I have a brand new source of love and gratitude in my life…
Between daylight savings time and election stress this week, I feel like we all need a little break right now. So instead of tackling anything too heavy, I want to tell you about something incredibly joyful in my life: my cat, Walden.
Now listen, if you don’t want to hear about my relationship with my cat, I get it. Feel free to skip this one and tune back next week!
But sweet little Walden has been one of the most consistent sources of joy, pleasure, and comfort for me over the last year (and over the last few weeks particularly!) and I spend a lot of my time at home just agog at what this relationship has become.
So to give you a little background, let me start by saying that I grew up with pets, including cats, dogs, lizards, rabbits, and a nasty old bird. But while most people who love animals say things like “oh it’s because we had a dog growing up…” or whatever, I felt exactly the opposite. I never connected with any of our many pets on any kind of personal or emotional level, and none of them ever “made it into my heart,” as it were.
I remember when I was doing a student exchange program in Chile at eighteen years old, and my mom called me to tell me they were putting our dog down. She was clearly so worried about how I was going to take this news, especially since I couldn’t “be there to say goodbye,” that she seemed fully prepared for me to fall apart.
But I genuinely wasn’t sad or upset. I actually didn’t feel anything. I didn’t care at all, because as far as I was concerned, Missy had just been a sad, gross, stinky dog who lived in our house. She wasn’t family, and I didn’t love her.
You might find this story horrifying, and I get that. I myself even questioned my own coldness toward and disinterest in animals— does this mean I’m a sociopath?! I don’t want to hurt animals or anything, I just… don’t get the appeal, either.
Granted I did have some legitimate blocks to “getting the appeal,” including a severe cat allergy, and a bad experience living with a violent pitbull who would trap me in my room and bite me. But beyond that, I just figured I’m not an animal person, and that was that.
Then, only a few dates after meeting my partner Drew, I found out he was living in a small apartment in LA with three cats.
I swear to god, I almost broke up with him on the spot. “Three cats??” I thought. “That’s so many cats. What kind of dude has that many cats?! Obviously there is something very wrong with him. And how will we ever hang out without me breaking out in hives??”
Luckily I gave Drew (and his cats) a chance however, because they were Siamese cats, and as it turns out, I’m only a teeny tiny bit allergic to Siamese cats. So even though I maintained a hard line on never wanting to have animals in my own home, I was able to pet his cats without dying, and to enjoy how soft and cute they were.
Fast forward to the pandemic, and Drew and I were moving across the country to live with family for a while, and figure out our next step together. He sent his kitties to live with his parents in Miami, we eventually bought a house in Asheville, and that was that.
But then—and I don’t remember when it happened—there came a point where I realized that, while I really don’t want to have children, I do have this stupid biological need to hold something small and cute.
So I told Drew that we either get a cat, or I might lose the war against my biology.
Three cats still seemed like way too many, plus I was more allergic to his cat Circe (pronounced “Sur-see”), who was attached at the hip to her brother Harper. So we decided to bring the third, and more independent, cat Walden to our home in Asheville.
I don’t know what I was expecting, really. I thought he would be cute I guess, and nice to pet or hold sometimes, but I never imagined he would so dramatically change my life or my heart.
But for months and months, I just found myself smiling or giggling every time I encountered Walden somewhere in the house. Walk into a room and see him curled up in a blanket? Delightful. Accidentally spook him so he goes zooming away like a maniac? Hilarious. Hearing him announce that my partner is coming to bed by meowing his little head off from the time Drew starts brushing his teeth to the time he turns off the light? PURE JOY.
(And mind you, I was battling depression this whole time, so suddenly having a never-ending source of happiness was even more astonishing.)
When Walden started incorporating me into his routine, I started falling in love. It melted my heart that would seek me out specifically for belly rubs during early mornings in bed, and evenings on the couch. It cracked me up that he would literally just wait, like a fussy little prince, for me to sit or lay in the position he preferred, or to use the blanket he liked best, before arranging himself in my lap. And it blew my mind to see how much unique personality a cat could have, and how clearly he was communicating with us.
This was a brand new experience for me: we were really building a relationship. Walden turned Drew and I into a family, he made me a cat person, and he became a treasured friend.
It was so strange to me to discover that falling in love with an animal is exactly the same as falling in love with a human: it happens through repeated moments of connection, understanding, affection, joy, and pleasure. (At least that’s been my experience.)
Every juicy shared experience seems to bring Walden and I closer, so that I am continuously surprised to discover I love him more now than I did last week. In fact, when Drew and I got back from a weekend trip to Colorado a few weeks ago, Walden was obviously so happy to see us again that I feel more connected and in love than ever.
Will this go on forever, I wonder?
Do people love their pets in peaks and valleys like they love their friends and families, or is it different, because a pet can’t hit your triggers and defenses the way a human can? My partner can make me feel insecure, rejected, or abandoned, for example, and I find myself connecting more with certain friends during certain phases of life… but Walden is unlikely to ever do anything but just be my friend, and make me happy.
A dear friend and client lost her cat recently, and she described it as “the purest form of grief,” for exactly this reason. Because a relationship with an animal is just as powerful as a relationship with a human–the bond is just as strong, the feelings are just as deep–but loving an animal isn’t nearly as scary, vulnerable, or complicated as loving a human. It’s just there, stable and joyful, for a lifetime.
And for me, this experience is so new, so astounding, that I am grateful for it every single day.
I hope my story, and photos of Walden, make you smile… and that you, too, have a daily source of joy and gratitude in your life.
PS: Are you struggling with body image or business? I’m available to take on one or two new private coaching clients, so apply here if you want to work with me this winter! (Basic package is $850/month.)