determine whether being with Robert later on, after more wrong moves, could bring back the same safe feeling. But before penetrative sex had even started, she mentions that she definitely wouldn’t enjoy anything that came next.
What some women are relating to about this short story is the hesitation Margot has before the two characters get physical. They have also had experiences of wanting to back out of sex with a partner. Both the character and real women like her end up going through with it for a few reasons. Either they’ll feel obligated because of the niceties that came before that moment, or they’ll be afraid of injuring the guy’s pride.
Their “dating” shouldn’t have taken place in the first place, but once something begins, it’s usually pretty disappointing when it falters out. Margot spends most of her time talking to Robert trying to make sure they both stayed interested in each other. Margot believes she can control Robert’s emotions by only saying things that would please him. In the end, she didn’t get anything out of it because she attempts to ghost him, and then her roommate sends a blunt text from Margot’s phone to cut things off with him. Robert’s pleasant about the break up, until a month later when he spots her in a bar. He was drinking a beer alone at a booth when he must have spotted her, although her friends ushered her out like the Secret Service. The string of texts he sends that night starts nice and ends with “whore.”
I had a similar interaction with a guy on campus. We matched on Tinder, and he used a line about Shrek that I later found out he sent to every match. We didn’t have a “spark” immediately as I had with previous people, but I decided to give him a chance because he seemed nice enough. I stopped responding on the app for a few days when I was busy, and he sent me his Snapchat.
One day, he invited me out for ice cream and mentioned a bonfire at his house afterward. I said no to going back to his place but yes to ice cream because it had been too long since I last had that sweet treat. Unsurprisingly, his prior obligation ran late and he thought it best I just come to his place. I didn’t want the night to go to waste, so we ended up meeting on Court Street and walking to his house.
I was really uncomfortable when I got there because there were over a dozen people, and I didn’t know anyone else. The guy and I were able to spend some time alone and shared our best Spotify music while sitting in the backyard. I was flattered that he introduced me to every friend and thought, "He’s not that bad." But the more we talked, I realized we didn’t have many common interests or worldviews.
Later that night, we went back to his room and started making out. The kisses just felt off. No boundaries were crossed, but, from the way he was touching, he clearly wanted to have sex — and I didn’t. When I was mulling over what to do, I remember thinking about how nervous he seemed the entire night and that he seemed interested in my life. I felt bad that he had spent time texting me and meeting me if the hangout didn’t end how he expected it to.
During the sex, I remember having to remind myself what was happening and why I put myself in this position. As he was thrusting, the thought of what was happening to my body felt really wrong. But I didn’t feel comfortable asking to stop. I knew I shouldn’t have been with him and that I had fallen far, in terms of personal standards, to do a standard hook up with someone I didn’t have a strong physical or emotional attraction for.
Ultimately, that interaction helped me understand what I really wanted in my love life. But I definitely look back on that night as a low point. It made me feel really gross about myself, how much I was willing to do in order to please someone else and that it doesn’t help anybody to force a connection.
After that first meet up, I never saw him again because the thought made me sick. He asked to see me several times, but I claimed to be busy or sick. I’m thankful that I didn’t hear a similar string of texts to what Margot received because I don’t know what that would have done to me.
“Cat Person” is partially being commended for treating the millennial dating experience with a serious tone.
Margot says looking at the situation from outside herself, it makes her feel “self-disgust” and “humiliation” at the act she’s committing. At this point, she was having a terrible sexual encounter with someone she didn’t find attractive at all and doing it for all the wrong reasons.
Thus, sexual partners should be on the same page and communicate with each other about their expectations. They also need to be more understanding if the other person doesn’t want the same level of physical contact. More people need to be aware of what an issue hesitation before or during sex can become. It can really impact the person later on, whether it happens in a casual situation or in a relationship.
“Cat Person” should be read by everyone who’s sexually active because it gives a valuable look into the inner thoughts of female psyche during encounters. What happens in the story isn’t a problem of consent, but it stems from the same problematic culture as sexual assault because of what some men may feel is owed to them from women.
When I read the story, I laid in bed, stunned, as it brought back that particular memory and a few others. I never would have known that tons of other women related to my experience if it wasn’t for the reaction that this viral short story received.
“Cat Person” is a much-needed narrative during a time when dozens of sexual harassment charges against well-known names are coming to light. Too many women have similar encounters and this short story helps people understand what they go through. People need to know that they’re not alone in these troubling experiences.
Meghan Morris is a sophomore studying journalism with a focus in news and information at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Did you read "Cat Person"? Let Meghan know by tweeting her @marvelllousmeg.