Margot met Robert on a Wednesday night…
December 9, 2017 12:49 PM   Subscribe

“Cat Person” is a short story by Kristen Roupenian in the latest issue of The New Yorker. It’s about a brief modern relationship.
The magazine has also published an interview with Roupenian on the story.

Roupenian previously won the grand prize at eleventh annual Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards for her short story “Don’t Be Scarred”.
posted by Going To Maine (171 comments total) 137 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for posting this. I read it yesterday and thought it should be here and didn't quite know how to frame it.

It probably deserves a CW for unwanted sex, and... as much as some of the interview and presentation sort of waves it off as a comedy of manners about online dating... it is such a raw look at the interior life of a young woman in this situation, and also of a very specific kind of shitty dude. I felt like drinking bleach afterwards.
posted by selfnoise at 1:20 PM on December 9, 2017 [20 favorites]


Honestly, I felt quite sympathetic to Robert and angry at Margot, as well as angry about that being where my emitions were. Roupenian comes across as tactically ambivalent in the interview, and makes a good use of the old Atwood saw about men and women.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:01 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Damn.
posted by materialgirl at 2:13 PM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of Mary Gaitskill . . .
posted by materialgirl at 2:13 PM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


I thought this was a really good story and I also thought it would have been way better without the very ending.

The Gaitskill comparison feels right to me.
posted by escabeche at 2:19 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Loved the ending. Perfect example of unconscious (nearly sympathetic) internalized misogyny revealing itself (perhaps to the surprise of both parties).
posted by materialgirl at 2:33 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I can't even say that the ending is clever, just... accurate, because this is how it works. When they get angry and they want to say something that will hurt you but they don't know how to hurt you, this is what they reach for, this is how it goes. It just... is.
posted by Sequence at 2:36 PM on December 9, 2017 [95 favorites]


Every man who dates women should read this.

As a woman, the shudder of recognition with this one is...something. The best part is that constant placating of men never stops, even when you stop dating them, because you never know. And because sometimes they have power over you, so.

Ugh. Brilliant story, but ugh.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:42 PM on December 9, 2017 [78 favorites]


I knew he was a creepster based on the text messages. My friends used to laugh at me but when I was single I eliminated with extreme prejudice.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:57 PM on December 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


That is a great story; she is an author I will watch for.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:06 PM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


It me
posted by Grandysaur at 3:11 PM on December 9, 2017 [15 favorites]


This story got me right in the feels. This and the fact that it seems to be hitting everyone who reads it in the same feels is why I don't want to hear criticisms of "men are trash". Men feel free to treat people like trash, whether or not they even know what they're doing or why, and it's not right, and it needs to stop.
posted by bleep at 3:28 PM on December 9, 2017 [18 favorites]


Urgh yes that not-so-subtle dig about women in their late teens/ early twenties behaving in age - appropriate ways from a man more than a decade older is not a thing I miss At All.
posted by threetwentytwo at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2017 [24 favorites]


Wow.

I also would've preferred it without the last line--maybe the last two lines--but I wonder if that wasn't added in to ensure everyone got the picture.
posted by schroedinger at 3:35 PM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


That story gave me flashbacks to the 1970s and '80s. Except for the text messages, of course. Will things ever change?
posted by Miss Cellania at 3:37 PM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


I believe that last line totally, it is him putting his own punctuation on their relationship. Gives him his sense of control while daring her to respond. Like, he recognizes that she's done with him, and that any more attempt to connect would be pointless, so he is all "fine, fuck you you suck anyways". So, it seems believable and would also be the last communication between them. In summary, I like the last line.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 3:45 PM on December 9, 2017 [37 favorites]


Memories flooding back: then after this experience there's always two questions.
  1. Shouldn't he have grown up by now?
  2. . . . Oh God, what if they don't?
posted by schroedinger at 3:47 PM on December 9, 2017 [11 favorites]


A lot of women would prefer their lives without those last couple lines, but you get them whether you want them or not.
posted by Sequence at 3:49 PM on December 9, 2017 [220 favorites]


There's so much that's so familiar in this story - idiosyncratic texting behaviour, endless mind-reading, awkward initial dates. The most surprising moment of recognition for me was when Margot is about to cry when she can't get into the bar: it's such a small detail but I've had that exact feeling so many times, that somehow everything had been ruined and (this might just be me) that it was my fault, somehow. Roupenian touches on this in the interview when she talks about how young women are socialized to keep working extremely hard to keep everyone around them happy.

I'm on a self-imposed break from dating after a relationship which I wanted badly to happen never really got off the ground; this story makes me feel a little better about that.

On the other hand--

but of course there was no such future, because no such boy existed, and never would.
Ouch.
posted by invokeuse at 3:54 PM on December 9, 2017 [41 favorites]


but I wonder if that wasn't added in to ensure everyone got the picture.

My read of the interview is that she certainly added the ending to guarantee that readers would be on the same page about Robert as a villain. Before that, I believe she is more comfortable with it being anbiguous
posted by Going To Maine at 4:05 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I love the inner life of her characters and the way she portrays the trains of thought women have in these sorts of situations. Not like I've frequently found myself in a situation where I have my heart's desire inside a chalk circle in the basement...and yet kind of like that?
posted by limeonaire at 4:23 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


The interview with the author is great too.
posted by freakazoid at 5:22 PM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


i felt like she channelled all the emotional labor and sexist abuse threads from mefi that I've been reading all these years - the endgame seemed pretty clear from all the little signals along the way that I only picked up on because of all that everyone here has been sharing in those threads - so thank you for all the education and i wish it weren't necessary and i wish it weren't the way of the world for now (holding hope that we can make things better in time)
posted by kokaku at 5:39 PM on December 9, 2017 [23 favorites]


I think the outcome would have been better for all involved if things had gone much slower and been more tentative.
posted by The Seeds of Autumn at 5:40 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


All the characters in this story, the villain included, came across as much more put together than most people I've met IRL, outside of a professional environment.

Good fiction, is what I'm saying.
posted by some loser at 5:40 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Upon reading this thread, man, I don't want to read the story. Sounds way too much like real life.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:42 PM on December 9, 2017 [9 favorites]


You should read it though, it's nice to experience something this good.
posted by bleep at 5:53 PM on December 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


This reads like an elaborate post from /r/creepypms, and I mean that in the best possible way. This is real. This is what happens. This is how it is.
posted by xyzzy at 5:56 PM on December 9, 2017 [10 favorites]


the endgame

When you say, "endgame", do you mean "conclusion"? Because no one seems to have gotten what they wanted here.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:57 PM on December 9, 2017


jenfulmoon, there's been very active discussion of this among my friends and acquaintances, some of whom couldn't make it through it because they found it too overwhelming. It is very good but also very evocative of an experience many women seem to have shared; some people (you may be one of them) may prefer to give it a pass.
posted by felix grundy at 6:03 PM on December 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I’m old and have been with my partner for over a decade, but this reminds me of so many AskMe and Captain Awkward posts.

The book The Girls by Emma Cline is set in the 60s, but has many similar themes about how women internalize the need to placate men and see themselves through men’s eyes.
posted by matildaben at 6:04 PM on December 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


There are several clues in this story pointing to the setting being Ann Arbor, Michigan (referring to the "student ghetto," the first date at Quality 16, and the mention of the nearby town of Saline.) Having lived in Ann Arbor for many years - and worked at both of the "artsy movie theaters" downtown - this story struck home much, much harder than it would have otherwise. Which is not to say it wasn't arresting to begin with. It just felt extra true because I could imagine everything with so much detail. Very good stuff. I look forward to reading more of her work.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 7:08 PM on December 9, 2017 [31 favorites]


Going to Maine...endgame was probably a poor choice of words, but i meant it from the perspective of the author and where she was taking the characters
posted by kokaku at 7:20 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


A lot of women would prefer their lives without those last couple lines, but you get them whether you want them or not.

Oh, I'm not disagreeing with that at all. My thought was that it would allow any dude who read it to say "Oh, well, I'm not that guy because I only ever thought that and said it to my friends and on the Internet but not in a text to her!" But as I wondered and like she said in the interview, maybe that would've left dudes thinking Robert was a good guy done wrong.

Then again, the fact that I am thinking so much about whether or not a single word makes a difference in whether Dudes Get The Message is, on multiple levels, representative of the problem in the first place.
posted by schroedinger at 7:25 PM on December 9, 2017 [23 favorites]


My read of the interview is that she certainly added the ending to guarantee that readers would be on the same page about Robert as a villain. Before that, I believe she is more comfortable with it being anbiguous

Read this and then immediately sent it to my husband and we spent all dinner talking about it. (The 4 year old was bored, poor kid). I described the last line as a quantum wave collapsing. Before we observe his piggishness, several possible universes were possible, which is what makes the story so fascinating.

What I want to know is whether the cats were real.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:35 PM on December 9, 2017 [85 favorites]


I'm glad the cat question remained unanswered. Whether they were there or not wasn't the point. The point was she suspected they might not be, because the vibe she was picking up from Robert throughout was dishonesty; some overcompensating effort to impress, which in my experience tends to make the disappointment hit a little harder. And then his showing his true colors through the ride to his place and to the end just confirms it. The "cats" - long the subject of their tenderest banter - are not real.

What an excellent piece.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:31 PM on December 9, 2017 [24 favorites]


I want to believe the cats are not real because I don't want anybody to be any more adverse to owning cats than they already might be.
posted by schroedinger at 10:34 PM on December 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


I'm glad the cat question remained unanswered. Whether they were there or not wasn't the point.

Yes, of course. The cats are a symbol for their greater relationship. I suspect you can infer from one's belief about the cats whatever the reader believes about Robert's person as a whole.

I'm on team "cats are a fabrication." My husband thinks that's too convoluted--who would lie about cats?!--and that the simplest explanation, that they're in another room somewhere, is probably the correct one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:40 AM on December 10, 2017 [6 favorites]


The cats are another physical representation of Schrodinger's rapist within the context of the story.

I loved this story and want to share it with everyone I know.
posted by sockermom at 6:27 AM on December 10, 2017 [57 favorites]


Bravo to the writer for the sex scene, too. Sex scenes are so damn hard to write. I find my fingers sort of recoiling from the keyboard when I try to write one.
posted by angrycat at 6:52 AM on December 10, 2017 [4 favorites]


This story made me newly grateful to be homosexual. Not that queer people can't have regrettable sex and uncomfortable feelings afterwards too, but at least the primary setup is typically less lopsided.
posted by Nelson at 7:04 AM on December 10, 2017 [7 favorites]


I really enjoyed this story. Thank you for sharing. I find myself wanting to write fan fiction where she tells him all the shit he did wrong. Though, at twenty I wouldn't have been able (and indeed was unable) to articulate the problems with a relationship I was in, and I'm a man so I never at any point had to worry about my safety being in jeopardy if the person I was trying to explain to took anything the wrong way or misunderstood anything. So the way the story went was much more true to life than Robert learning any sort of lesson.

I don't know. It sucks. When I was in my late twenties I was, thanks to Metafilter, an advocate for open and honest communication in relationships basically all the time, but it's only been in the last couple of years that it has (again thanks to Metafilter) come to realize how dangerous that can be for a lot of women in a lot of situations. It sucks.
posted by Caduceus at 7:17 AM on December 10, 2017 [4 favorites]


The cats are named after Junji Ito’s cats. So, real or not, he’s a horror manga fan?

This was deeply painful for me to read and I’m still shaken by it the day after.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:32 AM on December 10, 2017 [11 favorites]


I'm glad I read that...but yeah, it's a little too real.
posted by bquarters at 7:57 AM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


i felt like she channelled all the emotional labor and sexist abuse threads from mefi that I've been reading all these years - the endgame seemed pretty clear from all the little signals along the way that I only picked up on because of all that everyone here has been sharing in those threads - so thank you for all the education and i wish it weren't necessary and i wish it weren't the way of the world for now (holding hope that we can make things better in time)

I did. My account has too much personal information to link to my real identity, but I'm a semi-regular around here - I only comment maybe every few weeks, but I read MeFi & Ask every day. I even thought about posting the story to Projects when it first came out, because it felt like so much of it had grown out of what I'd read here.

It's been intense to see the story strike a nerve - wonderful, but also overwhelming, because yeah, in my head at least, it's a bleaker and uglier story than some of the conversation around it might suggest. I love reading these comments, though - you all are excellent readers for me, which is probably unsurprising, since this place has done a lot to shape me as a writer.

Thanks, ya'll.
posted by Sock Person Cat Puppet at 8:05 AM on December 10, 2017 [465 favorites]


Wow! I'm not surprised a mefite wrote it. It resonated so much for me, especially the sex scene. I'm a trans man, but before transition I had so much sex I wasn't really into but went through with anyway because it was the path of least resistance. I'd frequently lay in bed, revolted with myself, vowing never to sell myself out again, but it'd happen with another guy. I wanted myself to want to like the guy I was with, and interpreted his [emails, no texts back then] in a way that temporarily allowed me to feel okay with that.

I've had lopsided experiences (I was 25, he was 40-45) and I know that desperately hungry look they give you that's simultaneously flattering yet revolting. I'm 43 now but look late 20s, so I'm frequently approached by guys in their mid 20s. I never want to be that guy they later look upon with disgust and/or pity.

Nelson says queer dynamics are different, and I trust him, but I haven't had much sex since transition in part because I fear I'll fall into the same pattern of doing it out of a sense of obligation.

Anyway, thanks, and I look forward to reading more of your writing. We need pics of your cats, too.
posted by AFABulous at 8:30 AM on December 10, 2017 [24 favorites]


I would have enjoyed this more without the narrator's comments about Robert's fatness. I feel like the author mobilizes fatphobia to build visceral disgust about Robert, which is... extremely unnecessary, because everyone's skin was already crawling at that point. There's a lot that's repulsive about that character, his being fat is not one of them.
posted by ITheCosmos at 8:32 AM on December 10, 2017 [19 favorites]


Before we observe his piggishness, several possible universes were possible, which is what makes the story so fascinating.

I like that framing, but at the same time it feels deceptive. That is, I don't think his actions at the end entail that his first actions were in bad faith rather than simply incompetent and inappropriate. The comment up thread about how the last line may even be Robert discovering something unknown and horrible within himself resonated, even if that is one of the less likely scenarios.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:26 AM on December 10, 2017 [3 favorites]


I feel like the author mobilizes fatphobia to build visceral disgust about Robert, which is... extremely unnecessary, because everyone's skin was already crawling at that point.

I think the fatphobia is actually useful. Though, speaking with a friend, we have slightly different reads. To her, the increasing fatphobia is a proxy for her own growing disgust at the relationship. The fat, which was initially entirely fine, increases in grossness as the events get grosser.

To me, the fat phobia serves that purpose but also is a window for judging Margot a bit as considering herself superior to Robert. At some level, it moves the emotional power into her court. Robert is kind of gross, so she's doing him a favor by dating him.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:39 AM on December 10, 2017 [26 favorites]


Margot's self-effacing is a type of agreeableness I sense is as common in women as Robert's disagreeableness is in men. I mean, the date sucked conclusively, but she feels compelled to never admit that to her sucky date. Does she really think that's how a decent person responds to disappointment, by not letting on? Or is it clear to her, as it is to me, that her desire to gratify Robert is somehow connected to her desire to avoid the shame she would surely feel if she told Robert that, I dunno, that's not a nice way to ask for someone's number?

Notwithstanding the potential risk, what I would want for Margot is that she finds out how to enjoy being disagreeable when the situation calls for it, like when a degrading and manipulative guy walks into her life.
posted by Taft at 9:59 AM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]




As someone who's had a variety of body weights, I know that moment, that look that says "I thought I was game but I just saw you naked and realized I am thoroughly disgusted". There's no good outcome after that point. Just make an excuse and wrap things up. You're done. Otherwise all that's left is disgust, self hatred, self pity, and more disgust.
posted by idiopath at 10:58 AM on December 10, 2017 [14 favorites]


That's an incredibly, unnervingly accurate story
posted by stevedawg at 10:59 AM on December 10, 2017


Does she really think that's how a decent person responds to disappointment, by not letting on?

I don’t think you could have missed the point more if you tried.

Women can’t let on because we have no idea how men are going to react, and a really large number of them react inappropriately in some way, ranging from being an asshole to fucking murdering you. But — and this is a bit but — you never know when “asshole” is going to morph into something darker, so you always, always have to have your guard up.

Being “agreeable” is one of the ways women try to be safe, and believe me, we hate it more than you do. It’s exhausting, it’s demeaning, and it is a constant goddamn reminder of our unjust place in the world.

It doesn’t stop with dating, either. We have to be agreeable to any man who has power over us, because guess what enrages men more than anything? Women who don’t know their place. So we grit our teeth and placate until we can get the fuck away, and all it, all of it, takes a grim toll on us.

And then there are the men who refuse to think about why we have to do these things, and casually gaslight us about it.

All of it sucks.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:07 AM on December 10, 2017 [187 favorites]


This reminds me of an online dating story— I was once messaged by a man whose user profile was a blurry picture of a man sitting next to a dog. His first message was innocuous, my response mentioned the dog, and then each subsequent message from him featured more bizarre and then eventually vile language calling me a broken disgusting whore, telling me that everything in my profile was pathetic, and I had been so gullible to fall for his fake profile pic just because it had a dog in it.

I was like??? You got me, I guess?

So anyway, angry men definitely use “cute pet totem (of a pet that may or may not exist)” as a way to hurt women through digital communication, in my experience.

Sock Person Cat Puppet, this story is an amazing piece of art. One thing I truly admire about it is that it describes a dynamic that exists outside of sexual relationships as well. Nearly every woman I know has a sort of mandatory hypervigilance about men’s motives and potential hurt feelings, and trying not to accidentally transgress on those mysterious sore spots can suck an entire life away. It isn’t just creepy too-old dudes dating college girls— it can be fathers and uncles and cousins and guy at the bank and Geoff from Marketing, anyone who can readily weaponize his displeasure. It’s an elaborate game of “what is he thinking?” that never ever seems to stop.

And the flipside is one that Margot experiences as well— her own alterity is always only her business, not something he has any interest in except insofar as it might get him what he wants. Her own interior self is so expansive and multilayered, and he wants nothing to do with it, and seems to have zero interest in it other than “are you fucking your ex (who I made up)??” Spending so much psychic energy to try and predict what men will do is exhausting— but having it paired with those men treating plainspoken and straightforward women as ciphers filled with deceit and wiles is the real gutpunch, sometimes.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:28 AM on December 10, 2017 [70 favorites]


Sometimes I daydream about nice dates I could go on. Meet in a cafe, have a fun chat, then if I like this guy, who hopefully is not a serial killer, maybe he'll message me again, I mean I could message him too, but I don't want it to be totally one-sided where I end up doing all the work of initiating contact, and--

--then I realized that even in my fucking daydreams I'm worrying about this shit.
posted by airmail at 11:39 AM on December 10, 2017 [49 favorites]


he wants nothing to do with it

Citation needed? She seems to wilfully choose to deny him access to that interior life, in the same way he denies her access to his.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:10 PM on December 10, 2017


but she feels compelled to never admit that to her sucky date. Does she really think that's how a decent person responds to disappointment, by not letting on?

Women that go on bad dates, especially something casual like this, aren't going to sit their partners down afterwards and have an exit interview. There's never a good time for this, and most men don't want to hear it even if we try. As mentioned by schadenfrau, rejected dudes can get angry and dangerous. Further, it's really not our job to do this emotional labor of explaining to a guy why exactly his behavior was awful, especially if we're thinking "hmm, I don't really know this guy at all and he could have a bunch of bodies in the next room and I'd never know, this could go very badly if I piss him off".

Maybe the dude could do this work instead and go "Huh, I seem to not be doing very well at dating, maybe there's something about my behavior that I could change next time, perhaps telling a woman 'I've always wanted to fuck a girl with nice tits' isn't the compliment I thought it was and I could try paying attention to whether or not she's enjoying herself next time, almost like women are people or something". But that will never happen, because to this particular species of "nice guy", self-reflection doesn't seem to be part of the package.

what I would want for Margot is that she finds out how to enjoy being disagreeable when the situation calls for it

Even in the absence of a physical threat, it's a tricky situation to navigate once you find out that somebody isn't who you thought they were, there's a tendency to feel like you've been "leading them on", even if it was never your intent. She was enamored with the version of him she'd built up in her mind, filling the void he'd given her, a person who didn't, in reality, exist.

Tactfulness and soothing are what are expected of us, not just by this dude but by society at large, and being disagreeable instead in this situation feels distinctly like pouring salt in an open wound. You know the guy's going to be crestfallen when he's rejected (because he refuses to see that you aren't enjoying yourself, so of course it will be a surprise), so there's a strong impulse to not hurt him too badly, even if it's incredibly obvious that it was awful and needs to end. "He'd really done nothing wrong". Agonizing about the breakup text, "She imagined Robert picking up his phone, reading that message, turning to glass, and shattering to pieces." felt very real to me.

On preview: mandatory hypervigilance about men’s motives and potential hurt feelings is an excellent way to put it.
posted by Feyala at 12:17 PM on December 10, 2017 [48 favorites]


To me, the fat phobia serves that purpose but also is a window for judging Margot a bit as considering herself superior to Robert.

It feels kind of silly to start speculating about the decisions behind the story once the author actually shows up but yeah, to me it contributes to the sense that it is possible that her reservations about the guy are maybe a little unfair, as he increasingly proves that they are not.
posted by atoxyl at 1:06 PM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


It contributes to that sense, yes, but it's also like, they're her reservations, and she's entitled to have them, especially at that particular moment, without judgement as to whether they are reasonable ones. But the part of the story that will stick with me forever is that Margot turns it back on herself right then. When she has those reservations, she feels she can't stop it because "it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon," and it becomes about her feelings of inadequacy and it feels so real. You want to scream at the page that it doesn't require tact, and ultimately, that's what Margot's roommate finally does.

What struck me so deeply was how the entire relationship was built on nothing more than an exchange of jokes and memes. It was a group chat come to life, not a relationship. None of the usual first date biography questions were exchanged. Everything he knows about her is fodder for mockery (her age, living in the dorm, etc...), while one of the only things she knows about him, "cat person," is questionable. It was hard not to think about Twitter and how common it seems now to have interactions entirely based around snark.

Anyway, Sock Person Cat Puppet, thank you. This was amazing. Please make sure you post to projects when your short-story collection comes out.
posted by zachlipton at 2:21 PM on December 10, 2017 [40 favorites]


Has nobody here been in a situation where the traits, physical or not, that they once found charming or comforting or cute suddenly become distasteful once your feelings change? I've had partners who have grown more stereotypically physically attractive over the course of the relationship, but I found them less attractive and found more imperfections simply because the change in my emotional state put up a wall. This is what I interpreted from Margot.

Also--I think part of the story is that she's not perfect herself.

She seems to wilfully choose to deny him access to that interior life, in the same way he denies her access to his.

. . . One of the points of the story is that women are explicitly trained to not express their interior lives lest the men they're with hurt them.
posted by schroedinger at 2:29 PM on December 10, 2017 [65 favorites]


Schroedinger- "the traits, physical or not, that they once found charming or comforting or cute suddenly become distasteful"- yes, absolutely.
posted by Coaticass at 2:33 PM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


Wow, so cool that this amazing short story was influenced by the (great) conversations we've had here on metafilter.

This story rang so true for me. I haven't had all of these exact experiences, but the emotional beats are so real.

I think debating who is the villain is a bit besides the point (though hoo boy, there are definitely some people on Twitter who want Margot to be the villain, which I find inexplicable!). I thought the point was how gender socialization and the patriarchy led these two people down a path that was both painful and (due to our toxic gender roles) somewhat inevitable. My sympathies are definitely with Margot, but I think it's possible to empathize with both of them.
posted by lunasol at 2:39 PM on December 10, 2017 [10 favorites]


She seems to wilfully choose to deny him access to that interior life, in the same way he denies her access to his.

. . . One of the points of the story is that women are explicitly trained to not express their interior lives lest the men they're with hurt them.


Absolutely! But it's also true that the denial of access to their interior lives is mutual. To me, it would be lacking in common sense for either character to have provided that access after so short a period of time. Margot denies the access because she might be killed. Robert denies it for some unknown reason. The stakes for denial are not in any way equal, but the denial still happens mutually.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:11 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


The sloppiness of Robert's kissing really slammed me. It was something where I was lucky enough to have a woman I dated for a brief time tell me how to do things better, in a way that, you know, actually treats the other person like a human being. It really feels like Robert is a dude who's made it to 34 and never got that point.
posted by graymouser at 4:09 PM on December 10, 2017 [11 favorites]


As a man, I think this is a story men should read. It was showing up a lot on my Twitter feed when I got up this morning, and I innocently clicked on it thinking it would be...well...something a little more innocuous. Maybe something like Junji Ito's cat diary, for all of that. It was not. I spent about an hour just reflecting on it after I read it, idly surfing Twitter and glancing at postage-stamp-sized movie trailers with the sound off, retweeting jokes, etc. I did this stuff mechanically as I processed what I had read. It's a very powerful story.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:34 PM on December 10, 2017 [9 favorites]


This hits very close to home for 18-25 year-old me. There were so many regrettable make-out sessions and hookups. Plenty of sad sex I really wasn’t into just like Margot’s story, and trying to impress guys by learning to love their music and their books and drinks and food they liked.

There wasn’t texting when I was that age, but I recognize that anguished mind-voice. Will he call again? How many times is too many to visit the retail store where he works? If I go on that “date” with him where we just go to a cemetery in the middle of nowhere and share a bottle of Jameson will he love me forever? It never occurred to me to ask myself if I wanted any of them.

Shudder.
posted by bendy at 4:57 PM on December 10, 2017 [21 favorites]


Someone started a Twitter account screencapping men reacting to "Cat Person."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:09 PM on December 10, 2017 [37 favorites]


Wow, this hit home and not even in the sense that I've dated anyone for a long long time, but just my general interactions with men - that desire to keep things upbeat and happy for as long as possible, to feel like the responsibility to "have a good time" is entirely on my shoulders, to not bother that person with what I'm really feeling and to always, always manage their feelings lest they turn out to be horrible.

Like others, I saw the Atwood vibe through this, and particularly in that splendid way that I saw the mental gymnastics that Margot was going through to justify every action and mood Robert was in. As a reader, I was doing the same thing. That's why I appreciated the ending. Without it, too many readers would end up saying "But...", instead, we're forced to confront that actually our instincts were right all along - we've just been socialised to override them.
posted by liquorice at 5:26 PM on December 10, 2017 [41 favorites]


The...bodily descriptions of Robert are close enough to make me wonder if it is about a friend of mine, controlling for minor changes. Everything else seems true to form too - the ways men can reach their 30s totally unmoored from empathy thanks to toxic masculinity, and that awful evangelical streak America has, and a life lived on porn instead of any kind of connection with women or people. How that results in the kinds of ugly forms of emotionally abusive communications, the absurd paranoias, the fantasist inversions of reality.

It made me incredibly uncomfortable with the equivalencies drawn between fatness and sexual ignorance and aggression. Being trapped by fatness, being assaulted by it in an ugly version of sex, that is beyond simple 'quirk that becomes unbearable' - it is a manifestation of a particular kind of angst and hatred for fat bodies, that is almost unworthy of the rest of the piece. It's...lazy, and reinscribes a boring 'fat people are awful, and skinny hot people are better' that devalues the rest of it. I mean, yes, complicated narrators and complex intersections and all that, but the reliance on body 'horror' that is only evident in a depiction of a normal body is something I find weak in this piece specifically.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:08 PM on December 10, 2017 [16 favorites]


Someone started a Twitter account screencapping men reacting to "Cat Person."

This was what I expected, but I never stop hoping it will be something different. My only solace is that Twitter is terrible and maybe things are better outside it. In some places, anyway.
posted by schroedinger at 6:47 PM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


Geek Anachronism, I felt similarly that there was a bit of fat-shaming happening, but I also think -- and I am not a woman, and certainly not a 20-year-old woman -- but I think that a 20-year-old woman who has probably only previously been intimate with her peers might have a different expectation of what she would find under the hood than a woman Robert's own age might. At 20, one may be effortlessly slim and hot in a way that takes some work at 34, and a person who is 20 may be forgiven for not being into it, in my opinion. Plus what everyone else said about Margot externalizing being grossed out by Robert as a person. I don't think his weight would have been the same issue if she wanted to be with him.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:03 PM on December 10, 2017 [23 favorites]


Someone started a Twitter account screencapping men reacting to "Cat Person."

This account does nothing to convince that pretending that Twitter is a good place for literary discussion does anyone any favors.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:15 PM on December 10, 2017


If I go on that “date” with him where we just go to a cemetery in the middle of nowhere and share a bottle of Jameson will he love me forever?

Whereas I was like, man, I'm never gonna find that guy who wants to go on a date to the cemetery...
posted by limeonaire at 10:03 PM on December 10, 2017 [7 favorites]


@lizduckchong: ‘Cat Person’, The New Yorker (2017)
posted by Going To Maine at 12:56 AM on December 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


I read this story after seeing the eighth or ninth link to it on Twitter, and I was expecting an emotional sucker punch, but it was so familiar that it didn’t hit me like that. So familiar that I wouldn’t be surprised if, a few years from now, I misremember details from this story as having happened in my own life.

Even the darker bits sort of slipped by me, perhaps because my college years and early twenties are littered with times when I had second thoughts about someone, or didn’t really want to go somewhere, but I was so preoccupied with “does he like me is this the one” that I squashed those feelings down. The worst that happened was disappointment, always with myself and almost never for the right reasons. But there were so many moments that could have led to disaster, and I would have walked right into it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:17 AM on December 11, 2017 [25 favorites]


Absolutely! But it's also true that the denial of access to their interior lives is mutual. To me, it would be lacking in common sense for either character to have provided that access after so short a period of time. Margot denies the access because she might be killed.

She muses explicitly in the story after she reminisces about how harmless her probably non-binary and definitely gay ex is that Robert has never asked about her ex. The onus is on her to volunteer that information, but he just seems not that interested; he's willing to let her be a blank canvas on which he projects his feelings and fantasies: college girl, film snob, whore.

You can argue that Margot does the same thing, but what I'm struck by is that her internal narration is so sharp and funny, a humor she denies herself even in fantasies (the future boyfriend will never exist, etc. etc.). Robert could be okay, but only from the lens of a 20-year-old. As a contemporary to Robert, it's very obvious--movie posters, no bed, sad laptop playlist, whiskey on the dresser, probably imaginary cats--how arrested he really is.

It's a comfort that my husband "got it" before I did. Halfway into the story, he came upstairs and said "Robert is a total fedora-wearing neckbeard and is going to take her home and show her his katana."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:07 AM on December 11, 2017 [68 favorites]


On a reconsideration and a reread, his failure to ask about the ex seems like a red flag given his revealed paranoia about her getting back together with him (itself a red flag). But something about her own disinterest in his backstory seems equivalent - but then, her stakes for the entire relationship are lower to begin with.

You are surely correct, but it will niggle at me. That niggling itself must be interrogated.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:42 AM on December 11, 2017


I'm not sure not having a lavishly decorated home or a stereo system means Robert is arrested; it may just mean he's broke. I can see how that isn't terribly desirable, but I don't know that it's an indicator of maturity. I mean, I hope not, since I'm broke too, and that sounds a lot like how I live. Well, I have a bed, at least.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:05 AM on December 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


When her real self intrudes on his narrative--when she doesn't want to go to the art house theater because she works there--he becomes aggressive and negs her about her taste. I don't get the feeling based on their interactions that he's terribly open to hearing about who she really is.

I'm not sure not having a lavishly decorated home or a stereo system means Robert is arrested; it may just mean he's broke.

He has a vinyl collection (which isn't cheap!). Idk, the choices there seem all very deliberate, both on the author's part and Robert's. But I really do think the worst interpretation is the right one here, not only because he calls her a whore but also because of his bad porno-esque sexual interactions with her.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:10 AM on December 11, 2017 [15 favorites]


Hmmmm, yeah, I'd forgotten about the vinyl.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:13 AM on December 11, 2017


And yeah, I think it's clear Robert is not a good person. I think like a lot of men reading the story, I'm looking at some details and thinking, "Wait...is this too meant to indicate that someone is bad? Is this detail, that sounds like me, a red flag that a man is human garbage, or is this a normal human thing that just intersects in this case with a guy being trash? Am I an immature monster because I don't own a stereo?!" (But then again, how do you own a ton of vinyl and apparently not own a stereo? Okay, that is pretty weird.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:21 AM on December 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


Heh, it's funny because I am also pretty arrested, like I have no stereo and a vinyl collection! And until recently was a 33 year old with a mattress on the floor (because I co-slept with my kid, but even before that, like as a teenager i always thought it was bohemian). I don't neg and fuck 20 year olds, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:30 AM on December 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


Robert-type men are often revealed as awful through screen caps of messenger or text exchanges and rarely related through the detailed internal monologue of the women who bear the burden of their abuse. Sometimes it is a friend who "has a story about that weird dude" much like in the scene in the bar after Margot's encounter with Robert, but those stories usually only have so many details.

What I'm saying is this is an incredible short story, wonderfully written, from a perspective that I've never read before about a kind of relationship that is all too common.
posted by Tevin at 6:35 AM on December 11, 2017 [21 favorites]


I don't neg and fuck 20 year olds, though.

I guess this is kind of the litmus, yeah.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:40 AM on December 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


On a reconsideration and a reread, his failure to ask about the ex seems like a red flag given his revealed paranoia about her getting back together with him (itself a red flag). But something about her own disinterest in his backstory seems equivalent - but then, her stakes for the entire relationship are lower to begin with.

On the other hand, she does spend a considerable amount of energy consider Robert's thoughts, feelings and motivations; considering what may hurt him, or anger him, or please him, and acting accordingly. He does not seem the slightest bit interested in these same things about her.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:42 AM on December 11, 2017 [25 favorites]


Does he even know she actually has an ex? It seemed like he just invented one as part of his college co-ed slash fic he was writing for himself. I don't think the fact that she actually had one even came up.
posted by bleep at 7:52 AM on December 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


Wow, what an absolute gut-punch of an ending. As I was reading the story I kept oscillating between feelings of trepidation about Robert and feelings of confused tenderness for him, and of course both feelings got more intense during the awkward sex scene and the text-dumping... and then WOMP. I was reading it in bed this morning and when I got to the end I just laid there for a minute going ".....fuck."

Well done, Sock Person Cat Puppet. I can't wait to read more of your work.
posted by palomar at 7:55 AM on December 11, 2017 [12 favorites]


Reading this story made my body curdle with adrenaline because I've been there and to this day my body goes into a fight-or-flight reaction anytime a guy who claims to be interested in me acts the slightest bit like Robert.

Never have been happier to be bi.
posted by lineofsight at 8:07 AM on December 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


Robert's first impression of Margot was of her standing under a big electric sign that literally says Concessions.

It's simply perfect.
posted by mochapickle at 8:52 AM on December 11, 2017 [129 favorites]


OMG

I propose that this story replaces Updike's "A&P" in every freshman comp class.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:05 AM on December 11, 2017 [50 favorites]


I loved this story. I am making everyone I know read it.

It's interesting--when I read it, before reading what anyone else thought of it, and before reading the interview with the author, I didn't really conceptualize Robert as a villain. Clueless and sad and creepy and immature and flawed and clearly subject to undesirable porn-based sexual tropes that dudes usually grow out of by 34 (in my experience), but villainy I believe requires a level of malevolent intent that I feel is missing. I read it as he was a deeply flawed character who had very little experience with women and tried to have a girlfriend as best as he knew how. I actually read him as a virgin who learned about sex only by watching porn.

I related a lot to Margot, less because of the "having sex you don't really want to be having" stuff and more because of the ambivalence she showed about Robert--that is exactly how I felt any time I tried to date a stranger, or any guy I wasn't already friends with before. That and her desire manifesting not towards anything about Robert (and I think that was why he was made deeply physically unappealing to Margot) but as the experience of watching herself be desired: the objectification of a woman by herself.
posted by millipede at 10:57 AM on December 11, 2017 [13 favorites]


Also, I think this story is interesting next to "Ghost World."
posted by millipede at 10:59 AM on December 11, 2017 [10 favorites]


This is a great story with a killer sting. No one's mentioned what Tamara does, sending the breakup text for Margot. Uncool? Heroic?
posted by chavenet at 1:01 PM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


I had to skim through the last half of the story because it felt too much like watching a slow-motion car crash. Yikes yikes yikes.

It probably doesn't help that I have nigh unto zero shitty-date experience, even vicariously, so rather than feeling any kind of horrible familiarity, what I got was the my first exposure to these red flags in anything like a first-hand experience.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:50 PM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


Robert is a solitary consumer who doesn't have the emotional makeup to read an employee nametag and calls Margot what, concession girl? She doesn't pick this up because she is a kid, just out of high school, seeing what it is like to have sex with a man. He has his plate of beans and she has hers. At least the story didn't end with shackles in some shed. He has much less than she does. His future is bleak and he got his nice set of tits (again instead of Margot's breasts,) to look at, in the solitary confinement he inhabits. After bungling along in his narcissistic netherworld he grows tired of his internal monologue about Margot and goes looking for the only sort of closure he is capable of, throwing a name on Margot that erases her from his fantasy relationship. Life can be the cruelest joke on everyone. How will he or she find happiness or real intimacy? Both were alone when they were together, separated by tricks of the mind.
posted by Oyéah at 2:42 PM on December 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


Bojack weighs in.
posted by idiopath at 2:46 PM on December 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


When I got to the last line, I felt weirdly elated. My first reaction was that Margot doesn't have to have mixed feelings anymore; she doesn't have to feel guilty or in any way unsure that she made the right choice by ghosting on him. He's made it clear that he doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt and she's free to feel furious and to have nothing to do with him ever again.

But of course she was free to feel all those things all along, and to break up with him without guilt, even without the name-calling.

This probably says something about me and my not-great emotional coping methods when I was a 20-year-old woman on the dating scene.
posted by beandip at 3:11 PM on December 11, 2017 [42 favorites]


I didn't really conceptualize Robert as a villain

I feel like this is the blue dress/white dress moment - I am completely unable to understand - like, not that I'm mad at, but I just don't understand how Robert could read to anyone as not a villain - that creeping sense of dread that keeps increasing and increasing throughout the story is so. fucking. clear. His wanting her to be pure and virginal and untouched by other men, his tenderness towards her coming out only when she cries and not when she expresses or is honest about her own needs, the way he talks to her in bed, everything gives me the chills and also speaks to that horrible way men interacted with you when you were that age. It's so, so well written, but yeah. I have no empathy for Robert whatsoever.
posted by corb at 4:26 PM on December 11, 2017 [59 favorites]


It was easy for me to have empathy for Robert because I'm a fat 40 year old woman who struggles with dating now that it's all about being "chill" and saying the right thing in text messages, and because every dating experience I've had in the past 6 years of singlehood has left me feeling less-than, and because I'm socially awkward. And not least of which because I'm a woman who's been conditioned by the culture I live in to always puts men's feelings ahead of my own, so even though I had that creeping feeling of dread all the way through the story, that dread was always chased by the feeling that maybe I was being too harsh on the guy. By the end I didn't feel that way anymore, but I guess kudos to you for being so much more evolved than many other women that you never had that feeling at all.
posted by palomar at 4:36 PM on December 11, 2017 [21 favorites]


I was that fetishised youthful set of great tits and reading Margot's self-fetishising is...uncomfortable but it also underlines the weaknesses of the story. It is facile (thx to people I talked to today about it) to make Robert a signified visual evil, via his fatness, because it plays into the exact kinds of toxic masculinity that the story is relying on the reader understanding exist in order to empathise with Margot, while reinforcing them textually.

The 'Robert' of my life was hot, cut, and knew it. He was just as vile, just as stupid, just as ignorant. It is easier to write disgust onto an othered body - being fat in this case - but ultimately it reinforces the things the story is examining, trying to impart.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:42 PM on December 11, 2017 [18 favorites]


I read the self-fetishizing differently - as someone who had a lot of difficulty acknowledging her own active desire for others, definitely up through Margot's age. I'd very thoroughly internalized the "men are active and desire, women are attractive and desired" messages out there, such that I think a big part of me thought feeling pretty and desired by someone else was what sex was about. My own desire for the bodies of others was something I'd barely considered. So Margot's lack of attraction to Robert, while increasingly cruelly written through their encounter, I see as a symptom of a context in which the best Margot can envision for herself is a sexual experience in which she gets to be beautiful, not one where she gets to feel desire of her own.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 5:08 PM on December 11, 2017 [108 favorites]


yes yes yes yes, fast ein Maedchen. that. exactly.
posted by palomar at 5:19 PM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think - for me I really empathized with Margot's sudden 'he's not attractive' realization as more than about the physical. It's not about his weight or body hair or any aspect other than - he's not an attractive man, nothing about him other than the fact that he desires her has ever been an attractive man, he is negatively attractive because of who he is such that things that might have been endearing with someone who was kinder are not so. And while that man's desire once was enough, that is no longer enough, we are changing as women such that it is no longer enough, and so the Roberts of the world seek women who don't know the secret and yet even at 20 they are grasping for it, struggling with it. It is not enough.

And I think that it was necessary to make Robert just slightly out of sync with Margot's attractiveness and youth - he is not seeking women his own age: why? The why of that is everything that is wrong with him, everything that is wrong with Roy Moore, everything wrong with every man who demands a woman be a blank slate for him to write himself upon.
posted by corb at 5:36 PM on December 11, 2017 [41 favorites]


> I propose that this story replaces Updike's "A&P" in every freshman comp class.

Yes, I have a feeling (something I very rarely have with New Yorker stories) that this is going to be a classic, like "A&P" and "Why I Live at the P.O." (I had the same feeling after seeing Get Out.) I feel absurdly proud it was partly inspired by stuff from MeFi, as if my membership in a cast of thousands somehow entitled me to share in the glory. Great work, Ms. Roupenian, and I too am looking forward to your future collections.
posted by languagehat at 5:46 PM on December 11, 2017 [59 favorites]


The Stranger’s reviewer reacts (including some choice tweets from other literary folks).
posted by matildaben at 6:08 PM on December 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


Bojack weighs neighs in.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:55 PM on December 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


All of the tiny red flags waving--but they are so pretty! And so small that you could practically overlook them! (Hush, stomach pit; you're overreacting and anyway, it's more interesting to think of a parade of horribles and ignore the ever-growing pile of minor rudenesses and ambivalent actions; it's more fun to spin out future narratives and a knowing, savvy, sexy self than to risk over-interpreting the silences, the weight of carrying conversation, the needless lies, because you're probably somehow at fault, mistaken, wrong.) It's fine, really. So much to overthink to avoid seeing what's there in front of you.

Thank you for laying it out so concisely, Sock Person Cat Puppet. And many congratulations on getting published in The New Yorker!
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:11 PM on December 11, 2017 [17 favorites]


So Margot's lack of attraction to Robert, while increasingly cruelly written through their encounter, I see as a symptom of a context in which the best Margot can envision for herself is a sexual experience in which she gets to be beautiful, not one where she gets to feel desire of her own.

Yes, and I keep thinking about her funny comments to her never-to-exist future boyfriend. She can't imagine saying those things just for her own amusement, or the amusement of a friend. Everything in her life is adding up, she hopes, to a greater romantic narrative, because that's the only shape of a life she can understand and find value for herself within.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:46 PM on December 11, 2017 [26 favorites]


It's also just to nice to say something to make someone else laugh and not be one-upped or riffed on. which when you don't get to experience that is something you miss more than anything.
posted by bleep at 9:54 PM on December 11, 2017 [12 favorites]


I think that years of reading Ask Metafilter helped me see the red flags from Robert coming early on in the story, but the way that Margot acted throughout the story felt uncomfortably real to me. I'm having trouble articulating this, but I think it's the power dynamics around being desired and desirable.

I've felt that high from being attractive to someone, and used it to make myself feel good, even when it ended up being a mistake or unkind to myself or another person. And I've also felt the other side of that power dynamic, where if a man has given me the valuable feeling of being desired, then I owe him something (see: bad sex as defined in the article linked above).

I'm sure that men feel a version of this too, but I think this story hit home for me because it showed what happens when patriarchy makes women the owners of this asset of attractiveness that only men can give to us. So you overlook red flags and imagine kindness and some up with explanations for bad behavior, because you want to keep that feeling so much and you don't know when you will be given it again. You test the boundaries of how much this asset of attractiveness will get you. You've been taught that being attractive is something you should want and strive for, no matter how much you excel in other areas. And of course, that feeling is also ugly and twisted up with ideas like trophy wives who have no value beyond their looks, and women who probably slept their way to success, and fetishizing yourself as a young and attractive object desirable for those reasons alone, not for any aspect of your actual self.
posted by MadamM at 10:36 PM on December 11, 2017 [33 favorites]


I wasn't going to read the story cause it sounded depressing but then I read all the comments here and decided I'd better read the story and now I'd like to print it out and give copies of it to the young UNCA students I drive around. I get Margot and Tamara in the back seat all the time talking about stuff like this.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:14 AM on December 12, 2017 [6 favorites]


I got the impression that Robert didn't particularly want to sleep with Margot either though.
But possibly was not aware enough to realise that he didn't particularly want to because the notion of a man not wanting to have sex is not one that society lets men think, but he clearly wasn't really enjoying it. It was empty and performative, but he felt under pressure to impress.
I think it would be interesting to see a version of the story with his interior monologue.

(I should note, that I say this not to excuse him, he's a clueless 34-year-old trying to date a 20-year-old, and blithely uninterested in her apart from the fact that she's a 20-year-old. But how you get to that point is, I think, worth exploring.)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:59 AM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


I've been back and forth on this one for the past few days and just realized to myself that yeah, it's not great that Robert is overweight and that some of the disgust towards him as a character rests on that, and yeah I guess maybe he didn't want to sleep with her either although I don't see that anywhere in the text, and even with a woman narrator we are still handwringing "what about the men" and I'm so, so, so sick of that.

I was talking with a writer friend before this went viral and she made the point that when men write stories, we automatically see them as fiction and as art. When women write stories, we start interrogating how close they hew to the truth, as if women's experiences being written in fictional form are subject to different rules.

I guess I'd like to turn the question "but what about the man" around and say "but what about the woman?" for once.
posted by sockermom at 5:24 AM on December 12, 2017 [40 favorites]


I guess maybe he didn't want to sleep with her either although I don't see that anywhere in the text.

I mainly got that impression from him being physically unable to at several points, and at him trying to perform sex through words and actions in the way that he believes he's expected to.
I think it's interesting that everyone seems to assume that getting Margot into bed was the successful endgame for Robert.

I'm not trying to make it about the man I promise. More trying to explore how romantic interactions between men and women are driven by (or soured by) societal expectation. If anything I was thinking that the version with his interior monologue would be as much about Margot as Margot's ended up being about Robert.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:48 AM on December 12, 2017


I liked this story, but I am schadenfreuding all over the place about the little male snowflakes who are freaking out about it on Twitter.
posted by OmieWise at 6:25 AM on December 12, 2017 [9 favorites]


Wow, that was an amazing piece of writing.

Also somehow makes sense that the writer spends time here on MeFi. Sometimes there are comments here that so precisely laser target a really complicated idea and successfully describe it (this comment by fast ein Maedchen is a good example, and frequently the long comments from cortex in the Grey teasing out and examining a complicated social phenomenon) that the comment elicits an actual like, physical reaction from me. I can feel my brain getting an endorphin hit that is sort of a combination of the 'ah hah' moment of holistic understanding and the vindication rush of seeing an intense internal nebulous feeling described in actual outside people words. I wish I knew a term for this feeling - learning it would probably elicit itself!

Reading this story was a big one of those moments. Excellent work, Sock Person Cat Puppet, and I look forward to reading more of your writing in future.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:38 AM on December 12, 2017 [10 favorites]


Just this guy, y'know: If anything I was thinking that the version with his interior monologue would be as much about Margot as Margot's ended up being about Robert.

I would grant that as possible, until the ending. Is he thinking about her at all when he sends those final texts? I sort of hope not.
posted by InTheYear2017 at 7:10 AM on December 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


To clarify, what I mean is that I have had many discussions and read many comments about Robert. It reminds me of all the conversations that I've had about great stories in creative writing classes. We always talk about the men. It's fascinating to me that's so much of this discussion is about him. Think about all the women who have been treated similarly in fiction to the way Robert was treated in this text.

Take a gander at Updike (I can't stop thinking about my own experience reading Updike and wonder if the angry men on Twitter feel the way I felt the first time I picked up his Rabbit series), and the casually misogynistic way that he talks about the women who act only as canvases over which his characters paint their own story in order to learn about themselves. One might successfully argue that the author has done that with Robert here. And that, itself, is a comment. One of the things that art does is that it makes you think about the craft. This story makes me think about the craft of writing. It's in discussion with other great works by way of it's structure, plot, dynamic, and place of publication.

Moreover, how many of us have spent nearly as much time worrying about the women so callously described and used in the countless Great American Novels that we have read as we have about Robert? When we read, are we trying to understand the inner lives of all of the people around the main character? Do we worry about all the backdrop women in the vast swath of Modern American fiction? Or are men always the main characters?
posted by sockermom at 7:20 AM on December 12, 2017 [52 favorites]


sockermom: Moreover, how many of us have spent nearly as much time worrying about the women so callously described and used in the countless Great American Novels that we have read as we have about Robert?

Exactly. I remember reading as much Hemingway as I could, hoping beyond hope that he eventually wrote something that explored women's psyches beyond "unstable" and "sex object". Same with F Scott Fitzgerald, who I appreciated a bit more – until I found out how he vampirized Zelda. I loved Russian literature in my teens, but was brought to tears at the young women in War & Peace, Natasha Rostova and Sonya. They were my age at the start of the book, and yet their inner and outer lives had so very little resonance with mine. The men's light treatment of them frightened me for my future. Sonya is treated cruelly and basically trashed; Natasha is Tolstoy's version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

palomar: By the end I didn't feel that way anymore, but I guess kudos to you for being so much more evolved than many other women that you never had that feeling at all.

That last bit was unnecessary and undoes your point – I too saw through Robert right away, but what does that have to do with being evolved as a person? Why would our value only be through the reflection of a man, any man?

I've been single for 14 years. There's a cute meme around with a cross woman holding a broken heart and saying, "what if I already met the man of my dreams and told him to fuck off?" that I love because it has such truth to it, and yet like, maybe I did, and yet here I am, still a human on planet Earth. Our value is intrinsic, not mirrored.
posted by fraula at 7:43 AM on December 12, 2017 [16 favorites]


This from the New Yorker interview:

Well, at the end of the story, Robert calls Margot a “whore,” so I hope that most people lose sympathy for him then. But, for most of the story, I wanted to leave a lot of space for people to sympathize with Robert, or at least, like Margot, to be able to imagine a version of him—clueless, but well-meaning—that they can sympathize with.


Yes, so much this. His first response to Tamara's text - where he is polite and apologetic - made me literally sigh with relief. It's OK everyone! He's not a monster after all! Of course, being a man, I didn't immediately realize what was very very likely to happen next.

It's fascinating that this was written by a MeFite, as upon reading it, I didn't feel like it was as grand a revelation as so many people saw it as, but I guess that comes from spending so much time reading similar tales from the women of MetaFilter (and the women that MetaFilter links to). I don't say that to diminish the originality or poignancy of Sock Person Cat Puppet's (fucking nailed it with the sock name, BTW) story - it's a masterpiece in its simplicity and in the way it lays out so elegantly an experience that is so common. It's almost like a beautiful reduction and distillation. I agree that it will (or at least should) become a classic of the genre, and should absolutely be taught to every college student in the country.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:48 AM on December 12, 2017 [8 favorites]


I mean, look, this is the first paragraph of Updike's A&P: "There was this chunky one, with the two-piece -- it was bright green and the seams on the bra were still sharp and her belly was still pretty pale so I guessed she just got it (the suit) -- there was this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose, this one, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn't quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long -- you know, the kind of girl other girls think is very "striking" and "attractive" but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much -- and then the third one, that wasn't quite so tall. She was the queen. She kind of led them, the other two peeking around and making their shoulders round. She didn't look around, not this queen, she just walked straight on slowly, on these long white prima donna legs."

I first read that in, what, middle school? Freshman year of high school? And I remember pretty acutely the revulsion and fear I felt, this realization that--oh!--men (boys) look at you that way, they are constantly rating and ranking you, whether you are "chunky" or "chubby" or a "queen" and this is everywhere in litfic and #notjustlitfic, genrefic, too. Allfic.

I think part of the discomfort with this story, honestly, is not that Margot judges Robert because he's fat, but because she appraises him, which is something that people do with sexual partners! It's not like this is her first description of him as he walks up to her at the concession stand! But it is something we're not used to reading from a female gaze and a female voice and aimed at a nearly middle aged white man, either.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:51 AM on December 12, 2017 [92 favorites]


I think part of the discomfort with this story, honestly, is not that Margot judges Robert because he's fat, but because she appraises him, which is something that people do with sexual partners!

I was mildly uncomfortable with her judgment of him as fat. For me it was not a question of her being allowed to appraise him, because she judges him in some ways and glosses over many, many other things. She's constantly trying to assign good intentions to the things he says and does as she tries to understand him.

As the author says in her interview,
"I have more genuine sympathy for Margot, but I’m also frustrated by her: she’s so quick to over-read Robert, to assume that she understands him, and to interpret his behavior in a way that’s flattering to herself. I think it’s telling that the moment of purest sexual satisfaction she experiences in the story is the one when she imagines what Robert sees as he looks at her: she’s seduced by the vision she’s created of herself—of someone perfect and beautiful and young. So much of dating involves this interplay of empathy and narcissism: you weave an entire narrative out of a tiny amount of information, and then, having created a compelling story about someone, you fall in love with what you’ve created."

That said, I think It's an excellent, thoughtful, disturbing and enlightening essay that should definitely be required reading for all men.
posted by zarq at 9:19 AM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


The part of the story that gave me the most feels was the particular kind of low-level background negging he does throughout the story, where any time she dares to have a trait — even if it's as simple as "living in a specific place" or "having a specific job" — it becomes a target for scorn, so she starts sanding herself down and erasing off of herself as many recognizable traits as possible.

Which. So okay, when I was in middle school everyone thought I was a guy. And my straight-guy best friend did the same kind of relentless negging: any decision I made was the wrong decision, any band I liked became the worst band, any other friend I had became the most uncool person, any boundary I set became the most absurd thing to care about. Reading this story, I recognized that asshole in Robert to an uncanny and unsettling degree. And I recognized in Margot my response to him, which was to always be on the lookout for what the Approved Traits were, so I could erase my stupid shitty traits and have the Approved ones instead, and to take it for granted that with as many shitty traits as I had I would never find a friend I could expect better from.

And, I don't know. Probably if a miracle had occurred and I'd gotten to be a girl in middle school, that guy would have been my abusive boyfriend instead — I mean, if he'd been a boyfriend, he for sure would have counted as abusive. Probably he had girlfriends later in life who he treated the exact same way, and probably he found it awfully convenient that aiming that shit at women stays socially acceptable long after it stops being okay to aim it at men.

I don't think any of this is really news to anyone else. Like, it's almost a cliché that sexual abuse and relationship abuse are really about power and not sex, and that bullying is really about power and not coolness/uncoolness. But seeing my own — fuck it, I'll use the word — my own abuser's habits so clearly written, along with my own reaction, made me feel sick with recognition. And seeing my entire corner of Twitter (and now MetaFilter too) roaring with anger at a fictional stand-in for that fucker is. Um. Scary? But encouraging.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:25 AM on December 12, 2017 [43 favorites]


The part of the story that gave me the most feels was the particular kind of low-level background negging he does throughout the story

Yeah, this. Like: from the very beginning: “You’re getting better at your job,” he told her. “You managed not to insult me this time.” As though he gets to define what is 'better at her job', as though he gets to say that part of her job as basically a minimum wage employee selling candy is to make him feel good about said candy and never to express an opinion. Then, "After the movie, he came back to her. “Concession-stand girl, give me your phone number,” he said, and, surprising herself, she did." He didn't ask for her number in a way where he acknowledged she might not want to give it - he just demanded it. Give me, he said. And that is a constant with the rest of the piece. From the very first paragraphs, we knew who he was, even if she didn't. And yet - nothing is overt, yet. Nothing she can point to and say definitively is /wrong/.
posted by corb at 9:51 AM on December 12, 2017 [26 favorites]


Hey, so this is exactly the first date I had in college (I was 18, he was 27). Fantastic story.

But then again, how do you own a ton of vinyl and apparently not own a stereo?

This is more common than you think. A couple of years ago when I was still at the record store, I sold a grand's worth of new vinyl to late 20s/30-something guy who had just bought a fancy condo and thought it would look good on a shelf. He wanted advice putting together the right collection of titles to impress friends, girls and clients. When I asked him what kind of turntable he had, he admitted he didn't have one that he listened to everything streaming through his Sonos.
posted by thivaia at 10:49 AM on December 12, 2017 [8 favorites]


Take a gander at Updike

You should cause that is the internal monologue of someone you don't want to date.

The guy who brought that in to our informal reading group never got the point. Saw it as validation and there was no talking him out of it. He was totally cheating on his fiance and a couple of us were really troubled but bound by the years.

I showed up for the wedding. The groom did not and I was glad but then it fell on me to explain what I knew and I did. Made her feel not-crazy in front of her parents and that was tough cause they just wanted to push her into the kind of connubial bliss they didn't have. Her dad was looking very uncomfortable.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:03 AM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]




A thing that I find interesting - MonkeyToes linked to this Guardian article over in the MeTa for this story, and the article describes the story as "a simply written tale of Margot, a 20-year-old college student’s sexual encounter with 34-year-old Robert"

If asked to think of 10 loglines for this story, I'd probably get to 9 or 10 before I even mentioned the sex. This isn't a story about a sexual encounter at all to me. It's a story about choices and non-choices, self-identity, the experience of being a woman (particularly young, attractive, presumably white or of white culture, and having at least some means) which can't be uncoupled from sex because that's what women are for, culturally. And that experience of not exactly non-consensual sex but is kind of a shrugged opting-in, that's a thing I'm glad to see being examined but I think it's simply a moment that illuminates the dynamic rather than being the whole of the story. It's a story that takes place over several months all in all, and it's interesting to me that that's the takeaway.

Also, it's super irritating, these headlines like "Cat Person going viral shows how rare it is to explore women’s sex lives" because hey, there is a giant market and universe of fanfic and explicit or erotic romance or erotica going on, with women's (and men's and other genders too) sex lives explored out the wazoo (literally, I suppose) but what (mostly) women read and write is of course invisible except for the occasional viral story that makes it over the wall.

And a postscript: there was a point in the story, when they were texting, that I really hoped this story was about two cats in a hipster suit who were super into Red Vines.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:09 AM on December 12, 2017 [16 favorites]


It's a good question, though: why aren't we talking about Margot more? I guess, gender and our tendency to make stories about men aside, it's because we feel like we understand her implicitly. But do we really? I don't know what Margot wants for herself from this life, other than eventually to have a boyfriend who laughs at things she thinks are funny. She seems to see all of this as the prologue to her Real Story, which is certainly a way I often looked at life as a young adult. But what does she want that story to be about?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:20 AM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


And that experience of not exactly non-consensual sex but is kind of a shrugged opting-in, that's a thing I'm glad to see being examined but I think it's simply a moment that illuminates the dynamic rather than being the whole of the story.

Maybe this is why this story is getting talked about so much. It speaks to different people in different ways. For me, the sex part was where it all came together and was the moment. It's the part that has stuck with me the most and taken me right back to when I was that age. I felt that part physically to the point of nausea because hell, that was me until I figured out what the hell was going on and why I was doing it.
Everything about that part was relatable to the point of pain.
posted by Jalliah at 11:32 AM on December 12, 2017 [6 favorites]


I mainly got that impression from him being physically unable to at several points, and at him trying to perform sex through words and actions in the way that he believes he's expected to.

Do a lot of men actually believe that women, particularly women they barely even know, are very likely not just to want but to expect to hear words like "I've always wanted to fuck a girl with nice tits" in bed? To be tossed around like an inanimate object and abide unilateral declarations of how much we like it? Why? It obviously isn't because they've already asked us what we like. Is it because they've heard and seen similar things in porn? Does that mean a lot of men believe porn is something that can or should be trusted to serve as a reliable (if not universal) example of genuine female desire and pleasure? I don't know what's worse: that men might have actually convinced themselves it is, or that they know very well that it isn't, reenact it anyway, and then just pretend to be confused when they "find out" that the women they're fucking aren't/weren't into it after all.

The whole thing punched me in the gut and left me reeling in a way I'm probably going to be trying to untangle for weeks. A sick sense of dread wedged itself in immediately and crept up to swallow everything exactly like it used to in real life. It's like revisiting a nightmare in slow motion, except it gives me full-on flashbacks to vignettes from my friends' and my own unequivocally non-fictional experiences as young women. I might love it more than any other piece of ostensible fiction I've ever read. It resonates to my bones. Brava.

P.S., for another perspective on the kind of expectations a woman really can have when it comes to interactions of this nature: I don't read the New Yorker, so I don't know what kind of fiction usually appears there, and I went into this piece completely blind. When I got to the line that ends "--but of course there was no such future, because no such boy existed, and never would," I immediately assumed we had arrived at the part of the story where he was actually going to kill her. Good times, good times.
posted by obstinate harpy at 12:11 PM on December 12, 2017 [30 favorites]


kittens for breakfast, I too wonder why we're not talking about Margot more. I'm certainly thinking a lot about her: I can't help but mull over the many resonances between her gendered behaviors and my own.

No doubt, it is uncomfortable to think about her/myself directly in this regard. It's certainly easier to point at Robert as a perpetrator than it is to recognize the ways that I am complicit in my own disempowerment. And yet pointing at Robert offers no way out of the maze that is my own mess of learned female behavior.

A significant power in this story, to me, is that it details Margot's participation in the broken dynamic at play. It doesn't let her off the hook. In that spirit: what can we learn from setting Robert's gross misogyny aside and instead interrogating Margot as the protagonist? Can we place her more fully at the center of this conversation? And in doing so might we perhaps find some access to the very agency that she fails to claim for herself?
posted by marlys at 12:26 PM on December 12, 2017 [11 favorites]


> I don't read the New Yorker, so I don't know what kind of fiction usually appears there

There used to be a standard type (think Updike), but in recent years they've gotten away from it—I don't follow inside-baseball stuff like "Who's the fiction editor at the magazine?" so I don't know who to thank, but it's become a much more interesting mix. I used to routinely skip the fiction in the New Yorker because it was so predictable, but now I almost always read it. (I think it was a Tessa Hadley story that made me think "Whoa, what have I been missing?") I suspect this is of a piece with the much greater prominence of woman authors and reviewers in book review sections (I've been very impressed with the NY Times in that regard). The literate public is tired of the old system, and the wheels are turning, however creakily!
posted by languagehat at 1:55 PM on December 12, 2017 [14 favorites]


That last bit was unnecessary and undoes your point – I too saw through Robert right away, but what does that have to do with being evolved as a person? Why would our value only be through the reflection of a man, any man?

First, can you point to where I said that our only value is to be a reflection? No. Great. I think that undoes your point about how awful my thoughts are, but whatever.

Second, congrats on being another woman who saw through Robert right away! I like how some of my fellow ladies are clamoring to let everyone know that their bullshit sensors are so finely tuned that they didn't have any feelings other than disgust for this fictional guy from the very beginning. Super awesome for you! I'm still over here in the "huh, I struggled with my feelings all the way through that because Robert gave me the willies but I also felt guilty for having those willies riiiiiight up until the end" camp, but maybe someday I'll just be able to decide right away with minimal input that men are trash instead of struggling with wondering if I'm being too harsh on someone who struggles with awkwardness the way I often do.
posted by palomar at 3:13 PM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]


I cannot think of the last time a piece of fiction caused me to be angry at personal friends for not getting it.
posted by PMdixon at 3:15 PM on December 12, 2017 [9 favorites]


I think it would be interesting to see a version of the story with his interior monologue.
Yeah... I take it back.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:25 PM on December 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


Yeah... I take it back.

Ugh this is the worst fanfiction
posted by Feyala at 3:33 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


oh god I want to bleach my eyes.
posted by corb at 3:44 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


It was readable up until the "stand tall" bit. Oof.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:49 PM on December 12, 2017


That McSweeney's piece had me screaming internally, making me think about similar well-intentioned-sounding questions that I'd seen before on r/relationship_advice and on AskMe.
posted by coolname at 5:05 PM on December 12, 2017 [13 favorites]


Yeah... I take it back.

What the hell did I just read one paragraph of and start retching
posted by rhizome at 6:24 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah... I take it back.

I felt like this was actually pretty accurate, while still making Robert look just as unappealing as the original.
posted by bleep at 6:37 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


*I mean accurate to what his thought process probably looked like, not accurate as in "his thoughts were acceptable".
posted by bleep at 6:38 PM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


My friend texted me the link to this story and I read it all in one go on my phone in my office. I felt simultaneously like this story had both taken up residence inside me and that it had crawled out from me to begin with. The residue of a decade's worth of memories distilled into one story - things I thought I had forgot, and maybe wished I had. I felt like I had gone to confession and been absolved. I am very grateful for it.
posted by Aubergine at 9:48 PM on December 12, 2017 [14 favorites]


From McSweeneys: Robert from “Cat Person” Asks for Relationship Advice on Reddit

This is great. That thin coat of polite, well-intentioned decency covering a dark and awful mass of seething resentment, and wearing thin at all the usual points.
posted by Catseye at 4:25 AM on December 13, 2017 [8 favorites]


Such a good story and sadly something I related to way too much based on my recent experience with a "Robert" (I'm 50 and he was only a few years older, though).

My story ended with a text that said 'weak bitch!!' So sometimes things don't get better.
posted by h00py at 5:29 AM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


Post-script: Robert's friend snatched phone, made final rude text.
posted by dgaicun at 10:10 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


I clicked on this story while standing in the middle of a punk show Sunday night, and just sank into it, slowly backing from the crowd, slowly leaning into a booth, then completely losing myself. It must have been horribly ironic in appearances, I looked like the world's most un-supportive date, completely ignoring the band and preferring to stare into my phone.
I agree with the caveats about Robert's weight. I've been in this situation millions of times, with plenty of extremely attractive men who suddenly repulsed me with hygiene issues that could have easily substituted. All in all a great moment in fiction, and a great shared experience in reaction!
posted by complaina at 11:52 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]




The thing that was both enlightening and discomfiting to me was Margot's shifting combination of projection and adjustment as she aligned her assumptions with new information. The way Margot filled in gaps and failed to trust her own ambivalence felt like a lot of first or second dates to me, a guy who did online dating and texted a lot before first dates. I never considered that expectation, projection, and accommodation were so tightly linked, but OTOH I'm pretty sure I said "I feel like I'm not what you expected" on a couple awkward dates where it seemed (in retrospect) like Margot recalibrating in real time.

So, basically: it explained a few surprisingly bad dates for me, where online/text rapport did not result in dating magic. That said, in the story I didn't expect dating magic because Robert was a pretty clear walking, talking red flag. The ending was less a surprise and more "oh, he's exactly what he seemed." Also I don't believe the cats existed.
posted by fedward at 8:22 AM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think, maybe, women aren’t talking about Margot more because we are her. We have been her. To open that up and really look at it is a whole extra layer of work and processing that many of us do not have the strength, time or stamina to do.

I was Margot over and over again until one day I just wasn’t. Just. Wasn’t. Since then I’ve been a ‘bitch’ or a ‘cunt’ or ‘independent’ (will that ever not be intended as an insult?). I suspect it’s the same for many of the women here, so talking about Margot is somewhat redundant.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:01 AM on December 14, 2017 [19 favorites]


I think, maybe, women aren’t talking about Margot more because we are her.

I've been compulsively showering since reading the story and I dread my next water bill.
posted by mochapickle at 9:08 AM on December 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


I think, maybe, women aren’t talking about Margot more because we are her. We have been her. To open that up and really look at it is a whole extra layer of work and processing that many of us do not have the strength, time or stamina to do.

1,000% this. Oh, god. The way "talking about Margot" has manifested in my own life has been literally saying or hearing the words Cat Person when there are women around and then speaking in hushed tones with them about how utterly we have been her, and how quite frankly insane it has felt to watch a story like this go "viral" when we have spent months, years, decades shielding the Margot in us from public view. It's useless talking about her (us) with men around because they do not and will literally never get it. Robert is easier to talk about because at least I don't look at myself in the mirror and see a shadow of him every day.
posted by obstinate harpy at 9:47 AM on December 14, 2017 [23 favorites]


The National Review has published a piece in response, "Dear Cat-Person Girl". For those who can't face actually reading it, Tauriq Moosa has a reaction thread on Twitter.
posted by Lexica at 10:38 AM on December 14, 2017 [9 favorites]


I think the day I decided I was no longer willing to Margot my way through the dating process was, in retrospect, the day I stopped dating altogether. It was an unintended consequence, but I suppose it makes sense that it turned out that way.
posted by Superplin at 10:40 AM on December 14, 2017 [13 favorites]


The National Review has published a piece in response, "Dear Cat-Person Girl". For those who can't face actually reading it, Tauriq Moosa has a reaction thread on Twitter.

This is absolutely incredible. From the National Review piece by Kyle Smith:

"Robert is your seventh sexual partner. You’re 20 years old. Margot, I don’t know what the right number is for you, but seven is too many."

Holy crap.
posted by BibiRose at 3:59 PM on December 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


I am right now, at this minute, thinking about a guy in another department on my floor that we are having to take action on who is a Robert. Middle-aged dude who has been told, by HR and his boss, that his constant pointless chatting up the young girl in our department makes her uncomfortable, to the point of hiding in the bathroom till he goes away, and he is not to speak to her at all. And yesterday he fucking came by again, though he noped off when he saw me coming, the fucker. And yeah, me and my boss already called his boss. I want his ass gone but he's not my report.

Whatever he thinks is happening in those conversations, it has nothing to do with who she really is. And he doesn't care that he's scaring her, only about his fantasy of what that interaction means. She's just a thing he wants to pursue, not a person with her own life.

The fucker. I'm about ready to push his stupid face in.
posted by emjaybee at 4:25 PM on December 14, 2017 [17 favorites]


God damn. The National Review actually paid some guy named Kyle to mansplain Cat Person. I'm kind of reeling.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 7:04 PM on December 14, 2017 [14 favorites]


The National Review actually paid some guy named Kyle to mansplain Cat Person to a fictional character.
posted by salix at 8:17 PM on December 14, 2017 [9 favorites]


I read the self-fetishizing differently - as someone who had a lot of difficulty acknowledging her own active desire for others, definitely up through Margot's age. I'd very thoroughly internalized the "men are active and desire, women are attractive and desired" messages out there, such that I think a big part of me thought feeling pretty and desired by someone else was what sex was about. My own desire for the bodies of others was something I'd barely considered.

I came out as a lesbian and got divorced a couple years ago. The question I've been asking myself this whole time is, "How did I not know? How did it take me this long to figure it out?" This. This right here is why. Thank you, fast ein Maedchen, for so concisely articulating something that's been bothering me for years.
posted by coppermoss at 6:21 AM on December 15, 2017 [19 favorites]


Yes, fast ein Maedchen nailed it for me too. The story brought me a shock of recognition. I went to a women's college, and a lot of us went out with older men, professors or whoever. We would have this kind of bad sex (and the awkward social interaction too) and then recount it to each other, right down to the negative physical details. One of my friends described seeing herself and a guy naked in a mirror and thinking, "Wow, he is really old and I am really young." But mainly we accepted that there would be this differential and that a large part of what we had to offer was youth.
posted by BibiRose at 9:29 AM on December 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


Yep, I had a fling with a 40-year-old when I was about 21, and I remember pressing my finger against his skin and watching how slowly it took to bounce back, feeling a mixture of fascination and revulsion. My number one association with the memory of him, to this day, is "spongy." I didn't have enough experience at that stage to even know what good sex was supposed to feel like, so I was just cataloguing everything, and he was more vocal and enthusiastic about his desire for me than anyone else had ever been. As a result, that got lumped in as something I figured must be part of the "right" way to feel, with my role primarily being that of object.
posted by Superplin at 10:02 AM on December 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


If we're polling, I'm definitely on team "We shouldn't need the end to know who Robert is if we're reading close enough." In addition the the other points about who Robert shows himself to be that have been made above, what really stood out to me was how clear, present, and rationally understood The Implication was starting from when he expressed how he felt about Margot being drunk to get only more clear as the night went on. As in Its All Sunny In Philidephia's Because of The Implication. A context like that where someone would not feel comfortable saying no would be difficult to engineer by accident or unaware.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:09 AM on December 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


You know everything you need to know about Robert once you notice that he never once uses her name.
posted by PMdixon at 10:16 AM on December 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


I don't know whether I hate this story or love this story; all I know is that the first time a dude friend wanted to talk about it with me I became completely enraged and cut the conversation off at the pass.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:43 AM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


By the way--if anyone is interested in more work that explores similar themes to this story then I strongly suggest Her Body and Other Parties. It's a short story collection by Carmen Machado, the author of The Husband Stitch (excellent response to that story here).

A lot of the reviews allude to it being more in the genre of magical realism. This is true, and I mention this because personally, I often find it more difficult to connect to the emotional and social truths within a work that's not Just The Facts, Ma'am. So when I say I find Machado's work to be as disconcertingly incisive and brutally intimate as Cat Person--well, I'm not exaggerating.
posted by schroedinger at 12:34 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Mara Wilson to Kyle Smith (author of the National Review article): You literally wrote a book about being in your twenties and trying to get drunk and have meaningless sex with women
posted by vespabelle at 1:15 PM on December 15, 2017 [15 favorites]


Sometimes I wind up reading or seeing something just because there's so very much buzz about it that I feel like I'm too much out of the swim if I don't. This was one of those times. Having read it, I can understand why it's generating so much conversation.

This story felt very real to me, almost painfully so. I haven't had a single experience that was directly parallel to Margot's, but I certainly saw elements I recognized from when I was in my 20s and didn't yet have the experience to know when something wasn't working or know how to safeguard myself. As a young woman, I very often had weird, maladjusted older guys try to put the moves on me. I've had very brief relationships that had little flashes of fun and connection on which I based hopes that they would develop into something good, but that were mostly just awkward, oil-and-water experiences. I've had awful sex with someone I wasn't attracted to at all because I didn't have the heart to tell him to leave. I've had men be horrible to me after I indicated, much more politely than Margot's roommate's text did, that I wasn't interested in them.

I think this is almost the first time I've ever seen a rendering of a young woman's perspective on a failed brief relationship, which is strange, because I've certainly seen legions of such accounts written from the male perspective. Or maybe, rather than use the word "strange", I should use the word "infuriating". This is what it's like, guys, when you treat us like objects and act as though your feelings and convenience are the only ones that matter, and we consequently don't know how safe we are.
posted by orange swan at 3:58 PM on December 16, 2017 [17 favorites]




‘Cat Person’ Author, Kristen Roupenian, Gets 7-Figure Book Deal -- Good for her!

You forgot to mention she’s Mefi’s own!
posted by Superplin at 2:37 PM on December 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


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