Hi Carolyn: I’ve had my cat since college (almost 10 years). I’ve been dating my boyfriend for two years, I love him more than I’ve ever loved anyone, and we’d like to move in together.
He jumps when the cat is in the room. And my cat is extremely affectionate, so doesn’t understand why he can’t come sit with us and be friends.
My boyfriend is offended I won’t give up the cat so he can move in. I’ve suggested compromises such as keeping the cat to just one part of the apartment, but he insists he needs the cat out.
I feel the cat was here first so this is an unreasonable ask. My boyfriend feels if I really love him then nothing should take precedence over his moving in, and he now says my hesitance is causing him to question the foundation of the entire relationship.
I cannot imagine rehoming my cat. I also can’t imagine ending my relationship. Am I being unreasonable or is he?
S.: “Team Cat. No question. And I don’t like cats.” That opened my first draft of this answer. But it bothered me: He’s a person, not a Kleenex, and you’re gutted by having to part with a deep love of two or 10 years. I owe you a better answer. So I sat with it for a while. (And my dogs.)
Some people love us best in our context, amid our own people and pets and quirks and old furniture. Some people love us best out of our context and in theirs, with all their people and things. It’s an oversimplification but gets at a fundamental tension in some couples who really do love each other but also both feel worn down, uncomfortable, unsupported.
If the pair are both invested in pushing through initial discomfort to create an environment together that suits them both — and strong enough to recognize and walk away from an impasse — then it’s worth trying to make it work.
This could be you two, except you have tried to understand him and offered compromises (unrealistic ones, maybe, involving cat-free zones, but still) — while he has shooed the cat, lied about an allergy, then, when busted, settled on emotional blackmail: If you “really love him then” blah blah and you’re “causing him to question … the entire relationship.”
So reasonable or un- is the wrong standard.
Both of you want to live in your own definitions of comfort, reasonably — and you don’t have to live by anyone else’s just because it’s “reasonable.”
The standard for each of you is internal and about you alone: Is a particular accommodation for someone else comfortable or un-? Is it healthy for you or un-? Could you live with the choice peacefully ever after, or not? Cat, dog, city, faith, kids — could be anything.
The cat is a hairy decoy, distracting you from the serious mistake you’re poised to make: thinking about your relationship in terms of what you owe the other person. All you owe anyone is to be yourself. Respect others; be you.
It’s on him to ask his own questions about living with that real you. It’s on him to assume the work of living with his own answers.
For you to take responsibility for his feelings through your actions probably feels normal-couple-y: “Should I prioritize my cat over my partner? Of course not, obviously.” But what that really does is shift the basis of your decision to someone else’s emotional needs, someone else’s comfort, while suppressing the call of your own. The more he insists, then more “you” you erase.
THE question as you commit to someone is whether the relationship meets your needs enough for you to be yourself in it, comfortable as-is, given all the things you gain and surrender in the bargain, and why. (Which is why allergies and coherence matter.)
This is not selfishness or entitlement; it's self-knowledge so you can come to each other freely vs. with stashed, un-sorted-through baggage.
When you succumb to pressure, believing you owe it to the other person to change, the old wants survive inside you. That sets up both of you — yes, him too — for the grind of an awkward fit and daily efforts to get along.
You both want each other in your own context. It happens. But he expects you to choose his over yours, to serve his feelings without apparent regard for yours (or the cat’s).
Don’t do it. Not without careful thought about life with someone who assumes primacy. And who’d have you send your companion out to the curb, boxed up with the rest of your context, so you could live with him on his terms.
More from Carolyn Hax
Answer this week’s reader question:
From the archive:
Sign up for Carolyn’s email newsletter to get her column delivered to your inbox each morning.