Real dating and sex stories

story in this week’s issue, “Cat Person,” is both an excruciating bad-date story and, I think, a kind of commentary on how people get to know each other, or don’t, through electronic communication. The story was inspired by a small but nasty encounter I had with a person I met online.I was shocked by the way this person treated me, and then immediately surprised by my own shock.How had I decided that this was someone I could trust?The incident got me thinking about the strange and flimsy evidence we use to judge the contextless people we meet outside our existing social networks, whether online or off.It’s in this context that Margot decides to have sex with Robert.In order to avoid an uncomfortable, possibly risky exchange, she “bludgeons her resistance into submission” with a shot of whiskey. I do think there’s a hint of class tension in the story: Robert teases Margot about her “highbrow” taste in movies, and repeatedly brings up her college education in a way that (in my mind) suggests the possibility that he hasn’t gone to college himself.

I have more genuine sympathy for Margot, but I’m also frustrated by her: she’s so quick to over-read Robert, to assume that she understands him, and to interpret his behavior in a way that’s flattering to herself.The point at which she receives unequivocal evidence about the kind of person he is is the point at which the story ends.I think it’s genuine enough as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far.Especially in the early stages of dating, there’s so much interpretation and inference happening that each interaction serves as a kind of Rorschach test for us.We decide that it means something that a person likes cats instead of dogs, or has a certain kind of artsy tattoo, or can land a good joke in a text, but, really, these are reassuring self-deceptions.

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