Crazy Cat Lady is the New Old Maid

Monday, July 16, 2012

When I recently remarked to a guy that I had the potential to become a crazy cat lady, he chastised me. "Why do women say that?" That's a good question, actually. Why do women say that?

The myth of the "crazy cat lady" seems universally accepted these days. But where did it come from? It's origins are difficult to pinpoint. Though the Edies of Grey Gardens were pioneers of the cat lady persona, it's taken on a different connotation in the here and now. With some basic Googling, I was able to find mentions as far back as the early 90s, but the phenomenon certainly seems to have gained ground and more widespread adoption in the last 10 years. The Simpsons' Eleanor Abernathy may be one of the first mainstream media manifestations of the crazy cat lady. The stereotype was further addressed as the subject of a 2009 Canadian documentary Cat Ladies.

There's a marked difference between Abernathy's elderly character and the extreme cat-obsessed behavior of the women in Cat Ladies and what people mean when they use the term now. The crazy cat lady has morphed from the AARP age bracket and eccentricity to articulate the fate of women who don't marry. Women who find themselves single, over 30 and in possession of more than one cat. One entry on the ever popular and accurate (user-created) reference source,, defines a "crazy cat lady" as "a woman, usually middle-aged or older, who lives alone with no husband or boyfriend, and fills the empty lonely void in her life with as many cats as she can collect in one place." There's less crazy in the crazy - it's less about behavior and more about status.

In today's interpretation, the cats are merely the trappings of single woman needing to fill the "empty lonely void." In fact, the similarly accurate and user-generated reference behemoth that is Wikipedia suggests "spinster" under the "See Also" section.

See also spinster. And so we arrive at the essence of the crazy cat lady moniker. It's the new old maid. Except it comes as an action figure.

During my research - such as it was - I found a couple of articles in which women were warned not to get cats or hesitated in adopting because of how it would look to be a single woman with cats. I'm certainly no stranger to someone making the quip since I adopted two cats back in January. And obviously as noted at the beginning of this story, I have said it about myself because crazy cat lady is oddly easier to say than I might be single forever and own cats. Not to mention that it's funnier and makes other people less uncomfortable about my singleness.

The truth is, the crazy cat lady isn't really about any of those things anymore. It's not about an actual mental state. Or even owning cats. Women who don't even own cats - don't even like them - fear falling under the curse of the crazy cat lady column. It's beyond single - it's irredeemably single.

So am I a crazy cat lady? I am single, over-30 and in possession of two cats who right now are fighting over one of the bows from one of my birthday presents and systematically destroying it beside me on the couch. There's the fact that I live alone with said cats and that I probably intimidate the neighborhood children for whom I don't turn on the light at Halloween because I don't want strangers knocking on my door and asking for candy. And let's face it: I couldn't be categorized as normal.

But I'm not irredeemably single. Or hopeless. I'm just someone whose awesomeness is undiscovered who happens to love two very mischievous cats. As for crazy...well, that's I label I can't deny.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

"At 17, had a better dream. Now I'm 33, and it isn't me."

--Counting Crows, "All My Friends"

via Disney
When you're 17, you dream all sorts of wild dreams. When I was 17, I was imagining that I could be a singer on Broadway despite the fact that I couldn't carry a tune in a 20-gallon bucket. I was imagining that I might meet Adam Duritz - who wrote the song I quoted -  and inspire him to write a song with my name in it. I did meet him at 19, but to-date, my name has not appeared in a Counting Crows song. I imagined I might be famous for writing the modern great American novel. So far, the best I can say is that I've exchanged tweets with Steven Weber. And DSW.  And have a book in one library in America.

It's difficult to let go of those adolescent visions of oneself. To forgive shortcomings even when the initial expectations are so far beyond the realm of possibility. I can't help it - I'm so disappointed that I'll never perform on the stage at the Fox Theatre in a Broadway medley or a rock band. And I'll likely never hear a Counting Crows song inspired by me.

There are other suppositions in those teenage years - marriage, children, and all the trimmings. And those haven't come to pass either. Despite notions to the contrary and the 29 dimensions of compatability touted by Dr. Neil Clark Warren that make you feel like if you just apply yourself and put yourself out there, the magic will happen, it's not that simple. In some ways, making that happen on a certain timeline is just as outrageous as expecting rockstardom and fame. And yet, they're so much easier to feel discouraged over for having failed to attain them.

I write these things not to illicit pity or advice or assurances that the "right one" will come along at the "right time." I've heard those words enough that they're tattooed on the inside of my brain. I write them because I feel like wanting those things has eclipsed a lot of other things.

I've been waiting to travel, anticipating some great European tour with my husband. And in saving that experience for that mythical future person, I'm denying myself the experience I deserve to have as an individual. I will, with this blog as my witness, get my passport this year. And perhaps 2013 will be the year I finally make it across the pond to London.

And there's writing...whether or not I'm ever famous for it, I should do it. It's my God-given talent, and I ought to figure out something to do with it. For you readers out there, that may mean more frequent posts from me. But it also means that I've told my dad that I want to take him up to Lookout Mountain one day soon and talk about all the old legends and stories he told me growing up. Because I'm enamored with them, and there's something there that I should pursue. Whether it becomes a book or some sketched out stories that live in Microsoft Word in perpetuity, it's something more than I've been doing.

Here's to 33. My wish is for it to be the year of doing and not waiting. Of really making things that I want happen. Perhaps I'm not who I thought I'd be when I was 17. Perhaps those dreams weren't really the right ones. But perhaps at 33, I'll find the ones that are.