When "Cat Person" appeared in The New Yorker in December, the all-too-relatable story of a short and cringe-worthy relationship quickly became the buzziest short story on the internet. Many readers wondered what real-life experience inspired author Kristen Roupenian to pen the viral piece, and in her first ever in-person interview, the writer opened up to British journalist Dolly Alderton about the life event behind it. Like most bad romances, it all started with a dating app.
In case you were on another planet when "Cat Person" took the world by storm, it’s a 4,000-word short story about Margot, a 20-year-old young woman who finds herself in a doomed romance with a man 14 years her senior. After some flirting, Robert asks Margot out. Almost immediately, he begins to show a troublesome pattern of behavior that includes far too much texting, but Margot sticks it out through two awkward and underwhelming dates anyways. It isn’t until they go to have sex, and Margot realizes she is actually repulsed by the man in front of her, someone completely different from the man she imagined him to be. Afraid of seeming "spoiled and capricious," Margot lets it happen. Afterwards, she does everything she can to avoid Robert who, a month later, obsessively sends Margot drunk text messages and comes to the conclusion that she is a "Whore."
When it was published, people all over the internet went wild for a story that was seen as an incredibly relatable representation of modern dating to some, and an obnoxiously offensive piece to others. Many people took to Twitter to share their own "Cat Person" stories about romance gone horribly wrong.
According to the author, "Cat Person" is a story that "speaks to the way that many women, especially young women, move through the world: not making people angry, taking responsibility for other people’s emotions, working extremely hard to keep everyone around them happy. It’s reflexive and self-protective, and it’s also exhausting, and if you do it long enough you stop consciously noticing all the individual moments when you’re making that choice."
So how did Roupenian come up with the idea for her short story? She had previously told the New Yorker it was "inspired by a small but nasty encounter," and over the weekend, the author shared more details about what exactly went down.
"I went on the date, it went poorly and we got in a fight," Roupenian explained to the Sunday Times reporter. "And that’s all right, but I thought, ‘I’m 35, how did I make this mistake? How did I misread someone so completely?’"
That is a question so many people, especially women, ask themselves after a date or a sexual encounter gone wrong, and it’s one of the reasons "Cat Person" has found such success. It truly resonates with women who have found themselves in romantic situations that they don’t actually want to be in. How do you leave without seeming rude? How can you excuse yourself without being called a tease or a whore?
Following the unprecedented viral success of "Cat Person," Roupenian landed a two-book deal with Scout Press reportedly worth seven-figures. The first book, You Know You Want This, is a short story collection set for release in 2019, and the second is a still untitled novel. According to the author, her new relationship with a woman she met in writing fellowship program before the publication of her viral story makes it "strange to suddenly be the spokesperson for terrible straight sex," but that is exactly what she has become, and for good reason. Roupenian story captures the experience of so many young women in the dating scene, and gets at the very heart of gender relations, consent, and power in modern romance.
"When I was 26 and dating, I was such a mess and everything was terrible," Roupenian said. "I thought now I would be a mature adult and wouldn’t screw up and would understand when people are garbage right away. But instead I felt just as smacked by it and just as confused."
Based on readers’ responses to her short story, Roupenian is far from alone in that feeling. To learn more about the inspiration behind "Cat Person" and how the author was able to create such a resonant piece of fiction, you read her entire Sunday Times interview.
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