It’s 10 p.m. on a Friday night in a dank dive on the Lower East Side, and I have to be up for work in seven hours. My eyelids are barely registering at half-mast, but I’m trying to stay present. My Tinder date, Dan, seems nice. He wears glasses. Sure, he’s about 20 pounds heavier and half a head balder than his profile pictures indicated, but … hey, this is app dating.

Dan asks what I do for a living.

“I’m a writer,” I say. “But I’m taking a break to work in a neonatal kitten nursery.”

He blinks.

“It’s a shelter that only takes in kittens less than two months old.”

His face brightens. “So you get paid to play with kittens all day? That’s amazing!”

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Incapable of playing it coy, I explain the less-than-twee realities of my job. (I fail to mention my very real fear that I have cat litter in my hair thanks to the cardboard litter box that collapsed over my head at work as I was pulling it off a shelf.)

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“Uh, nope, sadly. I spend half the day deep-cleaning cages, and the other half frantically running back and forth preparing food and bottles of formula for the youngest ones.” I explain how — working at said nursery four times a week for 9-hour stretches that begin at 7 a.m. and are a 90-minute commute away — I’ve never been so chronically exhausted. I tell him that about 25 percent of our kittens die. I tell him I have a senior cat at home, and two newly adopted kittens from work. I’m not sure why I’m doing this, I say.

But I’ve always loved animals, and I needed a change. After I tell him all this, I watch his eyes start to crumple — Crazy Cat Lady alert! — as he suggests we close out the tab.

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Most of my dates have gone a little something like this since I moved from Washington, D.C., to Brooklyn in April to start my unique and uniquely draining new life.

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I used to be your average freelance writer — I spent the bulk of each day home alone, hunched over my MacBook in loungewear. Periodically I’d bumble into my kitchen for coffee or chocolate; anything to break up the endless expanse of minutes. I had a lifestyle some folks might kill for, but in the process I’d developed carpal tunnel, insomnia and a chip on my shoulder. I was sick of struggling to string together meaningful sentences for websites that might not be around in a year. I was sick of compulsively hiding Facebook posts about faraway friends’ shiny new book deals, engagements and offspring.

Dating in D.C. had been fine, meh, whatever. But despite my feminist sensibilities, I was lonely. No, I didn’t need a partner to be whole, and yes, I’d rather be Forever Alone than with the wrong person. But I’d never planned on being single THIS LONG.

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Throughout my 30s, I had half-listened as New Agey friends lectured me about arranging my life — and my newly purchased home — as if Mr. Imaginary Future Perfect were already in it. Some of it was feng shui lite: “Display pairs of trinkets instead of solo ones.” “Toss the sullen single-girl artwork.” “Make your house the spatial equivalent of a cozy, oversize blanket.” My new cottage’s second bedroom, which I’d envisioned becoming a baby nursery, instead became my office — and I grew increasingly irritated by the idea of building my life around a beautiful fantasy relationship that might never materialize.

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Putting my career as a writer on hold to work with animals was a dramatic leap. But when I told well-meaning friends that I was thinking about adopting two kittens from the nursery, they grew palpably alarmed: “But what if you start dating someone? What if he has animals, too?” That wouldn’t be surprising, actually. A recent study from the research firm Mintel found that three-fourths of Americans in their 30s have dogs and 51 percent have cats. So why did my friends think that working in a shelter and owning three cats had nudged me over the wrong side of an invisible line from “normal but unlucky in love” to “utterly undateable?”

The thing was, I didn’t care. I’d killed a surprisingly high percentage of my vanity the moment I began working in that nursery. Not only was I wearing heinous purple scrubs, but I was making just over minimum wage scrubbing kitten poop for 9 hours a day. Looking cute and feigning interest in tepid dates was no longer a top priority.

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While my work at the nursery has been infinitely more stressful than I anticipated, it has also reminded me that pursuing the things I genuinely care about is more important to me than hiding who I am to remain “datable” for a man who may or may not show up. I am a cat lady — the non-crazy kind, thanks — so I’ve started putting my love for animals front and center on my dating profiles. For the right man, it’s going to be a good thing. Hey, maybe he’ll have three dogs, and we can move upstate and open a shelter of our own. I can’t imagine a more perfect pan-out … but of course, I’m not planning on it.

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