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As much as I admire The Economist and Prospero's notebook, I think this review is wrong headed. Robert is not faulty for not being clairvoyant; I don't believe Ms. Roupenian expects anyone to be so intuitive (indeed, that level of familiarity between two adults is so uncommon, that's why Margot knows her dream boyfriend will never really exist).
Robert's big problem is that he's thirty-five and still very much a man-child, although most children have more empathy than Robert displays. Neither clairvoyance nor intuition is necessary to know that the condescending the he does to Margot is just rude (consider the way he dismisses her choice of bar, belittles her education, and teases her for snobbishness which we as readers never actually see. The last part is like a Freudian slip: this is a man who is so insecure that he has to put down others around him as preemptive coping mechanism for rejection). Even without considering the way he treats Margot, think about the way he lives. He has a house, with minimal furnishings, and a barren bedroom save a mattress and a laptop. This is the kind of house a thirteen-year old might keep, but eventually grow out of (I won't go into detail, but I think that also explains the sex scene). Let me dwell on the insecure immaturity that I think is much closer to the heart of Robert than anything as quaint as ineptitude. Doesn't the way he clings to this, the way he winds up at the college bar he once scoffed and the torrent of text messages which follow - doesn't it all seem a bit, disproportionate? Excessive, maybe? Methinks the man-child doth protest too much...
Is Margot guilty of letting romantic dreams of what could be get the best of her? Could the whole awkward, then ugly, episode have been avoided if she were more direct? Sure. But one character clearly behaves worse than the other, and I think that's the takeaway.
vlh3IM writes: "the condescending the [sic] he does to Margot is just rude (consider the way he . . . teases her for snobbishness which we as readers never actually see." You're too kind, vlh3IM. We don't see it because the writing is glib and incomplete. But you seem to be okay with that. Look at your last sentence: "But one character clearly behaves worse than the other, and I think that's the takeaway." Of course it's the takeaway if you want to believe the only thing that matters is the "she said" and let the writer slide for trying to pass off a cardboard cliche as a flesh and blood character. So, she dated a jerk. Done. One look at the photo that accompanies the story in the New Yorker tells you that.
I'm trying to remember what I thought about "Cat Person" when I read it a week ago. It's mostly the photo that accompanies the story in the New Yorker magazine that has stuck with me. It's pretty gross. A guy with a hipster beard kind of up close gross. In writing, that's called cheating. It's basically telegraphing to the reader what the writer wants the reader to think about the two characters: a fair-skinned maiden and the halitosis-bearing beard-wearing dude. Again, photos are cheating in fiction writing. Poor form New Yorker magazine. Expect better from you literary standard bearers. The writing was deeply forgettable. Honest. Kind of like what you might read on the side of a cereal box. It had a young adult vibe to it. In any case, none of this matters. "Cat Person" (whatever that means) has been given more publicity than the current president of the United States. That's saying something. But not much, really.
I read it. It's a good story but I didn't find it riveting. It does feel like the author drew on personal experience but it feels like some parts are stitched together that didn't quite fit neatly. In particular, the final series of tweets ending in "whore" didn't seem to fit with Robert's character up until that point, although those tweets clearly seem inspired by real life.
In the first half of the story, Robert is like a suave pickup artist, but if that were so he wouldn't care about her ghosting him afterwards, he would just go pick up someone else.
The other thing that I don't understand is how this piece is so topical. I get that it is story about a woman who had bad sex out of a feeling that it would be easier to go through with it than say no, but never did it feel that Robert was anything other than a clumsy loser. It would have been better if he had been just slightly more powerful, then her fear at rejecting him would feel more natural.
I think the final texts when she ghosts him and he calls her a "whore" are possibly what pushed this piece viral.
ink it's a great story.
Both characters are stereotypes of what people hate about the opposite sex. Margot strings Robert along with lie after lie; she's attracted to his need and vulnerability; during sex she's shallowly judging him for his hairiness and his paunch and the firmness of his erection, and fantasizing about how fun it'll be to tell her friends how bad he is in bed; afterward she breaks his heart in perhaps the most hurtful way possible, and then engages in false and malicious gossip about him with all her friends. (She's such a perfectly terrible person that I wouldn't have found her believable if the author hadn't told the story from her point of view.)
Robert, meanwhile, is following the pickup-artist's playbook to a tee, targeting a woman much younger than him, negging her, constantly making her feel like she has something to prove; when she goes on a date with him, he repeatedly finds ways to throw her off-balance, as well as deliberately getting her drunk; after she breaks up with him he stalks her, harasses her, and engages in hateful name-calling. (Sadly, I find his own terribleness all-too-believable.)
And yet, both are also victims. It's most obvious during the sex itself. Margot is disgusted, hating herself, regretting it, loathing every minute of it, just waiting for it to end--but doesn't know how to say "no" or "stop". As for Robert, he switched from the pickup-artist script to the porn-movie script, putting on music and trying desperately to "perform", even though presumably he'd get more out of the kind of clumsy, sloppy, funny sex that normal non-porn-star people have--and anyhow, what he actually wants is a serious relationship, which is something the scripts he's following just aren't capable of producing. By the end of the story, she's scared and he's hurt; each blames the other for what went wrong, and neither has learned the lessons they need to keep it from happening again.
In many such instances of fornicator's remorse these days "Robert" ends up with jail time and/or a lifetime sexual offender designation. One such accused in Alberta recently spent 2 years in custody before being acquitted.
Gonna be that insufferable killjoy who suggests that maybe this is what you get when you treat sex, with all it enormous significance -- biological, chemical, emotional, interpersonal, social -- like some sort of anything-goes community sports league, where the rules are vague, the referees non-existent, the prizes are mediocre at best, and yet somehow the states are enormously high.
Speaking of "seedy encounters with cat people" it looks like there's been a bit of hanky-panky going on around our bird feeders:
Acknowledging that we have no view into what "Robert" was thinking, while getting a first person view of everything "Margot" thought and even judged herself by, I was struck by the classic sterotype that men do not have the introspection about conversation and intent that women do. And many of them don't - I didn't start thinking through coversational interactions until I was out of my 20's and married. How obvious our society - fails to teach men these vastly important interpersonal skills, is it such that the outcome of so many unintellegent and disrespectful conversations with men teaches women these required skills? Is it self preservation? A natural inverse consequence?
A hypothesis - the recent elevation of this kind of miserable view of sexuality is a symptom of a deepening neurosis in Western societies, manifesting as a kind of neo-Victorian anti-sex panic.
At this point, I expect the already declining fertility rate (well below replacement) of secular Westerners to fall even further. We have become a society that is so neurotic it can't even be bothered reproducing itself anymore.
I like the "neo-Victorian" reference. It rings very true more generally about our Western society currently.
I find your comment interesting, because of I have been thinking a lot about Victorian values lately.
Courting rituals were baroque and excessive, but on light of recent events, perhaps not entirely pointless.
If you think abou it, this mess we are currently living with might be the results of:
1) a change in values, in which young people revolted against their parents, and old institutions like the church, by demistifying sex and dating, and;
2) the incorporation of women in the workforce.
If in older times, men were taught to reveal their intentions to women, and follow strict courtship rules, but that changed in the sixties, when sex an dating evolved to become spontaneous and uncomplicated. That in itself might have been enough to complicate things.
Now imagine that “let’s see what happens” attitude, with men and women working next to each other in massive numbers for the first time in history, and we have what we have now: men and women interacting each other, and with fuzzy rules in which you often can’t tell if you are at the beginnings of your own “meet cute” moment, or of nasty sexual harassment litigation.
To be honest, dialing the clock a little bit, to give a little more structure to dating might not be a bad idea, and the only way yo get our of this mess.
I read the story, "Cat Person," and what struck me was the absence of any male friends - especially "older" male friends (over 20 but under 30) that the character could reach out to and "reality test" her impressions of Robert. Indeed, in any of the stories about Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, etc., weren't there any men to call out the overall "weirdness" of their behavior? Let's face it - it is not normal to "take it out" on a date (there's a "Seinfeld" episode about this very thing). Men have a role to play in helping to identify strange behaviors which, to a 20-year old college student (or production assistant) occur in a vacuum. For me, a 34-year old single man living with two cats - one named "Mu" ('nothing') and "Yan" ('black') sets off alarm bells.
To broaden mans voice on such subjects, lets stick to nonfiction. But, ..
Though I find the encounter more seedy than interesting; Breakfast at Tiffany's, Stand by Me, several others started as novellas ...
I wonder if she would have found herself in that situation per-texting? Therein, is a social commentary that one would believe the New Yorker would be exploring; from a rugged US Midwestern middle-aged males voice.
If I remember well, the point on the story at which Margot decides that she does not want to have sex with Robert is this:
--- "Margot sat on the bed while Robert took off his shirt and unbuckled his pants, pulling them down to his ankles before realizing that he was still wearing his shoes and bending over to untie them. Looking at him like that, so awkwardly bent, his belly thick and soft and covered with hair, Margot recoiled. But the thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming; it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon." ---
I might be wrong, but from the description I get that she basically does not find him physically attractive. Big, hairy belly awkwardly hanging down. I wonder what she would have thought if he would have had an athlete's torso...
"Cat Person" is an interesting tale. Not brilliantly written but on the track of our culture's traducing of the demanding ideal of erotic love. It was beaten to it, however, by S.Kadison. See, for example, "Riding Like Lance Armstrong" in the collection "The Diplomat's Daughter."
I remember the scene when dating last, and I can only say, I am so happy to be completely DONE with it, being very happily remarried. It was confusing, torturous, unpleasant, even painful. I would never want to do courtship ever again.
Very very nice piece from Prospero. Timely and topical. Congrats!
I read all the embedded links.
I have no idea whether E.B. is a man or a woman. But the last sentence is totally right, IMHO: "...the conversation about sex and power needs to broaden to include the voices of men, too."
If for no other reason, much of what goes on in the material the article and embedded links address is not about which gender is ALL right, and which ALL wrong. There is no such thing as one side is ALL right and the other side is ALL wrong in gender politics. Something goes awry in the communication or fudging of communication on the way to bed. BOTH sides are responsible in this two-way dyad. That is the nature of a dyad.
Personally, I think a girl should NEVER get drunk (even a little bit drunk - there is no such thing as "a little bit pregnant") in a one-on-one with a guy. That act alone is indefensible.
AND, a gentleman will not encourage a girl to get drunk, no matter how horny he is. Why would a gentleman want to have sex with a half-conscious thing? Something is per se wrong with him right there.
When you have both gal and guy breaching that basic rule on a date, no amount of "victim playing", on whichever side, will salvage, or remedy, the mess.
I am genuinely shocked that the second most recommended comment on this article suggests that it is 'indefensible' for a woman to consume alcohol when alone with a man.
If this argument suggests that it is so unsafe for a woman to be alone with a man after just a glass of wine then surely the immediate action required should be to take urgent measures to combat male aggression and offer greater protections to women rather than just denying women basic liberties.
so, i get that the story is about a woman and a man and their experiences, choices, feelings (or trying to comprehend one's feelings) but as i read it, there's nothing 'hetero' about it. the same feelings, complexities, choices, and so forth apply regardless of the people involved. perhaps not the bra thing if its two men, but certainly if it's two women. imo, the story isn't about the sex, its about everything else, the sex just happens. and then its about what you do with that, if anything.
I haven't read 'Cat Person', but from the synopsis, it seems the protagonist went through a rather normal young-person process of finding out what she likes in life. It's a process that always involves some trial and error.
But the horror and the disappointment! - the man had a hairy belly!!!
I think the problems (in part) start right there - people (especially ladies) have this ideal way relationship goes which is rather far from reality. The bad thing is: the problems with sex and its abuse are not going away till men and women stop procreating and remove this feature from their bodies. I am sure however that if humanity survives that (???) there will be other forms of abuse that poor and attractive will be forced to endure from rich and ugly (forced foot massage?).
As the author of the article points out this is largely the women's moment to address the wrongs they have suffered for a very long time. When things finally settle out, and this may take some time, my question is where do we go from here? How do we reach a new understanding where both women and men are respected and valued? Looking at our media is no help, the stories they tell are at best poor characterizations of the relationship between men and women. In fact they are probably part of the problem in that they set up false expectations.
I think part of the problem is that we lack a way to talk about what we want, we are afraid that truly expressing our desires will 'kill the moment.' The entire dating situation is made up of partially expressed feelings, missed signals, a wariness of letting one's guard down and in too many cases, outright lies. The abuse of women by powerful men points up a problem that the existing system is not working very well. It is time for a reboot, perhaps the current crisis will be the impetus for that.
So, she decides to flirt with him; ok, end of story....oh, wait a minute, she then decides to exchange phone nos. and texts; ok, end of story...oh, wait a minute, she then decides to go on a date; ok, end of story...oh, wait a minute, she then decides to get "tipsy", ok, end of story..oh, wait a minute, she then decides to go back to his place; ok, end of story...oh, wait a minute, she then decides to have sex with him...but it's boring, unfulfilling and doesn't live up to her fantasized expectations; so, she regrets the whole experience...conclusion - he was " a much older man who should have known better "...time to file a sexual harassment (assault) claim!...
And if you think this story is depressing, wait till you over 40. The single women over that age go "man hunting." They'll sleep with anybody who has a pulse. The men say, "Women are like dog turds: The older they get, the easier they are to pick up."
Enjoy your romantic notions of wine and bouquets while you're young, because it's not going to last.
Here, by the way, is the most romantic song that was on the air when I was growing up in the 70's: SOFTLY WHISPERING I LOVE YOU by the English Congregation: