Especially in the early stages of dating, there’s so much interpretation and inference happening that each interaction serves as a kind of Rorschach test for us. We decide that it means something that a person likes cats instead of dogs, or has a certain kind of artsy tattoo, or can land a good joke in a text, but, really, these are reassuring self-deceptions. Our initial impression of a person is pretty much entirely a mirage of guesswork and projection. When I started writing the story, I had the idea of a person who had adopted all these familiar signifiers as a kind of camouflage, but was something else—or nothing at all—underneath.
And the source of those reassuring self-deceptions is often the prevailing stereotypes and expectations, which are unfairly biased against me. If all people know about me is that I’m vegan, autistic, and use the word “mulatto” to refer to myself, that’s already like trying to climb out of a bottomless pit.
It sucked being undiagnosed and having everything I did judged as if I had the same motivations as my ex’s most womanizing alpha male ex (why else would I want alone time?). Trust was impossible.
“There are no sexual relationships” is the idea that Cat Person describes the essence of ALL romantic relationships. Robert’s on a mission to have the phallus and Margot’s on a mission to be the phallus and everyone is just failing to cooperate.
I don’t agree with this:
Margot’s sense of Robert and his motivations keeps shifting throughout the story. She repeatedly changes her mind about him. Do you think that she ever actually interprets his thoughts or behavior correctly?
Margot keeps trying to construct an image of Robert based on incomplete and unreliable information, which is why her interpretation of him can’t stay still. The point at which she receives unequivocal evidence about the kind of person he is is the point at which the story ends.
His whole way of being is to act hostile when insecurity threatens. Women have been conditioned to interpret outer strength and inner weakness as masculinity. The capacity for self-control has many advantages. I like Zizek’s insight that there are always already prohibitions, and that progressive permissiveness is really just the “perverse super-ego.”
Do you think that the connection that these two form through texting is a genuine one?
I think it’s genuine enough as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. That Robert is smart and witty is true, but does the fact that someone’s smart and witty mean that he won’t murder you (as Margot wonders more than once), or assault you, or say something nasty to you if you reject him? Of course it doesn’t, and the vertigo that Margot feels at several points in the story is the recognition of that uncertainty: it’s not that she knows that Robert is bad—because if she knew that she would be on solid ground—but that she doesn’t know anything at all.
“Doesn’t know anything at all” goes too far. It’s a disavowal of how much you really can tell about Robert’s personality from the surface. All heuristics point to dickhead.
It occurred to me in therapy that this is even more of a bullshit statement than I first realized. How the fuck can so many neurotypical people act like the interactions in Cat Person were opaque? How can they relate to the story, with their vaunted empathy superpowers? They can’t read the insecurity and crappiness right off each other, perhaps while they gaze into each other’s eyes? How the fuck is it that Cat Person wasn’t a revelation to me about what women are thinking, but legions of neurotypical men don’t get it?
The reflexive dishonesty of normal people is shocking. They’re all in silent conspiracy together to be dishonest as fuck about everything, it seems.
The subject of nonconsensual sex—between older men and younger women, in particular—has been very much in the news lately. Do you think of this encounter, which is, at times, cringe-inducing for the reader, as a consensual one? Will Margot remember it as such?
Well, he buys her alcohol, even though he knows she’s underage, and he tells her that he thinks she’s drunk right before he takes her home. So I don’t think his hands are entirely clean. But I’m more interested in the way that Margot herself weighs the costs of her own decision to consent.
Margot, choosing between having sex she doesn’t want and “seeming spoiled and capricious,” decides to have unwanted sex. She thinks (or tells herself) that she isn’t afraid that Robert will “force” her, and I think, on one level, that’s true: she has no evidence that he’d be violent toward her. At the same time, she’s already speculated about the possibility that he could kill her and has become anxiously aware that she’s entirely in his territory, that he could have rooms full of “corpses or kidnap victims or chains.”…
No, Robert gave many indications that he’d react abusively if she did something major to make him insecure like stopping sex in the middle.
…That option, of blunt refusal, doesn’t even consciously occur to her—she assumes that if she wants to say no she has to do so in a conciliatory, gentle, tactful way, in a way that would take “an amount of effort that was impossible to summon.” And I think that assumption is bigger than Margot and Robert’s specific interaction; it speaks to the way that many women, especially young women, move through the world: not making people angry, taking responsibility for other people’s emotions, working extremely hard to keep everyone around them happy. It’s reflexive and self-protective, and it’s also exhausting, and if you do it long enough you stop consciously noticing all the individual moments when you’re making that choice.
It’s in this context that Margot decides to have sex with Robert. In order to avoid an uncomfortable, possibly risky exchange, she “bludgeons her resistance into submission” with a shot of whiskey. Then, later, she wonders why the memories of the encounter make her feel so sick and scared, and she blames herself for overreacting, for not being kinder to Robert, who, after all, didn’t do anything wrong.
And WHY do women go through the world like that? Because of violence. Feminism has spent the last 20 years in La-La Land calling people who talk about this sex negative kinkphobes.
She also did another interview with the New York Times.
Every so often Margot gets a flash of actual insight into Robert’s mind-set. But her empathy ropes her into continuing the date. Can empathy be a double-edged sword?
That’s exactly right. Margot’s empathetic imagination is working on overdrive here, and throughout the story. Her skills at reading other people make her socially adept, but because imaginative empathy is still, fundamentally, imagination, she is also easily misled.
She thinks she can see inside Robert; she believes she knows more about him than she does, and that keeps the date catapulting forward when it might otherwise have come to an end. The people I know who tend to be drawn to the most troubled men are these incredibly empathetic, imaginative young women, and sometimes I wonder if that’s a piece of it: how good they are at creating a compelling back story for men who have done nothing to earn it.
Or is it just that the troubled men are abusive, and becoming more empathetic is one response to being mistreated? Is it more of a repetition compulsion than an excess of compassion?
What is Margot wishing for when she imagines the boy with whom she could share the story of this encounter? Why does she decide “no such boy existed, and never would”?
Well, it’s an irony of heterosexual relationships, right, that you’re searching for a partner who has experienced the world so much differently than you have, and whose romantic and sexual history is so different from your own? That’s a pain a lot of women I know have felt acutely, especially in this past year, when all of these terrible shared experiences are becoming part of the public conversation. Women try to talk about these experiences with their partners, and they find themselves failing. It’s an isolating feeling for both people involved.
But for Margot, it’s true, too, that one of the reasons she can’t ever imagine sharing this particular experience with a partner is that she herself doesn’t understand it, so how can she explain it? That’s true in a way that goes beyond gender, of course, and is maybe just a fundamental human impulse: I wish I had someone who could explain my story to me!
I’m searching for someone who’s experienced the world similar to the way I have. If someone can’t relate to your pain, why are you in a relationship with them? Why are you just now discovering the disconnect because #MeToo was in the news?
How is it isolating that bad things happened to my partner before? WTF is she even talking about?
It’s best to explain your own story.