Cat Math: Two Plus Three Equals… Three
I once was friends with a guy who had five cats. “But really,” he said. “Having five cats is more like having three.”
“How do you figure?’ I asked, imagining the potential yowling in the middle of the night as his cats all fight for territory.
“Well, the first two cats? That’s how you’d expect. It feels like two cats. But the third and fourth are about as much work as adding a third cat. They’re basically half cats.”
“And the fifth cat?”
“I didn’t even really notice a difference. It’s like buy four, get one free,” he said.
He was lucky in some ways. All of his cats got along. Not that they were all buddy-buddy necessarily. But they had split off into little cliques that kept a polite distance. They almost never fought.
“You know,” my friend told me one day. “It was a slow shift at work, and I was thinking about you and your complicated poly love life. And I got to wondering how you managed it. And then it dawned on me.”
“So long as everyone’s getting along, I bet polyamory is a lot like cat math.”
Taking Two Cats to the Vet
And yet. Cat math has its limits.
I think of my friend as I’m wrangling my two very large, very feisty black cats into carriers. I tip the carriers up to get gravity on my side. The elderly cat meows in protest but slips in easily. But the younger one, a contortionist, kicks his back legs against the plastic. Takes a swipe at my arm. And before I know it, there’s a scrape and a raised flap of skin to deal with. Later. Once I get him in.
He gets a few more good hits on me before I finally get him tucked away. He curls up with the towel and toy I’ve left him and sighs heavily.
When it comes to the vet, cat math flies right out the window, I think, washing out the wound. When you’re taking two cats to the vet, it’s really like taking four.
And as my cats sing their songs of protest (basically the entire car ride there), it occurs to me: Dating the wrong couple is a lot like taking two cats to the vet.
Dating the Wrong Couple: The Hydra
In an earlier piece I talked about how much I’ve enjoyed dating couples as a unicorn. But as I wrote then, not all couples were fun to date. I went on to date others where their dynamic was in trouble. They were adversarial and controlling with one another and tried to control me in turn. The sex was tense and heated but awkward. And the day to day? Well, it left much to be desired.
And the worst experience? Was when I dated a couple who liked to refer to themselves as “the hydra.”
It was one of their long-standing private jokes as a couple. The hydra is a mythological monster with many heads. And the most impressive feature of this beast: Whenever you chop off one head, two more grow back in its place.
To them, the hydra was a symbol of badassery. It meant that no one could fuck with them. They were an unbeatable team. An unstoppable force. Whatever you did to them would come back you twofold.
It seemed cute at the time I met them. But the first time in our relationship that my needs and wants came into conflict with theirs? Well, it stopped being so cute.
What should have been civil and egalitarian relationship talks quickly devolved into a game of 2-on-1. When I would point out an important issue, they would raise two unrelated ones in response, knocking me back on my heels. They would introduce blame into discussions where I had blamed no one and then deftly shift that blame to me. Adopt an accusatory tone.
And as I sit there in that vet’s office waiting for my name to be called, I look down at the scratches on my arms, and I realize: I’ve been here before.