“There are two means of refuge from the misery of life — music and cats.” ~Albert Schweitzer
I’ve learned a lot about life and love and relationships from my cat.
(Stay with me here. I know it seems like this is just going to be a story about how I turned into a cat lady and started obsessing about my feline friend, but it’s not. I promise.)
About 8 years ago, I was living alone in a tiny studio apartment, having spent the past year getting over a rather terrible breakup, which also included a rebound relationship that led to an even more terrible breakup — breakup city, folks — followed by months of angst and crying and feeling horribly lonely in my 400 square foot palace.
So, I did what any Portlander would do in that situation. I got a cat.
Yep. A cat.
Reluctantly at first. Because I was at this time in my life absolutely not a cat person. Like at all. I had been decidedly anti-cat, in fact, from a relatively young age — partially because my parents had a bias against them and partially because I had a friend in middle school whose obsession with her cats made me think they were capable of brainwashing. (Which, truth be told, they might be.)
And yet, in my post breakup within a breakup haze, I allowed little Sammy Poptart to bewitch me with the undeniable adorableness of her existence. I took one look at her and melted. She was the tiniest, most cuddly, most wonderful creature I had ever laid eyes on.
And having been rescued from an alley as a newborn, she needed me. And I needed to be needed. We were the perfect(ly dysfunctional) match. I pictured a life of snuggles and spooning and kitten kisses and cuteness. I could not wait.
Except that here’s the thing about cats (a thing I didn’t fully understand until much later):
They do whatever the fuck they want.
Have you ever tried to train a cat? It’s hilariously impossible most of the time. Because these little princes and princesses don’t want to be told what to do. They want no part of your plan and your rules and your sleep schedule and your desire for them to not turn everything in sight into their personal scratching post.
And they will love you when they love you and they’ll sit in your lap and purr sweetly, but they might also randomly decide you’re a horrible human and then want nothing to do with you for hours or days or weeks.
Your cat might also suddenly stage a hunger strike when she decides she doesn’t like chicken or salmon or beef and will only eat the super expensive, raw food you buy her if it is made solely out of pork. And even then she’ll eat with an attitude (catitude?) and an air of, “This is the best you’ve got?”
The first few months Sammy and I were together, I was a bit of a wreck. Because she was keeping me up at night with her antics and her moods were seemingly erratic and I was fairly certain she hated me at least half the time.
- I clearly didn’t understand cat behavior, and
- I had not yet learned the fine art of not taking everything so personally (AKA: Not everything is about you, Cayly).
Over the past several years, Sammy and I have come to a bit of an understanding about things.
Which basically means I have learned to stop thinking I can control her. Because nope.
And as silly as it might sound, figuring out that I can’t even exercise control over a tiny, 7-lb cat is a pretty good lesson about letting go of a bunch of other stuff I like to think I can control but can’t.
Which includes other people. Like partners and family and friends.
I’ve realized that Sammy’s changing desires around snuggling — namely, that sometimes she wants to be all up in my business and other times she wants to get as far away as possible from my person — really have nothing at all to do with me. (A girl needs her alone time, you know?)
And this observation about Sammy has been surprisingly helpful for then realizing that most of what’s going on with the humans in my life is probably mostly not about me either.
What? I know. But I promise you this is likely true in your life, too.
People are generally too caught up in their own shit to pay that much attention to yours.
These are just the facts, folks.
Other lessons I’ve learned from Sammy include:
- Don’t apologize for your desires.
- And yet: Check your expectations at the door to make sure they’re not outrageously unfair to others.
- But also: It’s ok to have high standards.
- Don’t put all your happy-making eggs in another person’s (or cat’s) basket.
- Which basically means: Take responsibility for your own life. Also, your own happiness.
- And finally: Own your weirdness and your eccentricities and your awkwardness. Because that is where your magic lies.
The overarching moral of this circuitous cat story is that you are in charge of you. And trying to control anything external to you is like trying to train a cat.
(See also: A mostly futile endeavor.)
All that energy you’re wasting trying to control all the not-you things in your life could be much better spent elsewhere.
And surrendering in this way is surprisingly liberating, you guys. Even for a recovering control freak like me.
Try it. And if you need help learning how to loosen your death grip on life, might I suggest a feline friend? These creatures really know how to show you who’s boss.
(Hint: Not you.)
So, here’s to relinquishing control and freeing up some space to create much cooler things. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.