When I first brought home my cat, a beautiful, silver bengal I named Alexei, he was six months old. Like most cats, when he wasn’t sleeping or bathing, he loved to sit in windows and watch the world. Because we also had a porch at the back of the house whose stairs had been removed, I thought he would jump at the chance to be able to get outside while I would not have to worry about him getting loose.
So not too long after he began his visits out to the porch, he came to the sliding glass doors asking to be let inside. That’s when I noticed he had something in his mouth. As he attempted to cross the threshold, I realized he was holding a black bird in between his teeth. He was hoping to bring the bird in to show him off to his mom so I could tell him what a good boy he was. I quickly praised him while redirecting him back onto the porch, but not before a few black feathers fell to the kitchen floor. Poor bird.
To be quite honest, I was astonished that my little, inexperienced kitten had managed to capture a live bird while he was just playing around on the porch. I tried to envision the scenario: maybe the bird had broken a wing and somehow landed on the railing of the porch and Alexei quickly leaped up and grabbed him. Or maybe the bird was severely dim-witted and was just sitting somewhere on the porch with his back to the house, not realizing that a hunting cat was sneaking up right behind him. At any case, I concluded it was sheer luck that my cat was able to catch him.
As Alexei grew into a full-size cat, he proved his skills as a mouser in the basement and garage. I learned when he had a certain shifty look in his eyes, I’d better examine his mouth for “gifts” he was looking to bring to his master (er, mistress?) However, when I did finally trust him to take him outside for walks, he proved to be incredibly hopeless as an outdoor hunter.
This was great with me because it meant less carnage of innocent animals. Yet I must admit a part of me felt embarrassed for him as he noisily galloped through leaves trying to “sneak” up on some birds in the woods behind our house. If, for some reason he got out and had to fend for himself in the wild, how would he possibly be able to survive out there? What good were those razor claws and lethal canines if he only practiced using them while “play fighting” with me?
Yesterday, I let him outside for a nice, leisurely walk around the yard. He was on his best behavior, chewing on grass, staying right by my side, and not trying to go over to the neighbor’s house and claim their front porch. When we got to the side of the house with the driveway and the border of dense trees, suddenly he crouched down on his haunches and bounced on his hind legs before quickly slinking ahead. Prepared for a leaf or something equally embarrassing, imagine my surprise when Alexei came out from behind a large rock with an adult chipmunk in his mouth. He had managed to capture one of the fastest animals in our yard. As my ex, now just friend, The V-Man put it, “He is now a man.”
This blog is about dating, so you may wonder, why am I writing about the hunting skills of my cat? As I was thinking about Alexei’s amazing instincts and how he’s built up his skills in less dramatic fashion, I started thinking about my own progression into the world of a real, adult relationship.
Work with me here. In my first real relationship, my boyfriend and I talked endlessly about everything. He knew about my family dramas, my fears about going to college on the other side of the country, he’d heard every song I’d written, and I’d entrusted him with every story and poem I’d written when I went off to college. I trusted him that completely, I didn’t even give it a second thought. I didn’t know better not to put up walls to protect myself. He would never hurt me.
However, temptations for a different life led me down a different path into different relationships. My next boyfriend of four years, with whom I lived and talked about marriage, and I were close. Yet I was shy about my things. He wanted all of me, all of my time, all of my energy, and I felt hampered from having a social life outside of him, I felt hampered creatively, and he even began invading my personal space by reading journal entries or emails I’d send. I started to close myself off to him. I loved him, but I didn’t trust him completely with all of me.
My relationships went downhill from there. The ability to communicate deteriorated. I, the writer, the communication major, could not express myself verbally in relationships. I feared conflict. I feared hurting someone. I feared rejection. I feared being alone. What’s worse than not being able to fully trust others, I stopped trusting myself. I let things bubble up until I couldn’t take them anymore. I broke up with flabbergasted, unsuspecting guys via letters and emails. I hid behind my written words.
I didn’t trust my own abilities to be able to carry a sustained, loving relationship. I ran after the wrong men, unavailable men–emotionally or physically. I started wondering if I could even recognize a good one if it was standing right in front of me, waiting to be pounced on.
Then, Mr. Etiquette came along. Immediately, words poured out of my mouth. I shared fears, faults, insecurities. I shared strengths, hopes, dreams, my zest for life, my humor, my soul. I didn’t stop to think–wait, should I share this? I didn’t email him or text him when I worried about his own fear moving forward. I talked to him face-to-face with complete honesty, but also acceptance. He said he was amazed by my maturity and insight. He was as open, honest, and receptive communicating with me as I was with him. I feel like I’ve finally met someone who speaks my language again.
It’s not as if I’ve been reading books on how to communicate. I already knew how. It’s not as if I’ve been mentored on how to open up to others; my therapist had been trying unsuccessfully for over a year and half to get me to be as honest and open with the men in my life about how I felt and what I wanted and needed as I was with her and all of my family and friends. I knew how to do it, I just felt like they wouldn’t accept what I was sharing.
Over the years of my life, I’ve accrued so much experience about what works and doesn’t work in relationships, not only by looking at my own relationships, but learning from the struggles of my parents’ early marriage, at my friends’ marriages and relationships, and yes, even analyzing the romances in movies and fiction books. Even when I struggled to implement what I knew into my own ill-fated relationships, or when it took me too long to just pull the cord, deep inside I knew I couldn’t be as hopeless and helpless as I appeared.
Finally, instinct gave me the awareness to stop and realize a worthy partner has suddenly stepped into my line of sight. It is almost as if everything I do, every word I say, every move I make is the right one. Nothing is pre-calculated, overanalyzed and thus tainted. I go with my gut, with my heart, and I trust myself that what I am giving and receiving is what I deserve. He confirms I deserve all those things I dream of having, but even more importantly, I once again believe it for myself.
Alexei finally learned to trust his instincts and came up with a prize. He was so proud and ecstatic, he didn’t protest at all when I washed him down afterward. Today, he snuggled with me all afternoon despite the humidity that makes him want to wander restlessly. He is content in a way I haven’t seen in a long time.
Maybe there is more to be learned from this odd, little cat of mine. I know I deserve the prize of contentment too.