Today, a cat crystallized my issues with love and helped me see them more clearly.
I’m currently living in temporary new digs with my friend Melynda, a friend from college, in the Mid-City neighborhood of Los Angeles, and she shares a lovely apartment with two cats, Cally and Captain. Though it’s as if she only shares it with one, because Captain is so afraid of me he doesn’t come out of hiding. I’ve seen him once, though, darting out from behind a curtain to go run and hide under Melynda’s bed, so I know he exists.
Anyway, this afternoon, I was doing some much-needed relaxing after a very stressful month. I sat on the couch for most of the day and caught up on television I’d missed. I also watched Forest Gump and Clueless, because reliving the 90s makes me feel better. Cally, the social, lovey cat was nuzzling me, and climbing all over me, and purring up a storm. I loved it! Normally, I’m not a cat person, because I’m very affectionate, and cats tend to be a bit more standoffish than dogs. But this cat was one of the sweeter, more affectionate cats I’ve ever met, so I nuzzled right back. It got to the point that I’d seek her out to pet her! She’s just so cute and so sweet that I couldn’t help myself.
At one point, she was lying in the sun, you know, the way cats do, and after a while I started petting her again. She loved it at first, and was purring, purring away. Then I kept scratching and petting, and petting and scratching, and she started swatting at me with her paws. When I kept it up, she grabbed my hand with her paws and bit me, so that her tooth dragged along the top of my hand and drew blood.
It was then that the entirety of my failed love life came crisply into focus.
I’m a very enthusiastic person. It’s always been my nature. Whenever there’s something I care about, I care about it fiercely. It’s all I think about, or all I want to do, or talk about, or think about. It’s why I’m a geek, after all. Geek Culture is an entire subculture for people like me, who love things so passionately that they need to take it apart, examine it closely, prod it, poke it, buy the merchandise, and incorporate it into their lives in a way that other people don’t. This is not a bad thing!
However, that kind of enthusiasm is a very different thing when it comes to individual people. I don’t have much of a dating history, mostly because there haven’t been very many guys I’ve actually liked. In the past, I didn’t really like very many people. But when I did? Oh, MAN. I carried torches for YEARS. I chased the first boy I ever liked in kindergarten into the boys’ bathroom to kiss him, and he was terrified. I’ve only genuinely been in love (or thought it was love – I’m not sure it was now. I’ll let you know if I ever feel it again for real.) twice in my life, and both times it was unrequited, and both times bad things happened that involved either fighting or crying (or both) and ultimately ended in the guys in question leaving the state or country! I’m not so full of myself that I think their leaving was entirely my doing, but the pressure I was putting on them certainly didn’t help. Even the guys I’ve been interested in that I didn’t love passionately I’ve been so giddy about that I’ve tended toward pushiness. I’ve pursued and over-flirted. I was so insecure that I had to force myself to make any move at all, but once I started I didn’t know how to rein it in. I haven’t been a good flirt, mostly because my enthusiasm so clouded my judgment that I never learned how to do it in a sophisticated way. Truth be told, I was a bit like Elmira on Tiny Toon Adventures:
The point is, I saw the pattern exactly for what it is today. It’s something I’ve probably always known deep down, but didn’t want to (or couldn’t) do anything about. I think the reason I could see it now, the reason why a cat’s actions today could knock some sense into me, is because I’ve been changing and so probably ready to learn it. These days, I’ve liked more people, and when I have it’s been more moderate. Less “OMG, TERESA + SO-AND-SO = 4EVA” and more “He’s really cool. I’d love to spend more time with him.” I’ve been a better flirt. Or rather, I haven’t thought about flirting. I’ve only thought about being my best self and letting the chips fall where they may. I mean, there was one moment a couple of months ago (I was tipsy) when I fell back on old habits…but that triggered a mini-meltdown that forced a pretty big shift in my thinking. I was now New Teresa, and New Teresa couldn’t stomach the mistakes of her past. It was as if my body was telling me “Nooooooo! Stop it!”
And so today, a cat scratches me, and I totally get it. And I apologized to the cat. (I always talk to animals on the off chance that they’ve picked up human languages and just haven’t told us. I know. Shut up.) And later, after it sulked in the corner of the couch for about an hour, it started nuzzling me again, and I let her. And when she stopped, so did I.
It isn’t up to me to force someone to receive affection they don’t want or need. All I need to do is let it be known that I’m someone in whom they have a willing source of it. Once I’ve made that known, I need to step back, and if they want it, they’ll come. Enthusiasm isn’t a bad thing, but neither is knowing when it’s inappropriate. Sure, it’s taken me a while to learn this lesson, but learn it I have. Even if it took me longer than “more intelligent life forms:”
And to the guys I’ve chased away, or otherwise freaked out, I’m sorry. Truly. I wasn’t actually crazy, just overly-enthusiastic. I’m still enthusiastic about a lot – I think one of my better qualities is that I find so much joy in so many things – but I’ve learned that this doesn’t translate to people. I’ve gotten better at not imposing my feelings about people onto them. We’ll see if this leads to one of them, eventually, coming back to nuzzle me. And if not? Well, at least I’ll have my dignity, and that’s something to be enthusiastic about!