The first living soul I sang a love song to was a Maine Coon cat named Pixel. I was 5 and I was determined that I was going to one day marry that cat. As I grew older and learned that there were laws against that sort of thing, I turned towards humans instead of my fluffy, purring pals — but I never forgot the lessons my cats have taught me about how to be a good girlfriend.
Firm boundaries make good partners
Sometimes my cat really wants to jump in my lap and snuggle, but I have some writing to do and it’s just not a good time to multitask. Other times, I want to kiss his adorable polydactyl toes, but he wants to have a nap in a sun beam. We’re constantly communicating and renegotiating our physical boundaries, allowing each other to have a life separate from our own. Between this freedom, our ability to be clear with each other when the answer is no, and respecting each other’s need for space, we have learned to trust each other. By not being pushy, we’re able to communicate boundaries without unnecessary and stressful escalation.
Learn each others body language
If you’ve ever had a cat, you’ve learned a little bit about nonverbal communication in order the avoid cat pee on your shoes or getting clawed up on your hands. Each ear twitch and tail movement means something about how your cat is feeling and what sort of approach is likely to be effective. This isn’t that different from a partner, to be honest. Observing how your partner moves when they’re depressed, or where they tend to hang out when they want to talk vs when they want alone time, can help you know where is a good place to start in trying to support them. Of course, body language is rarely perfect, so it’s best to use this in conjunction with the verbal boundaries discussed above!
Food is love
I have found that if my cat is swiping at me when I walk by, 90% of the time it’s because he’s hungry. While my wife doesn’t tend to go for batting at my ankles, I have noticed that when she’s a bit short with me, oftentimes it means she’s hungry and a snack will make her feel a lot better. This is also often true about hydration, and sleep. If you and your partner are cranky and you can’t work out why, have a snack, drink some water, and maybe take a quick nap.
There is gentle pleasure in napping together
People rush around for a lot of their lives, going from job to job and task to task. Cats spend a good portion of their day sleeping, really only moving to find a new place to nap. I’ve noticed that, more than any other activity, cuddling together while we nap has been one of the best and most peaceful ways to spend quality time with my cat (or my boyfriend). For humans, a 30 minute nap can be just enough sleep to get you energized for the rest of the day, and it certainly saves you some of the dawdling time! So take a moment to nap with your loved one, enjoying their warmth and presence.
Share in each others interests
Relationships don’t require that both people have the same feelings about every activity and interest, but it’s certainly helpful to enjoy your partner’s enjoyment. I don’t really understand my cat’s love of traipsing through grass and then chewing on it, but by sitting outside with him while he does it, he feels loved and supported by me. Similarly, my boyfriend isn’t that interested in costume dramas, but watching them with me makes me feel cared about… and more inclined to watch Insane Clown Posse videos, which is more up his alley. Compromise is key!
Cats teach humans a lot of useful things with their particular way of moving through the world. Picking up on these simple life skills have helped me be a less anxious, more content girlfriend in my interactions with lovers, and has helped me get my needs met. After all, I’ve barely had to pee in any of my ex’s shoes.