When I adopted my cat from a pet rescue last year I worried about a few things. Was I responsible enough to be a pet owner? Would he settle in ok? What if he turned out to be one of those ferals who bounced off walls and ate my furniture?
But there was one pitfall I didn't predict. Hearing that Hamish was moving in, several people warned: "Be careful you don't become a crazy cat lady."
For single women it seems owning a cat marks the start of a rapid descent into madness and a flat piled high with newspapers and feline faeces. Living alone apparently places you even more at risk of this fate.
I was warned I'd become one of "those" women who withdraws from civilised society to spend her days sweeping up kitty litter and chuckling at YouTube clips of cats in mittens, freaking out at their own reflection.
When I do leave the house, wild-eyed and babbling in gibberish, it will only be long enough to hurl wailing moggies at passing pedestrians, a la Eleanor Abernethy, the crazy cat lady from The Simpsons.
It's a prevailing stereotype that's enough to make even the sanest and most well-groomed cat lover have a hissy fit. While it may be meant in jest, the subtext to the "cat lady" tag is more pointed. Isn't it really just another way of saying "old maid" or "spinster"? The implication is that these women are so sad and lonely they've given up on men and are going slowly cuckoo with only a fleabitten bag of fur for company.
How else can we explain the fact that "cat gentleman" is not part of our everyday vernacular?
It speaks to an underlying suspicion of single women that single men simply don't cop. Calling a woman a cat lady is shorthand for saying there's something a bit strange about her lifestyle. She lives alone. With a cat. What's wrong with her? How long before she's treating the cat like a substitute baby, dressing it in a bonnet and pushing it around in a pram?
Granted, more women are probably cat owners than men but even allowing for that, what about all the single "dog blokes?"
It seems absurd that taking a pampered pooch for a show-pony strut on the beach is somehow more "normal" than a woman hanging out with a pet cat on her couch in the privacy of her own home.
I once dated a guy who was so enamoured with his dog he turned into a baby-talking puff ball whenever the mollycoddled mutt was around. Yet he reacted with abject horror when discovering I shared my home with a self-sufficient, self-cleaning cat, who for the most part minds his own business and would die of shame if I dared to address him with anything less than the reverent tone he deserves.
Perhaps the stereotype endures because some men - and it has been predominantly men who have warned me about becoming a cat lady - feel cats and women are similar creatures, neither of which they fully understand.
Cats defy rationality. They can be aloof, unpredictable and seemingly ruled by other-worldly forces. Cats cannot be controlled, do not crave your attention nor your validation, and have no desire to be needed.
It's not good for a man's ego to feel redundant. Maybe that's why they generally prefer dogs. They can relate to their emotional straightforwardness, their easygoing nature and willingness to cheer up their loved ones when they're feeling down.
Cats, and the ladies who live with them, are a little more difficult to figure out. Dismissing them as crazy is an easy out..
But there's no doubt some cat-loving women make the rest of us look bad. Like this Siberian "cat enthusiast" who lives with 130 feline friends in an apartment where dinnertime looks like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Or my friend's ex who compared the needs of her moggy to those of his child and refused to banish the cat from the bedroom.
Then there's Debbie, who in a video for an online dating site repeatedly breaks down in tears as she talks about her love of cats. "I just love them and I want them, and I want them in a basket, and I want them in little bowties, and I want them to be on a rainbow and in my bed, and I just want a house full of them," she sobs.
Of course, it turned out to be a fake. But this clever publicity stunt went viral, striking crazy cat lady terror into the hearts of men all over the world.
It's time for this moggy malignment to stop. For every Debbie out there, there are 100 perfectly normal cat-owning women who are not starved of human contact, have a wardrobe free from feline fluff and live with cats simply because they're good company and low maintenance.
As for me, contrary to predictions, moving in with a furry friend has not led to a life of solitude. I've never turned down a date to stay home with Hamish and share a tin of Fancy Feast or chase paperclips up and down the hallway, nor do I sing him lullabies at bedtime.
I may be a cat lady but unless my cats start outnumbering my friends you'll find I'm probably just as sane as you.
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