Monday, March 24, 2008

When You're One Cat Over the Single Girl Limit

Our first date had gone well. A great dinner at a restaurant with good food and kitschy décor. Intelligent conversation, a motorcycle ride, and a little smooch had left me feeling hopeful. Since I had known him for a while before our first date, I agreed that for date two we should order in and watch a movie at my place.

So on the night of the second date, we ate dinner, started the movie, dimmed the lights and snuggled up on the couch. At that moment, my adorably sweet puppy jumped up onto the couch with us, climbed clear up to the back of the couch, lifted his leg and showered the side of my date's face. He cleaned himself up, our date was over, and that elusive third date never occurred.

Don't feel sorry for me though. This could have been avoided, and I knew it.

I have had pets all my life. Somehow the kitten I got when I rented my first apartment has turned into two cats and a dog in a very small one-bedroom place. Since I've spent the last several years trying to juggle dating with pets, I've learned some guidelines that can make life easier.

One might think the easiest way to successfully date with pets is to date someone with pets. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I've never found anyone whose pets are as cute and smart as mine, so jealousy often ensues. Plus, when there are cats involved it's invariably bloody and ugly. The pets will have different eating habits (I have a scrap free household) and rules about going outside (my cats never do). And besides who is going to rent to a couple with two dogs and three cats? So get out there and find yourself a hottie with no pets and keep these things in mind.

Accept from the very beginning that you are the only person in the entire world who thinks your pets are as a cute as you do. Others see your pets as living breathing mess makers. My boyfriend often refers to my ten pound dog as Poochzilla, because when I am at his place for the weekend the destruction my dog inflicts on his apartment rivals that of Tokyo in 1954. Since others won't think your pet is as cute as you do, you have to restrict how much you talk about your pets, especially if you have more than two.

More than two pets, you see, automatically makes you a Weird Cat Lady (even if you are a guy with three dogs) and mention of them must be kept to a minimum during the early stages of your new relationship. And at all costs NEVER refer to yourself as your pet's mommy or daddy. The person you are dating does not want to hear this because A) it makes you sound insane and B) it conjures up visions of children and diapers. Both are bad things early in a relationship.

Consider your pets a little secret that is slightly embarrassing. Like those weekly magazines you actually buy when you are in line at the grocery store or that kitchen cupboard full of twinkies, cupcakes, and macaroni and cheese. You want to be sure your new love interest intends to keep you around for a while before you disclose your eccentricities. The same attitude holds true for your furry ones. After things are going well, your new significant other can find out how many pets you have. If things are going really well, a meeting might take place. If I had waited a while before I brought the guy over to my place, maybe the showering incident would not have had such dire consequences. And more than one new boyfriend has been driven away by a cat who thought his leg would be an ideal scratching post.

I've learned that mixing pets and dates takes work. It takes me longer to get ready for a date than most women because I have to do my hair and the hair of two cats and a dog. Besides its being time consuming to take three animals to the groomer--it's expensive. (And if you're thinking I should groom them myself, I cordially invite you over to bathe an 18-pound cat, and comb out a wriggly puppy with long frizzy hair.)

In addition, I have to prepare my house before every date because consideration goes a long way towards wiping out the black mark pets give you in the dating world. I always have an assortment of allergy pills by the door, and I keep some Visine handy too. Any potentially smelly or gross toys have been hidden away. The litter box must be immaculate. (And careful of litter tracking: Nothing dampens the mood quite as much as kitty litter in the bed.) I've got one of those sticky lint brush things near the door to give my date and myself a once over before we go out.

Accept that once you start dating someone seriously, your lifestyle may have to change a little bit. My pets hate being banished from the bedroom, but it is a reasonable sacrifice. Don't forget, the person you are seeing is making compromises too. My boyfriend thinks pets should sleep in the garage, I think they should sleep on the bed. So we got the pets their own little beds and put them on the floor. And it is working. My boyfriend now understands that I already made a lifetime commitment to care for these animals, and have not made the same one to him. So even though it causes stress, we've found out that the pets aren't a deal breaker.

Now all of that having been said, the sans-pet single person could usually stand to be a little more tolerant. I am sure you know better than to criticize the person you are seeing for reading weekly gossip mags or eating the occasional twinkie, right? Apply this rule to your date's pets as well. Criticizing the way your date's pets behave is impolite. The dog isn't yours, so commenting that it doesn't listen to you and needs to go away to doggie boot camp is not going to win you any points.

And pretending to be allergic to my cat so I'll get rid of it, will just make me get rid of you.

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