How To Stay Positive About Dating After "Cat Person" Experiences

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

The "Cat Person" short story, published in The New Yorker's Dec. 11 issue, did something very few fictional stories about dating have done — it went viral. In the story written by Kristen Roupenian, Margot meets Robert at the movie theater she works at. After some brief flirting, they exchange numbers and have a few awkward text exchanges before finally going on an uncomfortable date and having bad sex. When Margot isn't interested in meet again, Robert turns nasty. And although the story is well-written and engaging, the reason it went viral comes down to one major factor: It's something that deeply resonated with young women who date men. Between overthinking text message conversations and having sex that you're only really having because you don't want to make a fuss and say no, there's so much in this story that captures the gender dynamics in dating today.

"I thought the story was great and very relatable to young women dating today," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. "The nasty twist at the end where he’s trying to reach out to her and get her to respond was the most shocking part. It’s a disturbing window into some men’s mixed up and hostile feelings toward women. He wants her and feels rejected but can’t sit with those bad feelings so ends up putting them on her by calling her a whore. It’s particularly disturbing right now given our current conversation about sexual harassment and abuse."

It shows so many of the negative sides to modern dating. Some of them you may hear about all the time, like being led on via text message, overthinking things, or romanticizing someone you don't really know. But the more provocative moments in the story were the dating experiences that we don't talk about as much, like pressure to go out with someone again, feeling obligated to act a certain way, and having sex you don't really want to have. The upsetting thing is how many women found passages like this one true to life.

It wasn’t that she was scared he would try to force her to do something against her will but that insisting that they stop now, after everything she’d done to push this forward, would make her seem spoiled and capricious, as if she’d ordered something at a restaurant and then, once the food arrived, had changed her mind and sent it back.

She tried to bludgeon her resistance into submission by taking a sip of the whiskey, but when he fell on top of her with those huge, sloppy kisses, his hand moving mechanically across her breasts and down to her crotch, as if he were making some perverse sign of the cross, she began to have trouble breathing and to feel that she really might not be able to go through with it after all.

When you're reading the story, you feel bad that Margot's in this uncomfortable position, but the reality is that so many women have been in this exact position. I've had sex because I felt like it would be making too much of a fuss to not go through with it. I've looked at myself in the mirror in the morning and wondered how I could go for someone who made me feel so bad about myself. I've been Margot, and if you've been there too, it's natural that you might feel a little down right now.

So, whether it's an awkward text message exchange that goes nowhere or having someone call you a whore because you don't want to see them again, remember that this isn't all there is out there. It's easy to feel like the dating world is full of nothing but cat person after cat person, but it's not. Here's how to stay positive and use those kind of experiences in the future.

1Think Of It As A Learning Opportunity

If you have a bad date experience, try not to spiral into gloom. Instead, focus on what you would do differently — like remove yourself from a date before when you start to feel uncomfortable or when you start to realize that there's nothing there. Think of bad date experiences as lessons in how you want to be treated. You know that you won't put up with certain things again and you can put yourself forward as a confident woman who knows what she wants. You have autonomy in your dating life, and that's an amazing feeling.

2Remember That So Many Of Us Have Been There

It's also crucial to remember that you are not alone. "Ever go on a date when you really didn't want to go?" Licensed clinical psychotherapist Dr. LeslieBeth Wish tells Bustle. "Ever kiss someone — not like it — regret it — but kiss some more? Or — the jackpot — have sex with someone — and then regret it — but continue the contact for a while at least? Sound familiar? Welcome to the world of women— and of nice people, in general."

It's complex, but Wish explains why we do it. "Most of us decent-enough people don't like to hurt the feelings of others. And when we do, we take way too much responsibility for whatever happened," she says. We just take being nice too far.

Way too many of us have been in situations similar to Margot, but it's not our fault. Sometimes we go seeking things for the wrong reasons, so don't feel like you're the only person who has done something they regret or fallen for someone they shouldn't. How else do you learn? Chalk it up to life lessons.

3Set Up Boundaries For Next Time

The uncomfortable sex scene in "Cat Person" is a great example of how we do things we don't want to do because we feel obligated. We feel like we can't hurt their feelings or take up the emotional room in the conversation that we deserve. We take responsibility for how everyone else feels in a situation instead of taking care of ourselves. But it's so important to remember that you deserve to be comfortable and you deserve to take up space.

You can say "no" to anything in your life, at any time. When I started being more frank about how I was feeling and what I wanted, my whole dating life transformed for the better. You can be the agent in your own story. There's power and comfort in that.

4You'll Be Able To Focus On The Good Ones

Finally, you can use your "Cat Person" radar. Sure, Margot may not be a perfect character, but that doesn't change the fact that Robert is an insecure jerk that too many of us have dated. It's just a good reminder to listen to your gut feelings. Sure, you've had to deal with it in the past, but now you can see them coming. You can see the first signs of someone being narcissistic before you get too involved and, instead, you can focus your energy on people that make you feel good and cared for. There are people out there who you will have fun with, who will build you up, and who will make you laugh.

"Cat Person" may have women around the world letting out a slightly depressed sigh of recognition, but these experiences don't have to leave you down about dating. Think of them as growth opportunities and a reminder to take charge in your own life.