CAT Person is a short story by Kristen Roupenian that went viral in 2017 after it was published by the New Yorker.
The story went viral again in 2021 after a journalist's response essay detailed how the story was about her own life.
What is the Cat Person story really about?
Cat Person is a story about a college student, Margot, and how she navigates dating an older man she meets whilst working at her local movie theater.
The story accurately touches on dating as a 20-something-year-old, exploring the dynamic between Margot and Robert and how the power balance shifts back and forth as she gets to know him.
Margot ultimately makes a decision on how she feels about the relationship as the story comes to a close.
The BBC described the short story as "being shared widely online as social media users discuss how much it relates to modern-day dating."
“Margot keeps trying to construct an image of Robert based on incomplete and unreliable information, which is why her interpretation of him can’t stay still,” Roupenian said of her story in an interview.
“The point at which she receives unequivocal evidence about the kind of person he is is the point at which the story ends.”
The story highlights the complexities of "what might possibly be going on in a man’s head, the slow piling-up of red flags that cannot quite be named and as such are dismissed, the desperate need to be considered polite and nice at all costs," Vox writes.
The story sparked several online debates as readers unpacked the themes.
Much of the backlash in the Cat Person discussion centered around Margot's character: "a white, college-educated, straight, relatively thin young woman," continues Vox.
"She’s both a figure of enormous privilege and a figure who is disempowered, and most of the discourse about the story has focused on trying to figure out exactly where she stands."
Published at the height of the #MeToo movement, it also prompted questions around consent and how women manage expectations in relationships with men.
Why is Cat Person trending in 2021?
Cat Person began trending online again in 2021 after Slate journalist Alexis Nowicki claimed the story was based on her own personal experience.
"The protagonist was a girl from my small hometown who lived in the dorms at my college and worked at the art-house theater where I’d worked and dated a man in his 30s, as I had. I recognized the man in the story, too," Nowicki wrote.
"It was a vivid description of Charles. But that felt impossible. Could it be a wild coincidence? Or did Roupenian, a person I’d never met, somehow know about me?"
Nowicki sent the story to her ex-boyfriend, and the pair exchanged about how coincidental the details were.
“this is weird!” he had replied to her, “it is very disparaging to the guy, am I a slimeball”
In 2021, Nowicki confirmed that her former boyfriend, who had died years after they dated, was in fact friends with the author of Cat Person.
"Within hours, the strange thrill I’d felt was replaced by disgust, then anger. I imagined Roupenian scrolling through my social media accounts, gathering details about me. I felt invaded," she wrote.
Roupenian repeatedly claimed in interviews that her story was fictional.
“It’s not autobiographical; though many of the details and emotional notes come from life,” Roupenian once told the New York Times.
Nowicki got in touch with Roupenian about the story, who sent her a lengthy emailing apologizing for any unease she may have caused her.
What did people say about Nowicki's article online?
Fans of Cat Person weighed in their thoughts on Nowicki's response to Cat Person.
"Don’t think Roupernian did anything wrong but 'Cat Person was real and by all accounts a nice and normal guy' is the funniest possible outcome to literally years of discourse," one person wrote.
"Honestly the only interesting movie you could make out of Cat Person would be one based on the sequel article," another said.
"deeply pleased that the bewildered subject of Cat Person is, herself, a talented writer and perceiver," one purported.
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One user simply wrote: "sorry to 'weigh in' but people are deliberately misreading the cat person essay and it’s not about authorial freedom but about how this woman feels weird that her ex who died (and was, by all accounts, nice) got made into straight girl cynicism porn that is gross about fat people."
"This phase of Cat Person discourse proves it’s not enough just to avoid dating writers. No one is ever safe as long as writers live among you," another joked.
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