The Unbearable Lightness of Being Alone


What is it about summer that makes all of my friends decide to become pet owners? The reasons vary, from loneliness to boredom, but one friend told me that she was adopting a kitten because she needed a "guard cat" now that all of her neighbors were moving out, leaving her alone in a second-floor walk-up. I could only shake my head as I thought back to that same phase of my own life, when I had my first apartment to myself. I was 22 and single, and tired of going home to an empty home. Somehow I decided that a cat was the answer, and had friends that were a bunch of enablers. So I went to the the shelter and found a cat named Sugar--"because he's so sweet," the assistant said.


So I signed the check, had the chip put in his shoulder, and took him home. He hid under the couch for a while, but when he finally came out, he perched himself on the coffee table and stared at me like he was plotting what to do to me as I slept. It was a look I wouldn't see again for a long time, but one that says everything you fear about your partner is true.


He destroyed the kitchen at night. I awoke to the sounds of breaking dishes and clattering pans, convinced I had a burglar. He howled from behind the bedroom door and woke me by clawing my back. After two days, I knew the relationship was doomed. He was one of those needy types, clingy and desperate. But I've never been one for confrontation, have never liked to end things first. I'll admit, I sometimes give the cold shoulder or retreat, hoping the other party might become bored and disinterested. I'm not proud of that behavior, but it works sometimes. But Sugar was onto me, unfazed and resilient.


Part of me still wanted to make this work. What did it say about me to end the relationship so soon? How could I know it was so wrong if we barely knew each other? I resolved to give it one more try, to see this thing through to the end.

The dealbreaker was the Bathtub Incident. Ingrained in my head, it's that moment that will tarnish all future relationships. I'd come home from a long day at the office and retreated to a hot bubble bath. The door creaked and there was the cat, slinking across the tile, climbing onto the toilet to stare at me. His tail swished and I sank into the water, unfamiliar with the etiquette involved here, unaccustomed to being naked in front of strangers.

I knew what was coming. I recognized the look in his eye. He lept into the bath, claws bared. By the time he was ejected from the water, my skin had more red lines than a road map. His idea of fun wasn't the same as mine. We didn't want the same things. He couldn't respect my privacy. Clearly we weren't meant for each other.

It was over. We both knew it. On the ride to the shelter, he howled the whole way, but whether it was curses or apologies, I couldn't tell. "It's not me, it's you," I said, thinking the least he deserved was a little honesty. He clawed at his cat box in fury. I was banned from adopting ever again, and the clerk gave me that look that your friends sometimes give you after a bad breakup--that look that says, "You just didn't try hard enough." But some partnerships just aren't meant to be, and no amount of trying can change that. It's not a relationship that I think fondly of, but it's one that changed me for the better. Now I know that a little loneliness isn't a bad thing, and it's not a void you can forcibly fill.