“Cat Person” Tells a Story Most Women Know About Bad Sex
12.12.17

It took three texts, four headlines and a barrage of Tweets to finally get me to read “Cat Person,” a story published in the New Yorker on Sunday that sounds like a satire and reads like a novella. It’s by Kristen Roupenian and it’s gone viral. “The last time I can remember a short story in the New Yorker being as enthusiastically talked-about as Kristen Roupenian’s ‘Cat Person’ was when Annie Proulx’s ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was published by the magazine in 1997,” writes Slate culture column Laura Miller.

“Cat Person” tells the story of 20-year-old Margot as she meets, flirts and has unceremonious sex with 34-year-old Robert. From the text message banter that doesn’t exactly translate into real conversation to the endearing first date at a 7-Eleven, it has all the trappings of a relatable postmodern love story. But it’s not just relatable, it’s arresting, and what makes it sticky enough to share and re-share is the story happening below all that — the story in Margot’s mind.

Roupenian narrates Margot’s inner monologue in the third person. In doing so, she lends to the story a sort of disassociated emotionality. It’s never quite dramatic, maudlin or histrionic – the tale is one of everyday circumstance: a forgettable romance that starts slow and dies fast. And yet it’s this very nonchalance that makes it all the more harrowing. The gender-choreographed dance Margot and Robert perform is immediately recognizable and yet it’s one rarely brought to the page so matter-of-factly.

Inside their mutual charade, inequality gently blooms. After a disappointing date at the movies (he seems aloof), followed by a night cap that loosens her up (he’s warming), Margot’s inspired to sleep with Robert. Her winking suggestion that they “get out of there” is the final move in her chess game to win him over. The emotional labor she performed to make him feel big is now spent, and the reward is his earned affection, which turns her on. But as soon as she’s in his room, watching him peel off his clothes, she feels trapped by her decision.

“Margot sat on the bed while Robert took off his shirt and unbuckled his pants, pulling them down to his ankles before realizing that he was still wearing his shoes and bending over to untie them. Looking at him like that, so awkwardly bent, his belly thick and soft and covered with hair, Margot recoiled. But 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.”

Her tired assessment is part and parcel of a system that teaches women to value the feelings of others over her own — the mirror of which we see reflected in Robert: his confidence is bolstered only by her self-deprecation. Soon, though, she is turned on again by her role in his pleasure (“The more she imagined his arousal, the more turned-on she got…”). When they eventually have sex, her feelings oscillate between desire to leave, desire to please him and, only briefly, simply desire; she’s never quite present. After he comes, she leaves feeling gross and relieved she’ll never have to see him again.

There is so much about the story that feels salient and timely, but it’s this scene of sexual apathy that’s been the focus of “Cat Person”‘s viral fame. As New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum puts it, the story captures “terrible sex that isn’t rape, but is tied to sexism.” A type of sex, I’d wager, that is familiar to many women.

I think “Cat Person” also succeeds on a visceral level because it sheds light on the internal mechanisms of womanhood — the wheels that delicately turn us into our own enemies, especially in our sex lives. The markers of female subservience may be less explicit today than they’ve ever been, but for many of us, the conditioning to placate men runs deep. Entire swaths of the feminist movement are dedicated to helping women unlearn these dangerous internal narratives (“I am not enough”), verbal tics (“I don’t know anything but…”) and value judgements (his orgasm is required; mine is optional).

“Terrible sex that isn’t rape, but is tied to sexism” is familiar to me. That I deserve to enjoy myself, that I ought to prioritize my own pleasure, is something I learned far too late in my sexually active life. For years, sex was something I owed the men I liked or loved because I liked or loved them. For years, my barometer for good sex was my partner’s experience and, by extension, my partner’s impression of me. When lacking the means or sexual fluency to wield my own power, I found it through pleasing those who had it. The prize was self-esteem; the cost was self-respect.

“As they kissed, [Margot] found herself carried away by a fantasy of such pure ego that she could hardly admit even to herself that she was having it. Look at this beautiful girl, she imagined [Robert] thinking. She’s so perfect, her body is perfect, everything about her is perfect…”

“Just give me time, I’m new to this, but I promise I’ll get there,” I remember saying to a boyfriend at 18, like I was auditioning for a role. A beginner to sex, I’d navigated his advanced expectations for a while, but I was losing steam. I remember hearing my own childish tone and thinking it sounded sad, but not knowing why it was sad. All I knew was his response — “Okay” — sounded nothing like, “You don’t need time. You’re perfect the way you are.” He resented my lack of enthusiasm. I resented the fact that feigned enthusiasm was part of the girlfriend job description.

He wasn’t an ungenerous sexual partner — our “bad sex” didn’t look like Margot and Robert’s, but I had no idea it wasn’t good until years later. And that’s what’s dangerous about a sexually illiterate culture. Just as I was not properly educated on the pursuit of pleasure and agency in sex, my ex-boyfriend never knew a world where his pleasure was not paramount. As such, neither of us truly understood the nuances of consent, or the contours of great sex.

“Bad sex is the result of a society that makes discussing pleasure, desire and consent impossible,” writes sex columnist Ella Dawson in response to the New Yorker piece. “In the US, we do not teach young people how to enjoy sex. We don’t teach them how to talk about sex before, during or after. We don’t teach people how to say no, and we don’t teach them how to say yes.”

Without proper education, toxic gender roles take the wheel. In Margot and Robert’s case, he receives pleasure, while she receives only the pleasure of his pleasure. It’s a tenuous trade — self-esteem in exchange for duty — because neither outcome, in the end, truly benefits her. As @jristen to succinctly put it, “women are expected/socialized to be emotional caretakers at their own expense & face outsized blame when the fail.”

Outside the airless confines of his room, away from a gaze she can’t help but empathize with, Margot is free to not choose him. For this, she’s ultimately punished. The final word of Roupenian’s story is Robert’s: “Whore.” And it serves as an ominous reminder of that which we’ve learned time and time again: When a woman fails to play her part, how quickly a “nice guy” can turn.

Collage by Louisiana Mei Gelpi. 

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  • Eliza

    I was also late to the Cat Person bandwagon, but Jesus, it really brought up a lot of feelings about experiences I never even consciously knew I had. How crazy is it that the last line is almost an universal truth at this point? Like, oh, yep, DING DING DING! There it is!

    • Danielle Cardona Graff

      I have actually never seen it, and am dying to check it out now. And yes, crazy sad and very true about the last line… The fragility of the male ego is ironic considering our society has always labeled women as the more emotional ones.

  • Halina

    This is a masterful analysis of a piece that I can’t stop thinking about. Yes, more of this conversation and writing — it’s long overdue.

  • Shannon Sweeney

    Well worded, Haley. The MR team should do a series on things people can do to have more egalitarian sex lives.

    • Abbie

      Just finished Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel @EstherPerel (who has the amazing podcast Where Should We Begin?) and WOW does Cat Person sum up so many of the issues on women’s sexuality in our culture she writes about. This book is excellent and eyeopening, even for people not in monogamous relationships. I would recommend MR interview Ester on this topic! Mostly so I can tell my husband and friends more comments that start with, “Well, Ester Perel says…”

      • Haley Nahman

        I just finished that book last weekend!

        • Abbie

          I think I caught that vibe in your writing! This was a great piece.

      • ErinPaige

        She has a book? Yessss. This woman has suddenly blindsided me with her greatness.

      • Started reading this book because of your comment. Thanks!

      • Jay

        She has a great podcast as well!

  • Rosie

    It’s such a great piece of writing. It reminds me of so many of my own experiences, but also something my Mum said to me, a few weeks ago. Her boyfriend had a serious, but temporary condition, for which he needed to take medication – and they had been warned that it could affect her, if they had unprotected sex. She told me that he was not keen on using protection, but also was putting pressure on her to still have unprotected sex. I felt so furious and so helpless to do anything about it – she would have been angry if I had said anything about it to him.

    How much pressure we accept from men, to satisfy their desires, sometimes makes me question monogamous relationships. Is it worth pairing yourself with someone who may develop entirely unfair expectations of you? How on earth do you deal with them when they come up?

    • Natty

      Similar experience here — a friend of mine had a miscarriage about a year ago and her OBGYN warned her and her husband that if she got pregnant in the weeks following the miscarriage, it could be very dangerous for her health and for her baby’s health. But her husband refused to wear a condom, so they just “took their chances.” I’ll never forget how nonchalantly she told me about all of this one day as we sat by the pool. I mean, what the fuck.

      • That is such a distressing story! 🙁

      • Rosie

        I’m so sorry to hear that – I think sometimes some men need to be woken up to the selfishness of their actions.

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    I have yet to read Cat Peron (gasp!), but I loved reading your dissection of it!

  • I gasped at the last line. Aloud. In my office. So…. cutting. And sad. And hurtful.

    I distinctly remember realizing that being in love with a human is not the same as being in love with somebody being in love with you. I think people catch a lot of flack for “stringing people along” but sometimes a relationship just needs to play out before you know which one it is.

    • Kelsey Moody

      Currently trying to navigate this very situation. You can’t snap your fingers and feel something, its a gd excruciating journey

    • Justina Kenyon

      ” being in love with a human is not the same as being in love with somebody being in love with you.” I’ve never been able to put that into words. I wish I knew this when I was 16-19.

  • Elle Shoel

    PERFECT HALEY

  • Amelia

    I had just finished reading this story about five minutes before I saw this article. Very poignant, Haley.

    “In Margot and Robert’s case, he receives pleasure, while she receives only the pleasure of his pleasure.”

    I’ve experienced this many times, and often I think that’s what some dudes are conditioned to want to give us during sex – not our pleasure, but the expectation to revel in their pleasure.

    • Aleda Johnson

      https://mobile.twitter.com/MenCatPerson

      And it appears the men still don’t get it…

    • cuffers27

      Yes and even when women have pleasure there is a sense that the only point of that pleasure is to please men, (for example making sexy noises because it will turn the man on) so women’s pleasure is not an end in itself but adds to the male experience instead.

  • Mila Pérez Varela

    Couldn’t agree more. Loved the story and love your writing too.

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    Okay- I just finished reading it. And the entire time all I could think was how she twisted herself into pretzels for this creep (which a 34 year-old guy hitting on a college student is). He seemed only interested when she demeaned herself, cut herself down and made her self less than. It made me sad for her. And all of the cutting remarks and his weird jealousy over an imaginary ex-boyfriend pointed to his faux nice guy demeanor. They are ALL nice guys. Until they aren’t.

    • Yeah it made me sad for her too. But I think not doing that is something you have to consciously learn and decide on as a woman, as all the social pressures push you towards pretzeling yourself for any and every guy you interact with. I know I used to when I was younger, even down to slightly worrying if I upset the guy I told to ‘f*ck off’ after he yelled some stupid shit at me in the street. I’m thankful to feminists past and present for helping me realise that’s not the way I have to live.
      La Madeleine | Unofficially the best lifestyle blog ever

      • ValiantlyVarnished

        I’m in my mid-thirties and thankfully I have to say that I do not have the people pleaser chip that I know most women have. My Mom had it too and she said it took her well into her forties to get past it. She used to joke that she wanted to be like me when she grew up. I have no problems saying no. I don’t really care about being liked by everyone. When I was very young I did – I changed schools a lot and was always the new kid and so I used to try to adapt to other people to make friends. And all it got me was bullied. By the time I hit 16 I was pretty much done with that. I became very unapologetic about who I was and what I was interested in. And that has only gotten stronger as I’ve gotten older.

  • Toby_W

    This seems to equate bad sex with selfish sex, and I don’t think they are the same. Two unselfish people can have bad sex, especially their first time. It also seems to associated a person’s worth with their ability to have “good sex,” however that is defined.

  • Rachel

    Ugh, I hate how familiar this story is. I wish it weren’t, but it is. The outcome made me think of this illustration by Mari Andrew…https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bd95dfbad04e61410e52371a6f2a704f1690d0566fc726a6d8bc8372578ead29.jpg

    • Kaylan Waterman

      this graphic is both incredible and true.

  • Tori King

    As someone

  • anne_blushes

    the description of obligatory emotional tact in this story resonated with me so intensely—especially in terms of being with someone you’ve just realized you do not like, are repulsed by, cannot wait to get away from. the relief i felt when i had the strength to walk away from those situations stays with me even now. i’m glad for this story, and glad you wrote about it.

  • Tori King

    As someone who hasn’t had sex yet, I can’t help but feel a mixture of sadness and gratefulness for this story. It saddens me that this is such a universally relatable experience for women, and that it felt so realistic as I read it. But I’m grateful for the amazing discussions that have arisen, and the information being shared on how to have good, equal, non-icky sex. Obviously, bad sex might happen to even the most informed couple- but at least I feel a bit more prepared to recognize red flags. Thank you for your dissection, Haley- it really helped me process the story.

    • Mottisjandra Mercado

      Same here. I’ve never had sex, but reading stories like this one and just reading about sex and feminism really opened my eyes and makes me feel more comfortable in what I’m looking for in a sexual relationship.

      I think one of the biggest problems here is the fact that we don’t know what pleases us, our sexuality and pleasure is always an after-thought, so we go into sex with this idea that men’s pleasure is the only one that exists. So many women are teached to be afraid or disgusted of their own bodies that they have never even masturbated themselves once and that’s so sad. Add to this all the themes that are touched upon in “Cat Person” and you have a pretty grim reality for women and their sex lives.

  • Rose Winters

    that last line is so unbelievably accurate.

    …should be studying for my 3pm exam, but I can’t stop thinking about all the nice guys, in my life and my friends lives, who sooo quickly turned when we weren’t playing our part.

  • Kelsey Moody

    The phrase, the only way out is through, kept coming into my head reading “Cat Person”, I feel sad I thought that, have put myself in that situation time and time again and feel empty after finishing the story. Of course, us 20 something sexually active cis female readers of MR immediately think “YASSS same!” after reading. All these un-special sexual experiences, name calling, slut shaming, projecting personal intimacy on unavailable men, cultural pressures to put the male ego and orgasm in front of anything etc etc is just a typical day in the life. I read this and just thought yah, so what? I care as a special little snowflake but does anyone else/has anyone ever cared? Maybe my season affective disorder has taken the wheel lately but I see this story having relevance 50 years ago, today and most likely 50 years from now. The pessimist in me thinks, nothing will ever change, but hey! maybe straight men will read this story and it’ll inform their actions?! Doubtful: https://twitter.com/MenCatPerson . The silverlining? Haley’s review, MR writers/readers, and female authors in general. At least we can raise each other up, listen, and offer a few more shoulders to lean on?

  • It’s crazy how this piece resonates with so many of us and this was an excellent breakdown of why it might. I would like to add that a fear of male violence pressures us subtly and not-so-subtly when it comes to placating men. There are times where I might have done things I didn’t want to because I felt like it was “too late” to say no and I was afraid of the consequences. Better to say “yes” and slog through it rather than try to stop what the man seemed to think was inevitable. Very few of us could be gentle or tactful enough to get out of that situation without shaming or blaming or worse.

    We women perform so much emotional labor and I didn’t even realize it until these last few years. It’s constant.

    • peacenow4all

      “We women perform so much emotional labor and I didn’t even realize it until these last few years. It’s constant.”

      Good way to put it. It’s true. Not to say men don’t have their own, maybe we don’t have a clue what theirs is, but what really matters is that we haven’t had a clue what OURS is. At least we can start there.

  • Harling Ross

    Haley Nahman is good at many things but bone-chillingly beautiful concluding sentences might be her most envious skill

    • Cléo Charpantier

      ok just have to say this comment made me tear up, I love watching your supportive friendship thru social media. and yes its such a good last line. ok bye xoxo!

  • Danielle Cardona Graff

    Amazingly written! Definitely going to check out Cat Person! And sadly yes, the experience is all too familiar.

  • ES

    YES! Great piece, Haley.

    Are people watching the Netflix show “Easy”? “Cat Person” reminds me of it so much. Both the show and this short story represent sex and gender in a complex manner and in both, the characters are individuals (of course, they are operating under a familiar system of societal influences, which is very relatable … but they are also specific people, making decisions and thinking thoughts).

    I would also recommend the writers Mary Gaitskill and Lorrie Moore to those who liked “Cat Person”!

    • ES

      I’m also very interested in further exploration of this quote from Haley’s piece:

      “Bad sex is the result of a society that makes discussing pleasure, desire and consent impossible,” writes sex columnist Ella Dawson in response to the New Yorker piece. “In the US, we do not teach young people how to enjoy sex. We don’t teach them how to talk about sex before, during or after. We don’t teach people how to say no, and we don’t teach them how to say yes.”

    • gracesface

      Haven’t read Cat Person but I watched all of season 1 of Easy in like a day. I’m not the biggest Joe Swanberg fan (though I do love Drinking buddies, one of his movies) but Easy demonstrated soooo many different kind of relationships. Family, friends, lovers, strangers, married couples, etc. It really captivated me. Might have to sign up for another free trial so I can watch season 2, thanks for reminding me of it.

      • ES

        Season 2 is SO good. I think you’ll love it. The second season dives even deeper into the different relationships that you listed!

  • Hannah

    I loved this story, and this article. Part of what makes it so real/painful for me is the awareness that the taking-pleasure-in-their-pleasure phenomenon goes well beyond sex. I actually just ended a relationship where the sex was pretty good, but our day to day conversations had so much of that flavor. I found myself talking down where I went to school, my talents, my ambitions, all to make him more comfortable. That part in the story where she feels the tables turning as he gets to sweep in and “protect” her just killed me. Sex is a poignant context to witness that dynamic, but it’s so much bigger than that.

  • coffeebee

    the story made me wince and scrunch my face up so many times. it’s complex, nuanced, and a lot to ponder for being such simple prose up front. i’m thinking about women finding their value and pleasure in other’s pleasure. why it makes our skin crawl when it comes to sex, but it’s lauded in other forms (being a great hostess, cheering on other’s success, being a ‘giver’ to receive)…i especially recognized and loathed that robert was invigorated and turned on only when margot showed self-deprecation or uncertainty. like it was his cue to swoop in and be THE MAN and control the situation.

    haley, such a provoking analysis and thank you for calling my attention to the story. i hadn’t read it yet.

  • TheAweDude

    I’m still wondering what Robert should not have done. So far, I have three things:
    1) Be better at sex
    2) Be better looking
    3) Don’t insult people

    Otherwise, I can’t help but understand how Robert made the assumptions he did. I hate to do this, but, as someone who has experience being the Robert (thankfully it never went to the bedroom so I’ve never made someone wretch), I know all too well the struggle Robert went through. Almost every decision he made (except for the whole “whore” thing) was made with whatever information he had at the time. If I was in that situation, I don’t think I would do anything different, including analysing and over-analysing each and every reaction Margot made.

    • Ann Selvage

      The story isn’t about Robert, it’s about Margot. And contriving things to be about the men is exactly what the story is “warning” against.

    • Imaiya Ravichandran

      i don’t know if robert is to blame so much as the larger system of patriarchy and sexism. robert was a shitty guy whose self-worth was tied to him feeling superior to his much younger, more vulnerable partner. but you’re right– until the very end, he didn’t do anything explicitly predatory or manipulative. he was just a gross dick. BUT a dick supported by a longstanding legacy of men prioritizing their feelings and desires over women’s (sexual and otherwise). so that’s the heart of the matter here: that margo didn’t feel empowered to back out when she so clearly wanted to. why was that? not because of anything robert specifically said, per se, but because of what he represented! she felt compelled to follow through with what she believed she had promised him. (and, as we see by the end, for good reason! he, too, felt like she owed him something, hence him calling her a whore when that “thing” was denied to him.) yes, perhaps if robert had been more intuitive, he would have been able to tell that margot was uncomfortable. he was definitely brutish and domineering. but i dont think that’s the point. margot should have felt able to say no no matter what kind of man she was dealing with. that she didn’t feel that way is depressing and wrong.

      • TheAweDude

        Maybe I should refine my question: What should Robert learn from this situation? What lessons can he learn from this relationship to better himself for the future?

        I, and many people like me, have been in Robert’s shoes. Physically unnatractive and unloved, they cling to the first person that shows them an ounce of genuine feeling and friendship. We try so hard to nurture the relationship, to protect it from ourselves, that we fuck up. And then, like you do with any sort of failure, we look at the pieces and try to figure out what we did, what they did, and what we can do to better ourselves. But, the pieces aren’t saying anything other than we failed in some aspect.

        Part of my personal frustration with this story is not that Margot dumped Robert, or even that she was repulsed by him, but that she didn’t SAY ANYTHING. I’m of course not trying to say that every single woman should be a psych major and fully understand how and why each and every relationship fails, but at least be communicative.

        And of course I’m not saying that relationships should be a simple formula of doing nice things X times while buying Y worth of gifts.

        And I’m not saying that women have to mollycoddle people and protect their feelings. If the reason you are dumping a person is that they are a fat piece of shit, then say so. If you think they are secretly a misogynistic piece of filth, then say so.

        This started to ramble, but I hoped it illustrated some of my personal frustrations. Often, it feels like the job experience paradox. In order to get into a successful relationship, you need to have experience. In order to get experience, you need to have been in a successful relationship. Everyone expects you to have experience, and a lack of experience is itself a warning flag. Because I have no experience, I will not get experience, and therefore will forever be stuck in this rut. And, as a human, I have to blame someone. So I oscillate between intense self-loathing, hatred for women and society, and a false sense of aloofness.

        • Senka

          As a woman and someone who cringed couple times while reading “Cat person” because I recognized some of the behavior patterns Margot engaged in, as my own in the past, I also understand what you are saying.
          I know it’s not a consolation but it appears to me we’re all pretty clueless. Men and women. Women assume men feel entitled to love. Whatever they do. Men (especially those with self esteem issues) can sometimes experience things that turn them more difficult and even jaded afterwards.
          And neither of us are explicitly thought how to embrace and enjoy our sexuality or even how to communicate effectively.

        • beckly

          You’re a self-declared woman-hater expecting emotional labour of the women in this conversation. The irony. Go find a counsellor, dude.

          • TheAweDude

            See, this is what I’m talking about. More people were to act like beckly and just say what is bothering them, even if it is hurtful or insulting.

          • Olivia AP

            When I see comments like his (rare in MR) and i always found out that they read fucking Breitbart!
            They are just haters. I don’t get why they need to comment here.

        • Haley Nahman

          I highly recommend anything by Esther Perel — her book Mating in Captivity is an amazing entry point into learning about how to have better sex and relationships, and how to unlearn a lot of what our culture has taught us. Shame plays a huge role in the discourse about sex in America, and learning to be more open and curious and forgiving of each other as we explore ourselves is an important first step to having more equal relationships. That means asking a lot of questions.

          A close read of “Cat Person” will show you that Robert did very little to foster a relationship with Margot as a whole person. He saw her only as a reflection of his ego, from start to finish. Attempting to unlearn seeing women that way is a good place to start. Women have work to do on that too, hence “Cat Person’s” resonance.

          I appreciate you genuinely asking what he is supposed to do, and I urge you to read more responses to “Cat Person” and pieces about sex by women in general that explore how women feel in sex and relationships. Seeking to better understand women is a really great first step. It’s hard, and will sometimes feel impossible, but staying open and humble through that is key. Stay curious, seek to feel empathy, and ask questions about how things make them feel that you don’t understand. Nothing feels more inviting and safe than that.

        • jules

          Heres the thing. Women read stories about the male perspective all the time. We’ve had so much practice looking at ourselves through the eyes of men, because thats so much of the literature and movies and art that have been put out into the world. Men, on the other hand, don’t routinely consume media where they are asked to empathize with the thoughts and feelings of realistic women. The result is that men instinctively read this story imagining they are Robert and thats not the right way to read it if you want to understand it.

          And thats part of the problem here. Margot is too focused on empathizing with Robert and putting Robert at ease and making Robert like her to even really stop and think if she really likes him. Even when they have sex, she can only enjoy it thinking about how he must be enjoying it, which is pretty messed up.

          None of this is Robert’s fault, exactly. And maybe it sounds to a lot of men like its a totally illogical messed up way for women to act. Maybe it could even come off as manipulative and mean. But I think almost every woman has felt and acted in this way, not out of malice or trying to be manipulative, but because society has conditioned us so completely to defer to men’s desire and perspective that we often don’t even realize what we are doing. And even when we do,
          in many situations the idea of not acting in this deferential way towards men is really scary, because some men react with a lot of anger if we stop and show our real feelings.

          • Haley Nahman

            Very well put

        • Calla

          Having had sex with a lot of Roberts, let me tell you: saying something doesn’t help. I have tried. It just prolongs the toxic relationship and you end up in this awful cycle of trying for months to appease a person you are not interested in and who, while not technically abusive, was enormously harmful to your self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

          The pattern that Margot fell into of trying to make Robert laugh, of making him feel comfortable at the theatre, of using sex as performance to bolster his own fragile ego, would just continue if she tried to explain why she no longer wanted to see him. Robert would try to negotiate his way out of rejection.

          And in the end, he’d still call her a whore.

          • TheAweDude

            Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), I have never had the opportunity to be a Robert in the bedroom, so I don’t know how I would react then and there. Again, I’m not advocating for desperately trying to give mouth-to-mouth to every failing relationship, just an explanation so I can learn.

            Again, I can’t understand your point of view any more than I can understand the perspective of your partners. I am just trying to urge, I don’t know, more open communication during the breakup phase. At least for me, personally, I find that ghosting would be more hurtful and spiteful than shouting all my numerous faults. I understand that this is almost certainly not the case, but when that happened, I had thought the other person was specifically trying to spite me and any future relationships. That they were playing this long, diabolical plot to make me personally unhappy, confused and alone, like a weird comic-book style supervillain. Again, logically, I know this is most likely not the case, but that is how it felt to me at the time.

            I like to think that if a woman told me “Hey, listen, I don’t think we should be seeing each other. I don’t like you for , and mainly ” that I would just accept that and move on. Realistically, I may put up some protest, but give in at the end anyway.

            I know life in general is not fair, to anyone. Everyone has their own specific problems, challenges and experiences, and I can only know mine. Other people’s challenges are inherently un-knowable. Yes, we can try to empathize with our fellow human, but in the end we are merely projecting our logic through what little information we have.

            That is why I cannot help but feel slighted when I think about the experience paradox in dating scene much similar to the one found in the job market. In order to get a job, you must have experience. In order to get experience, you need a job. Except there is no volunteering, extra schooling or internships to help break the cycle. I missed out on the chance to get in, and the older I get, the more obvious my lack of experience, and the redder the flag.

            Again, I want to stress that I am not trying to downplay any struggles of anyone else. All I am trying to say is my own experience, and try to give other people an insight into my motives. I am genuinely trying to learn how to be a better person for the future. I am not trying to insult, talk over, or criticize anyone at any time. I feel like I am drowning in the ocean, reaching for help, while everyone shies away thinking I will pull them under.

        • But that’s the thing TheAweDude. This story isn’t about Robert. Plain and simple. It’s about Margot and her moment- the forces on her decisions and utimately the decision that aren’t available to her.

          Focusing on Robert is like focusing on race in this particular story- we don’t have enough information and it misses the point. This story is written from an omnipitent narrator who gives us Margot’s thoughts. It’s about her.

          Robert is a symbol of maligned patriarchy- it’s not the ideal protector knight-on-a-horse masculinity that patriarchy sells to both genders – he’s the reality of what a real person might look like- it’s not all abs and “saving the day”. It’s the inability to express emotions and the feeling of inadequacy for a societal mark that isn’t met. He’s like the snow in the park in the set of a play- you know it shows cold, death, and frigidness without having to tell your reader that that is exactly what’s going on. He’s the “nice guy” symbol but never really rounded out in the story – BECAUSE IT’S NOT ABOUT HIM.

          It’s about Margot, a young woman coming into her own in a world that she’s finding gives her freedom (she can flirt to get more tips and she can choose to sneak into a bar and seduce someone) but also restricts her choices in ways that she maybe hasn’t anticipated (she gives her number to a guy she doesn’t know, she can’t choose the drink she gets because she’s too young for the bar, and she can’t stop an encounter that she doesn’t want to continue for fear of retribution). That is because her opinion and power is subjugated by society and patriarchy. Even in the end, she fears breaking it off with Robert and eventually the decision is made for her by a friend. There are decisions she hesitates to make or completely avoids- Why? Because she lives in a wold where they have retributions. This is a young person navigating a world that has consequences that maybe don’t make sense to her. And in the end she learns that the “nice guy” wasn’t anymore. It’s about her. Go back and read it from her point of view- it’s a much better story.

          • TheAweDude

            The reason, in a nutshell, as to why I am trying to delve into the how and why Robert went wrong is to correct my future actions. As a guy, I know I can learn from literature like this, and am just asking for clarification. I may have been a bit cluttered in my thought process at the time, but my overall question is this: How can I, a Robert, stop being a Robert?

            I’m not trying to criticize the story, and I recognize I have not-so-well-hidden bitterness regarding the opposite sex, but I am actively trying to understand. I know this story isn’t necessarily trying to teach specifically me, a friendless loner, a lesson, but I do know there is something that I can learn to help me be better for any hypothetical partners in my life.

            All I know is that there are many things I do not know, so I am trying to find out what I need to learn.

        • Toronto CS

          I enjoyed the Cat Woman story, but it doesn’t reflect my experiences as a woman at all. I’ve read so many comments here that are really sad in terms of women enjoying their sexuality. The one thing that I really liked about Cat Woman was how the main character was worried about her safety, ie he could be a murderer — I think she thinks that twice. I felt she went ahead with the sex because she was afraid of him. In answer to TheAweDude, what male lovers of women can do is make it easy for the woman to back out. That level of safety in turn lets a woman relax. My husband usually lets me approach him and has said many times “We don’t have to go on.” Otherwise, to TheAweDude, confidence and a good job are probably what matter most in terms of being a desirable mate to women (although I think kindness and listening skills are nice, but that’s not really where the man in Cat Woman falls down).

          • Toronto CS

            To add a little more to my reply and more fully answer TheAweDude’s questions: part of what I think Robert did wrong during the date was really lack confidence. He also wasn’t bringing any sparkle or joy to their conversation. What does he love? When my husband and I were dating he used to talk about his work, bands he liked and cars. I’m not interested in any of the stuff but his enthusiasm was infectious. Robert was a successful guy — he had a house and obviously good work (at least where I live that’s impressive). He could have spoken about that with pride. He seems wilted; he’s not bringing anything to the discussion. Obviously Margot was turned off by his being out of shape. It doesn’t hurt to work out although my hubby has gained and lost weight and I don’t really care. My hubby is most attractive when he is happy, enthusiastic, confident, and, honestly, making money. In terms of needing experience to make a relationship work — my husband and I got together as two teenage virgins and figured everything out together (as teens my husband would tell me his ambitions and I found that attractive). It took awhile in terms of sex but we were learning together. We communicated. My husband was interested and had patience. Honestly, I masturbated and then told him my fantasies. I think the man has to create a situation where the woman feels safe — physically and enough to communicate. But the woman has to have some lust, too. She has to be willing to communicate, as you said. Honestly, Margot is kind of wilted, too.

          • Toronto CS

            Sorry! So many thoughts on how to help TheAweDude find love! The most romantic thing my husband ever said was “I’ll wait for you forever” which ironically enough was (one of) the very things that made me want to have sex with him. We were in high school but the theme is let the woman feel safe and like she has all the time in the world 🙂

        • Wendy T

          There’s a lot to unpack in your comments and other people have done a good job of responding, but I will say this: EVERY SINGLE PERSON feels unloved and rejected at some point in their lives. Stereotypically beautiful people can feel unloved and rejected, popular men can feel unloved and rejected, and women can feel unloved and rejected. The whole dichotomy of “ugly and lonely” vs “pretty and popular” doesn’t actually exist. You dont deserve special treatment because of your rejection – you, like everyone else, still have to work hard and be present in your relationships. Loneliness is a universal feeling, and when you realize that, then you can’t start to unpack your self-loathing and hatred for women.

        • Erik Victory

          There’s not a neat little message to the story, it’s not a ham-handed morality tale, it is just a completely accurate depiction of a contemporary woman’s (dating/sex) life. Margot isn’t going to teach the reader or the guy anything – why should she? How could she, anyway?

          That doesn’t mean the characters are incidental, they’re both reflective of two distinct threads of socialization, and other comments here have made a pretty good summation of how it’s reflected in Margot.

          Honestly, the contrivances they engineer at each other, a product of socialization, is really all that gender/gender roles are, but I think it’s going to be a few years before people become reacquainted with discussing gender as such without going into flailing histrionics.

        • Anhalt_Zerbst

          Yes, TAD, Margot didn’t say anything. First and foremost, she didn’t ask where his cats were, three steps past his doorsill.

    • Julia

      I sent Cat Person to my partner, and he didn’t really “get” the significance of it (which I suspect is how many men feel?). I told him this:

      It’s one of the most accurate and nuanced explanations of an experience that probably almost every straight woman in her late 20’s can relate to (which is a big fucking deal). I sure as hell can. Weird/awful experiences in modern casual dating like this are what’s informing young women’s understanding of sex and pleasure (and the cultural expectation to be in service to men). It perfectly explains the woman’s perspective of being stuck in “sex that I don’t want to have, but isn’t rape.” Which I think is pretty timely considering the national conversation around sexual assault right now. This story wasn’t about sexual assault, but it was about sexism in dating and the imbalance of power surrounding sex. It’s less about what the characters did right or wrong (neither of them are that great), but instead its about the bigger picture, the problems with our culture around sex.

    • Lily Ascher

      TheAweDude – I totally agree with you.

    • doublecurl

      honestly guys stop indulging him. he has commented elsewhere that sex is a basic human right and reeks of incel sexual entitlement

  • Liz

    this is a remarkable read. maybe the best one I’ve read by MR so cheers to you, haley. I’m 28 and I’ve never had enjoyable sex because I never knew I was allowed to receive pleasure as well. That it really is a two way street. It was always about him. Recently I swore off sex, and announced celibacy until I find someone that I a.) really like b.) really trust and c.) is generous, aware and open to talk about sex. I feel damaged and scared, like I’m 28 and horrible at sex and starting over again. But through therapy and yoga and a lot of other self care techniques, and articles like this, I’m learning about myself and how to value who I am. Thank you so much for sharing <3

    • Senka

      Don’t be ashamed. What you concluded and how you decided to go about it is mature and honest to yourself which invthe end matters the most. I am 34 and have been, subconsciously doing the same for more than a year now. I have had enjoyable sex. But 98% of sex I had, had been bad. I don’t think I am the only one. I don’t think you are either.
      Recognizing a bad pattern and deciding to move away until we find something good is logical.

      • Liz

        thank you so much senka. its so refreshing to have lady support isn’t it? I grew up in a catholic community and attended all catholic schools, and sex is often tagged as very shameful. Shame was my first introduction into sex. I know it will take time to heal and become comfortable with myself, and as you said recognizing that is step one. Thank you for your words, we are going to be okay xx

        • Senka

          I grew up in interfaith communist country and family with parents who, while tollerant never talked about sex. I lost my virginity relatively late too, but didn’t realize I should expect pleasure untill I hit my thirties It’s important to talk about it.

          • Liz

            i was really late to lose mine as well. its so important to talk about, thank you kindly for the support

    • snakehissken

      I didn’t announce it to anyone, but I did this just before I turned 30. It wasn’t that I wasn’t enjoying myself – it was like I was letting men disrespect me because I had a low opinion of myself.

      I spent the next 2.5 years trying to prioritize myself and the experiences of women – I was completely bored with all the stories of men and the concept of male genius. So I chose time with my female friends, and immersed myself in mostly stories that prioritized the stories and lives of women.

      I’m dating someone now and I don’t think that doing that cured me of all my issues, but it was an important thing for me to do.

    • Lil

      I’m doing this too! I have no issues with casual hook ups, but it’s so difficult to find a guy who’s not even generous in bed, but at LEAST meets you halfway! So my train of thought for now is that it’d just be best to only sleep with someone I really care for and has proven to care for me as well.

      • Liz

        totally agree. and someone who isn’t interested in dating me, just to sleep with me. someone who is interested in who i am as a human. its challenging to find, believe me and these silly dating apps sure don’t help !

        • Lil

          Yup, like I’m not even looking to date someone. I just don’t want to feel like a blow up doll lol

    • Olivia AP

      For me it’s really sad how men reacted. I feel that they can’t take sexual criticism.

      I don’t mean to sound like a prude, but porn really have damaged sex conversations.

      I swear, two days before Cat-person came out I had a really bad date. I’m 28 years old and I didn’t end up having sex with the guy. First, he also was a terrible kisser and while we were kissing he started touching my boob in a very aggressive way. While everything was unfolding I was laughing in my head but afterwards I felt terribly guilty. I hated even continue kissing a guy who was doing nothing for me. And that is the beauty about cat-person we all have gone through that many times and it seems like thinks won’t get better because some men have a very fragile ego, if they perform poorly in sex and you let them know (even in a gentle way) they feel like you are demeaning their masculinity.

  • Penelope

    This is an amazing scenario that I thought was only in my head. I’ve never had any sex worth writing about But rather it was always some great piece of theatre for my mates enjoyment and ego. Thank you for making me aware it wasn’t just me. Wow.

  • Sara

    omg all of the yesssssss to this article. also i totally related to that bad sex story – DEFFF had a very similar experience to that.

  • Andrea Alyse Pillaro

    “In Margot and Robert’s case, he receives pleasure, while she receives only the pleasure of his pleasure.”

    In my own experience, my pleasure is even co-opted. I am a person who has difficulty finishing with a partner. That used to mean lots of fake orgasms. Now I either just don’t say anything about it, but also don’t fake it, or if it is someone I can see having an actual relationship with I will explain. I tell them, “Hey this probably isn’t going to happen, but I still enjoy it and it can be fun, it isn’t you it really is my issue and not a reflection on you.”

    • Roos .

      IT’S SO INFURIATING.

    • ihaveacooch

      WOW this is real. it really turns into a game, doesn’t it?

    • SO infuriating, but I think a lot of men don’t understand that sex is pleasant for a woman even without orgasming – for a lot of them it’s a means to an end, whereas we enjoy the ride if they take their time and listen to our wants. Which, a lot of the time, they don’t – even when it’s vocalized.

      • peacenow4all

        Yes, even when it is vocalized, which really is a pisser, isn’t it.

    • MM

      this a thousand times. way to make one of the most personal things a person can experience about you, dude. god, male egos, am I right?

  • bigsteveinOakland

    I haven’t read all the comments but what has struck me is that the complaints here are only one part of sexual politics. Sex is often not good for men also. why do we have problems with sexuality in this culture? Obviously the vast majority of us were raised in guilt written abrahamic religions all of which to a large degree attempt to instill guilt and shame around sexuality. Modern society has long recognize that the myths of Judaism as then morphed by Christianity and Islam are just that , myths. Religions assist the ruling Elites in maintaining control over the working people of a country. In our present Advanced capitalist age people’s minds are taking off of the ruling Elites by bread and circuses such as large spectacle Evangelical Christianity, the NFL or NBA or any other organized Sports spectacles, by mass consumerism in which we are made to feel inferior because we don’t have the latest iPhone or the biggest TV and then we get a brief. Of pleasure from buying these expensive items and then we recognize they’re already out of date and feel bad so we have to buy more items to give ourselves that burst of pleasure that comes from having the latest and greatest. We live in a sick culture. If we were brought up in a loving sharing sexually aware on the society then these types of problems could go away and not have an economic basis for continuing to exist. Sexism is like racism or nationalism or religion. It arises out of a one-time biological necessity, and persists because it helps make the rich richer by splitting up working people and putting them one against another.

  • Just finished the short story – WOW. There is so much here. Concession-stand-girl makes a lot of concessions for the guy. First, it’s clear Margot is solely interested in how Robert sees her, feels about her, etc. That’s what she cares about more than her own feelings, and she derives her value based on how much he values her. That feels very relevant to today when I think about how youth and beauty are valued in society, and women are made to feel disposable.

    Then, we also have a large group of men who don’t know how to deal with rejection. It doesn’t always relate to sex, but rather than looking inward (oh, maybe I’m not a great kisser, or maybe we didn’t connect), they look to blame other people for their inadequacies or shortcomings. This feels really relevant at the end – the anger from the rejection, dripping with entitlement and pettiness.

    I also think this story speaks to how easy it is for people to read into mediocre relationships and connections. If you spend enough time thinking about the other person, and giving them slack for shortcomings, you can delude yourself into believing there’s more of a relationship or chemistry than there really is.

    There also feels like something very cyclical in her fears of not going through with the sex (probably worried about being seen as a tease, or leading him on) and then ending up being called a whore. Feels so accurate to real life.

    Anyway, there’s obviously a lot there to talk about…

    http://www.shessobright.com

  • Lily Ascher

    At the end of this story I empathised with Robert, and for all the other men who are vulnerable to such a muddle headed twit as Margot. But Margo also deserves our empathy and for two reasons. One, she is young and therefore one assumes knows no better and two, she exhibits so little self worth – a condition all too common in women in general. At least she does have marbles enough to discern that Robert has done nothing wrong. To judge that ‘…his confidence is bolstered only by her self-deprecation…’ is a misjudgement, a total misreading. How about ‘…he cares enough to want her to feel better about herself and makes himself vulnerable to her to show that.? This is a good story as it throws light on the problem at the core of many other problems and that is the problem of women not valuing themselves. How can Margot value Robert’s feelings, or view him in any other context greater than ‘her personal world’ when she doesn’t value her own? God forbid that anyone should believe insensitivity to another’s feelings is the way forward for women! It is a lack of self-value that endangers us to people (men and women) who will take advantage of it. Margot is weak, needy and indecisive because she doesn’t know nor value herself and in this case Robert pays the price. But how can women learn to value themselves in a culture that brainwashes us from birth that our value rests in how we look? And Margot projects this learned and limited value onto Robert. When Robert opens up to her, inviting her to look to the person beyond the surface she can’t – doesn’t know where to begin as she is so caught up in surface herself. No doubt there are those who would view Tamara’s actions and advice as ‘assertive’ and ‘honest’, or ‘bold,’ or, God forbid, ‘courageous’. But where did Tamara’s actions and advice lead? To another confused person, angry at having made himself vulnerable to a young fool who has toyed with his feelings. One gets the feeling from this story that at least Robert would have been open to a conversation – but it’s one that Margot seems incapable of having.

  • Lil

    This was both so depressing and yet so inspiring to read. Thank you Haley for writing articles like this. I shed a tear after reading this because I’m so terrible at expressing my emotions… And what I’ve been going through lately relates so much to this article. <3

  • Julia

    I love how MR helps me find viral things that i somehow miss. This piece is incredible, Haley. Also so glad it led me to read cat person!

  • Silvia de la Peña

    Great article. Just great.

  • Bo

    Oh my god this story took me directly back to being 19 and having my first ever ‘real’ boyfriend whispering all these weird things about my boobs in bed and me just kind of nodding in what I hoped was a vaguely impressed manner because I didn’t want to be revealed as totally inexperienced, which I was, but in a perfectly normal 19-year-old-who-only-got-hot-after-high-school kind of way. I can *vividly* remember the perpetual awkwardness I felt around this guy as he talked about watching porn on his laptop every morning whilst his mom made him breakfast downstairs (congrats, I guess???), rating the boobs of every girl in our shared college class (mine didn’t rate a mention in his weird mental list; I freely admit to being a total surfboard), and him calling me stupid in front of his/my friends when I would so much as ask somebody what the time was (okay, I’m exaggerating, but barely). Needless to say the relationship didn’t last. To close: I’ve got a date this weekend so thanks for the timely reminder to settle for nothing but what I actually want/need

  • Roos .

    Sexuality needs to grow the fuck up.

  • Annie O

    Ugh thank you. I couldn’t figure out why I was so underwhelmed by this “viral” story, but it turns out it’s just the story my girl friends and I told back and forth for the first half of our twenties without realizing how sad it was.

  • Lily Barsanti

    @haley_nahman:disqus I’ve been wrestling with what I think the significance is of the fact that she never “saw his cats,” and consequently why “Cat Person” was chosen for the title. Thoughts?

    • Lillian

      I don’t know about the cat symbolism specifically but maybe it’s as simple as the person she envisioned and the connection she built up in her mind didn’t materialize in person.

    • Anhalt_Zerbst

      Twenty-five days after you. That was kind of a deal-breaker for me — Robert had just “warned” Margot, before they went into his place, that he “had cats”; because a lot of their early text-banter involved cats, I couldn’t get around the fact that Margot didn’t ask him, within the first five minutes at longest once inside the door, “Hey, where are those cats?”

      Oh well: maybe my age (60) is showing — it’s possible, and more fun, to think about sex AND cats (AND the person, and the jokes shared previously, and the nervousness, and and and) at the same time.

  • Caroline Christianson

    That last sentence tho.

  • Chrissie Reitmeyer

    Yes, this is a great analysis of such a relatable story! I also connected with how she spends so much time and effort, mentally, to explain why he’s standoffish when they meet up, what his motives are, and how she can respond to comfort him. I have spent so much energy creating narratives for men I’ve been with, because they weren’t being clear but clearly something was wrong, and then feeling like I had to make them feel better somehow.

  • Chrissie Reitmeyer

    Yes, this is a great analysis of such a relatable story! I also connected with how she spends so much time and effort, mentally, to explain why he’s standoffish when they meet up, what his motives are, and how she can respond to comfort him. I have spent so much energy creating narratives for men I’ve been with, because they weren’t being clear but clearly something was wrong, and then feeling like I had to make them feel better somehow.

  • Monica M

    This story made my skin crawl, because it brought me right back to so many sexual encounters in which I was totally devoid of agency. Where I felt I had an obligation to have sex, not because of the other person, but because of an internalized pressure to get along and go along. :/

  • Hannah

    Bravo, Haley.

    It feels like the sex lives of women rarely make headlines unless it’s to tarnish a reputation in the interest of a man. I think we all fall into “Cat Person” so immediately and deeply, because we’re hungry for the justification that our sexuality is worth something, even though the world around us has told us otherwise. I’m so glad that more pieces like “Cat Person” and this thoughtful article are coming out and look forward to more in the future, MR and beyond.

  • Aydan

    I’ve also been listening to some podcasts regarding dating, relationships, etc. in the current ecosystem and one of them did a highlight with the woman behind the Insta about daddies. Her insta is essentially exposing older white males on tinder who are looking for a “princess” and other demeaning things towards younger woman. Its so clear that the way men are raised and condition in American society, in particular, that allows them to go through their lives with the thought that these woman are here for them–and our pleasure must first be subservient to theirs. Bring on the revolution, because I am here for it!!!!

  • Nat Ch

    Great analysis! I’ve been thinking about the Cat Person piece a lot. I actually talked to a few male friends about it and they, as expected, have their own narrative about what is good and/or bad sex. They feel entitled to physical pleasure in the sense that that’s what they pursue in a “conquest”. We, the “conquered” are often going trough a lot of checkpoints around the concept of pleasure, that not only contemplates the physical part; we evaluate the context, the future, and even the present moment trough guilt and “should haves” and some type of validation. It needs to be changed pronto! and this kind of literature is making us rethink everything 🙂

  • Van Oscar Catacutan Tabaloc

    I’ve read the story and from my point of view it doesn’t just happen with women. Maybe it also happens with men. Being gay and sexually active, I have been both sides. I was Margot with a guy I dated (I’ve let him sleep over 3 times then I ghosted because I felt like he was too domesticated) and I was Robert with a lot others. Although I felt like the story was relatable, I didn’t feel like it was fair that this think piece is angled towards women’s sexual woes. In the story, Robert equally has his own insecurities about the whole thing they were on. The root of all their problems was miscommunication. Both of them were afraid to ask but were quick to assume.

    But going back to your point, yes, I still believe that young women be taught of thier own worth and should stop accepting that they are objects of pleasure. (*Although I am greatly divided on this because Marilyn Monroe.)

  • Martina

    Chapeau! Great article!

  • sara

    Reading through these comments and wanted to add a positive experience of mine: I’m a late bloomer – 29 and just started my first healthy sexual relationship. I tend to be cynical but this guy is scoring a lot of points. The first time was rough – not being on birth control I insisted on condoms, and he struggled pretty bad. Our second time he told me that he’d read some articles about how to make condoms work for him, asked me what I wanted, asked me how I touched myself so he could know how to touch me better, and didn’t seem concerned at all if he had an orgasm or not. He didn’t. I didn’t either. But after he was like, “that was good practice!” It might take a while but I’m realizing that having someone willing to work on it with me is a gift

  • Jay

    I read this post before I read the story. Not the best idea, cause I went into it with an expectation.

    However, Cat Person gave me a weird feeling nonetheless.

    A bit of what you felt, Haley, I guess. Or what we are all feeling.

    Don‘t want to be too personal… or disclose too much. But well… There have been times where I did have sex with a guy I wasn’t really into. Cause it was the polite thing to do. And cause I had kinda initiated it, and thus it seemed weird to get out.

    And what is worse. I have even – as Margot, in a way – made myself believe I wanted to date a certain person. And made them believe the same. Cause it felt right. Cause they adored me that much. Gave me flowers everyday. Cause they were safe options. They were nice and kind.

    Ant that is all not against my will in the traditional sense of meaning that phrase has arisen to. No, I was fully aware of what I did. And no one really forced me (maybe society or what I thought of society) – but myself.

    And that creeped me out about that story.

    That it is such a raw reflection on how screwed our brains sometimes are.

  • Kate Stimac

    The burden shared by the women who loved this story is the burden of our shared performance: a never ending song-and-dance designed to elevate the needs of our male partners over our own desires. Cat Person then goes a step further by showing us what can happen when women dare to break character. For our protagonist Margot, her defiance gave way to the very real threat a spurned male ego presents to female safety. BUT, the universality of this story is nonetheless widely exaggerated.

    Cat Person’s popularity makes it clear readers are hungry for authentic depictions of the female experience. We (women) want characters with complicated and relatable interior lives reflective of our own. But Margot’s interiority is a markedly narrow one: thin, white, college-educated, and shallow (note her comments about Robert’s weight). She’s what many would consider an unsympathetic protagonist.

    In my opinion, the story is more powerful because she is unlikable. Women can be disagreeable but that does not mean they’re deserving of the verbal abuse Margot endures at the end of he story. But the narrowness of her perspective undoubtedly leaves some readers unsatisfied and still hungry for a portrayal of their world yet again ignored.

    Certainly, it is not the responsibility of one writer and one short story to represent the experiences of all women with all the specificity and nuance that would entail. But it would be wonderful for Man Repeller to build on this momentum and start a series of short stories or personal essays about the sex lives of a myriad of different voices.

    • Kartmann08

      Gosh, Ms. Stimac, you sure are a model of a “push-pull” dynamic in reviewers. You give faint praise, speaking for “our shared performance” & “our own desires”, followed by what I would describe as slightly pompous “man-splaining” if you were a guy. Your comment “women can be disagreeable, BUT…” followed by overstating the obvious reproach of abuse made me wince. You think Margot is more powerful because she is disagreeable…how Jane Austin of you.
      When you busted out ‘interiority’, I had to pause. I have been an “unsympathetic protagonist” and “unlikable” all of my nearly 70 years. I say No to alot of people regardless of the blow-back, which is considerable, and yes to myself. It has been awful & great.
      Women have infinite behaviors, feelings, opinions, experiences, & “myriad of different voices”…the “universality of this story” may or may not be widely exaggerated. It clearly DID speak powerfully to some.
      Remove the stick and stop over-analyzing what is a tremendous cultural shift and long-overdue (decades for me) freedom of expression for women on the most taboo subjects (he’s selfish in bed, political power…… to genital mutilation & violence) that have crippled us all.
      Be present in the moment, please. This stuff is not academic anymore; it’s visceral.

  • Meemaw

    I hated every single syllable of Cat Person. I wanted to give both of them Moonstruck style snap out of it slaps.

  • Father Nelson

    Good god, Ms. Roupenian is overweight, unattractive and a lousy writer.

  • Allies Align

    As a strong man who loves my wife without reserve. It saddens me to see comments that with all of your “empowerment” you are even lonelier than ever. Please know that many men would love to have the feedback of what they are doing that isn’t pleasing you.

    You can blame bad sex on many things. You can also realize that love without commitment means nothing. Sex as a nonchalant exchange will rarely bring you much of anything. I’m not judging anyone, but I would suggest that true happiness requires that YOU not rely upon others to serve your needs.

  • Elizabeth Stewart Chevalier

    This story is very familiar to me, as well. I’m 65 years old, and saw my young and middle-aged selves (but, thankfully, not my senior self) in Margot. The discussion here is also familiar, like something I would have taken part in 20-45 years ago. It distresses me that after decades of experiential insight and self-help books, things haven’t changed much. The best defense against situations like this is to know what kind of sex you want, and to not gob it up by getting drunk. Even Margot could have managed that.

  • Kartmann08

    I love this essay. I have stopped engaging in sex twice; 5 years in my 40’s & 12 into my 60’s, knowing ‘I wasn’t picking well-there was no joy’. The sex I was having, as a life-long single, adventerous, libertine was simply crap.
    I am enough, despite my friend’s concern for my lack of human touch….
    their philosophy being ANY touch is preferable to none. Umm. NO. (that opinion is about THEIR fears)
    I might be a unicorn; I don’t get lonely & require the constant ‘validation’ that I’m beautiful, super-smart, funny, & ‘lovable’ from a male (or anyone). Former friends are somehow offended by this, for obvious reasons. They think as I age, I will require that state; I’m finding as I age & lose the worst parts of artificially applied self-consciousness, it is so much better untethered. I am vibrant, curious, & exist in a state that I am surprised, delighted, expanding; open to everything that used to be defining, limiting, self-damaging.
    I look around at my age-peers & see alot of men who were careless w/their health & their female ‘nurses and maids’. Eeeuuw. I’m good over here. Not perfect-just real good.

  • Anhalt_Zerbst

    Really late to the party — I read “Cat Person” weeks ago in my dead-tree copy of the NYer . . . and there was one thing that was, to me, a huge story-killer even though this means I probably am setting at naught the vivid depiction of sex’s momentum:

    HOW could it be that, within at longest the first five minutes after entering Robert’s place, Margot did NOT ask “Where are those cats??”?????

  • Amy Willard

    Seems like some of you ladies need to grow up and take more responsibility for yourselves..some sex is good, some bad. Some guys are dicks. Stop blaming men for your feelings about the kind of sex you have. It’s not his fault you are a people pleaser and didn’t get your needs met. Go work on yourself and learn how to take care of your needs, that will be far more empowering then feeling like everyone should cow tow to your every whim simply because you are female. If you honestly feel like you were “socialized to please other people” then only you can change that! Consider these experiences lessons learned and move on instead of harboring so much resentment. Equating in any way sex you chose to have but didn’t find fulfilling to rape is honestly such a slap in the face to women who face actual rape, sexual assault, and inequality regularly. Be glad you can choose to have “bad sex” without being condemned or worse killed as it would be in some other countries. This gender conversation is an important one in the fight against true injustices so people need to stop whining every time they get their feelings hurt by a man.
    All of you sound like bright ladies so go out there and conquer something for yourself, just not at the expense of every poor male you meet that has also been uniquely socialized. Men view sex very differently than women on average so it is incumbent on each of us to take care of ourselves rather than expect others to always do so for us. This is what women’s “liberation” is really about. Freedom to choose- if you are unhappy with a decision you made, choose differently next time!

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