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.