Kate Prime

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It started in high school, but it took me a while to notice. Sophomore year, my boyfriend dumped me in favor of a different girl named Katie who was perfectly willing to let him stick his hands under her shirt (I was not). I figured this was just the first in what would surely be a long string of instances where the bubbly blonde was found preferable to my brainy brunette. Little did I suspect that it was the start of a very different pattern.

Two years later, shortly before graduation, I met the boy I would believe (for the next seven years) to be my star-crossed soul mate. We remained pen pals all through college, and I visited him once. After a great week, I returned home to word that he had taken a girlfriend – someone he had met the day after I boarded my plane back east. A girl named Kate.

This exact scenario would eventually repeat itself a year or two later, with the same boy.

Because of the overwhelming survival advantage it confers, we humans are evolutionarily designed to detect patterns, even in what often turns out to be random information. Still, it wasn’t until a few years after college that I began to suspect a trend. Superman and I broke up due to irreconcilable aspirations, and with our amicable split it was easy for me to know when he had started dating again.

[Side note to all former lovers out there: we can tell when you are trying to hide something supposedly to spare our feelings (but really to avoid honesty). When your otherwise freely detailed responses to questions such as, “Where are you headed?” suddenly become vague mumblings about meeting “someone” or “a friend” for coffee, we know that “someone” is more than just “a friend”. You have a date. Just be honest – we can handle it.]

Superman’s quest for inner peace and truth got the best of him quickly, and he identified his new coffee “friend” – a girl named Kate. I couldn’t help but feel I’d been here before.

True, it is not like I have a terribly unique name. With all of the possible variations on Katherine – one of the major selling points for my parents – the odds of there being more than one in anybody’s life are pretty high. I personally have been several different iterations over my lifetime, changing my name regularly as the mood hit since childhood. From K.K. to Kay to Katie to Kate, and even Katherine on occasion, I have met the various phases of my life with the moniker that I felt served it best.

(Except for Kathy. From birth – or as close to birth as one can be and still recognize the concept of a name – I have been “Katherine-don’t-call-me-Kathy.” I have an irrational hatred as hot as the passion of a thousand Rumplestiltskins.)

But even with the impressive versatility of my name, the number of times I have been followed by a doppelnamen is unsettling. To date, I have been succeeded in the lives of former boyfriends, lovers, flirtations, crushes, and general eggplants by: two Katies, three Kates, one Cat, one Kitty, and probably a partridge in a pear tree (named Kit).

None of these replacement Kates ever lasted long – some were too young, some too crazy, and several both – but it is still enough to give a girl’s psyche a complex. Is my life some bizarre version of Good Luck Chuck, where instead of marrying the next one after me a guy only sees people with the same name? Or am I like an oxygen molecule to love’s hemoglobin – once I attach, I increase a man’s ability to attract more of me?

The naming of Kate’s is a curious matter; by my late twenties I decided to take on one last name change to reflect my reality. Like T.S. Eliot’s cats, I now have three titles – my everyday name (Kate), my fancy one (Katherine), and a third one just for me, that comes above all and remains (until now) unspoken. Want to know my ineffable, effable, effanineffable, deep and inscrutable, singular name? Just look to the top of this essay. I am The First.

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Creeps Me Out

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To be completely judgmental, you can tell a lot about a potential partner by the type of pet they choose to adopt. (I am ignoring people who have no pets, because these people either have severe allergies or no affection for their fellow living creatures, and in either case you don’t want to have to deal with that in a partner. The one exception might be those who want a pet but can’t have one in their current living situation. You can like these people, but they clearly don’t have their shit together yet, so let them ripen a bit before dating them.)

Let’s start with the usual factions of dog owners and cat owners. Dogs get credit for being devoted while cats are widely considered to be indifferent, but really both species are loyal in their own way.  There isn’t any more difference between them than there is between our two political parties, where dogs are Republicans (“I will love you forever regardless of logic because you are here and you are giving me attention”) and cats are Democrats (“I will love you forever because you have given me what I want, and I will periodically pretend to not love you for the sake of my dignity, but who are we kidding?”)

The real difference is in the type of energy you choose to invite into your life. Dog owners like drama, choosing a companion that is shamelessly affectionate, emotionally dependent, and entirely focused on the owner. This is why dogs are the preferred pet of only children – they provide elusive companionship along with the feeling of still being the center of the universe. Dogs basically have borderline personality disorder (“I love you! I love you! Where did you go? When are you coming back? Why aren’t you answering my texts? Are you dead? Am I dead? Oh, you’re home. I love you!”), while cats live somewhere along the autism spectrum (“You can see that I love you because I used the litter box instead of your closet. What more proof do you need?”). Dog owners clearly opt for high-maintenance relationships. They are also more likely to hump anyone who smiles at them (and half the people who don’t).

Then there are fish people – straight up narcissists. Owning a fish is all about selfish pleasure. Almost nothing is required to keep the fish alive, just clean water and a few food pellets a day. With a self-cleaning tank, that’s literally five seconds of thought. Meanwhile, the fish provide ambiance, relaxation, beauty, entertainment, escape… the very definition of a one-way relationship. This is why so many children own fish. Is there anything more narcissistic than a child? Their brains are physically wired to think only about themselves.

Lizard and snake people are clearly non-conformists, which at least makes them interesting. (I have dated some lovely lizard and snake owners.) They also demonstrate an obvious capacity to see beyond traditional representations of beauty, which is nice. Of course, they have chosen a pet that essentially precludes any close contact – it doesn’t take Jung to read into their preference for cold-blooded animals. Snake and lizard owners have a propensity for voyeurism, or at the very least being wallflowers. Plus, there is the whole willingness to feed another living creature to their pet. I’m not saying a lizard owner will definitely break your heart, but he’s probably not going to spend a lot of time making you feel better about yourself either.

On the exact opposite side, we’ve got people who own hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, mice – any of the small caged animals. These people care about nothing BUT appearances. While their pets are super cute, they are good for pretty much nothing else. They poop, sleep, occasionally eat each other, and pretty much roll over and die out of self boredom. If you are dating someone who owns a hamster or a gerbil, congratulations; you are probably very attractive.

Anyone who owns a baby anything – duckling, piglet, pony, tiger cub – has a major red flag warning flashing overhead. These people give no thought to the future and are unable to consider the consequences of their actions. When Chandler and Joey adopted a baby chick and duck on Friends, it wasn’t just funny, but also a deep symbolic representation of their emotional immaturity. Notice those pets went away as the characters gave in to adulthood.

But the biggest red flag of them all is a pet bird. If you find out you are dating a bird person, run. Just run. The fundamental truth about these people is that they are perfectly content to keep a creature that is meant to fly trapped inside a tiny cage with no freedom. Even worse, most of them keep that cage somewhere near a window, so the poor bird can see exactly what he is missing every day of his sad little life. Bird people are sadists. Maybe even psychopaths. They will crush your dreams and laugh while doing it. Don’t even take the time to make an excuse about an early doctor’s appointment the next day – just grab your shit and get the hell out. Now.

I am a cat owner, or, more accurately, a person who attends to cats. Six years ago I rescued two sisters – Martini and Olive (I like it dirty) – and between the two of them have been pretty well trained. But I am also more literally a cat person, in that I am very much like a cat. If dogs are an emotionally needy live-in partner, cats are your asshole roommate, and that’s a pretty accurate statement about me as well. I’m not saying I’ll throw up in the middle of the living room if you piss me off, but I am definitely going to live life on my schedule more often than not. Cats are independent and often prefer to be alone. Some call this aloof, but I say low-maintenance. It’s pretty easy to keep someone happy when they are perfectly content to stare at the same tiny speck on a wall for hours at a time (or, what I like to call “screenwriting”).

Cats are creatures of routine who get openly grumpy when that routine is disturbed – something to which I, with my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, can easily relate. We are fastidious, finicky, and often frustrating. To say we are demanding would be an understatement: Martini will cry at me until I move into a position on the couch where she can sleep behind my knees, and if I dare move or stop petting her before she is satisfied, she gives me one of those death stares that I am sure are the reason the Egyptians said, “better safe than sorry, let’s just treat them all like gods.” We are curious, analytical, and far too prideful. (Have you ever laughed at a cat? It won’t look at you for the rest of the day.) All of these things are what make cats less popular than dogs, and what make cat people like me more difficult to love.

But to stop at these things would be a disservice. There are such great rewards to be had as well. As anyone who owns a laser pointer or has had the pleasure of witnessing a cat high on the ‘Nip can tell you, we are also completely willing to humiliate ourselves for your amusement. Even better, no matter how often we may get startled and run from random coughs or doorbells, when the chips are down and you need us most, we are fiercely devoted. And if you should be so lucky as to be chosen as our person, rest assured you are going to have our ass in your face every day for the rest of your life. Don’t be scared – just rub our belly and we’ll fall asleep in no time.