You Need Help: How Do I Make Myself Like My Girlfriend’s Cat?

Q:

I know that as a lesbian this is sacrilegious, but I don’t really like cats. I have tried to fight this feeling for much of my life, tentatively patting friends’ cats and smiling at funny videos, but much like my sexuality, no amount of faking it could change me. My family always had several big, friendly, cozy dogs when I was growing up and just don’t really ‘get’ cats or why you would want one in your home.

The issue is, my girlfriend and I moved in together a few months ago after three years of dating, and she has a cat — so now, by default, I have a cat. I’ve tried, genuinely really hard to warm to him. He’s a sweet enough cat and I’ve sometimes had fun playing with him, and I do enjoy when he curls into a little loaf.

But I just can’t get past this negative feeling towards him. I don’t like the way he climbs all over the furniture, don’t like having to hide my stuff so he won’t scratch it, don’t like having a litter box in our living room, don’t like the creepy way he stares at me…I could go on. I recognize these are all pretty minor things, but it all just makes me that bit less comfortable in my home and I feel my mood darken when I hear his meow. I am aware that I sound like a terrible person and this is why I can’t discuss the issue with friends.

My girlfriend is aware I’m not the biggest cat person and we talked a bit about my concerns before we moved in together. He’s not allowed in our bedroom, and she’s conscious of dealing with his litter etc. But I don’t want to tell her that I’m struggling now because she’d only be stressed and upset and there’s nothing she could do.

I don’t want my girlfriend to get rid of her cat, of course, that would be a horrible thing to do and our relationship definitely wouldn’t recover. I just want to learn to love (or at least like) this creature who will now be part of my life for the next ten or so years (all being well with my relationship and the cat’s health). How can I do this?

A:

First of all, I just want to affirm that it is perfectly okay to not like cats. I say this as a cat person! It is okay to not like cats, and it is not required of gays to like cats despite any stereotypes that might exist. You are also not a terrible person, and if you do want to talk about this with your friends, I think they would be open to it. Who knows — some of them might be able to relate and offer advice! Because I think your situation is perhaps more common than you realize. Merging pets — as with a lot of the things that come with moving in with partner — can be tricky to navigate.

You already did things right by talking about this before moving in together. So great work on that front! I’m glad you talked about your concerns with the cat ahead of time, and I’m glad there are already some solutions in place like not allowing the cat into the bedroom. If anyone else is reading this piece who might soon be a similar situation, DO WHAT THIS PERSON DID! Talk about it before you move in with someone. That’ll make it so much easier to have ongoing conversations.

So, on that topic, I know you probably see this coming, but you do have to talk about it again with your girlfriend. You can preface this by telling her you really are trying (it sounds like you are!) and that you’re grateful for the ways she’s already being accommodating about making you feel more comfortable in the house. But sometimes it takes a while to truly get used to new living situations, and sometimes it takes renegotiating compromises.

It sounds like you’ve made a genuine effort with the cat but things are still bothering you. So, now is the time to talk to your girlfriend about how you’re really feeling. This might be a very difficult conversation. Pet people tend to be intense about our pets. But I hope you can both approach the conversation from a place of mutual understanding and a desire to figure out ways to cohabitate with minimal friction — and when I say cohabitate I also mean you and the cat not just you and the girlfriend!

Some if not all of the things you outline do sound like they could be addressed in a conversation with your girlfriend. Let’s go through each one and see if there are possible solutions or compromises to try out!

I don’t like the way he climbs all over the furniture. This is a possibly solvable problem. While it can be difficult to train cats, sometimes people are actually the stubborn ones when it comes to training cats — not the cats themselves. It’s worth asking your girlfriend if she’s open to incentivizing the cat to no longer be on the furniture as much. Or maybe not to climb on particular pieces of furniture. If she agrees to it, then you can both test out some methods of enforcing new rules for the cat. Don’t spend a bunch of money on the sprays that are supposedly deterrents. Most of them are kind of scammy. You can Google all sorts of cat training tips and tricks. Focus on the ones that prioritize rewarding the cat rather than punishing; they’re usually more effective. We’re still in the process of trying to get our cat to stop scratching our couch, and so far the thing that has worked best has been moving a cat scratcher to right next to the couch and moving him to that any time he tries to scratch the couch. It has helped a lot. Again, while it can be difficult to change or redirect a cat’s behavior, it’s not impossible. And even if you can’t prevent the cat from being on any furniture, it’s possible there are some compromises here! Did you bring some of your own furniture into the space? Since that furniture is newer to the cat, it could be easier to make it off limits.

I won’t lie: It’s possible none of these things will work or at least not work perfectly. And it’s kind of up to you if it’s worth the hassle and time to even try. There’s only so much we can control pets, especially cats. But I think anything that might make you feel more comfortable in what is now your home too is worth at least trying.

I don’t like having to hide my stuff so he won’t scratch it. Yeah this one is definitely tough! Would love to hear if any cat owners have suggestions in the comments. I wonder if this speaks at all to any broader issues: Do you have places in the home that feel like yours? Do you feel like adequate space has been made to store your stuff? It can be hard to be the person moving into a partner’s space, and I hope you have things and areas that do feel like yours, which sometimes gets complicated when there’s a pet in the house since they tend to, well, treat the entire place like it belongs to them, especially cats.

I don’t like having a litter box in our living room. This is the one I actually feel most confident about coming up with a compromise for. Understandably, I do think litter boxes are one of the biggest sticking points when moving in with a cat when you’re not really a cat person. Is there any other room that would make you feel better for it to be located? For most cats, it’s pretty intuitive for their litter boxes to be moved. I’m not sure what kind of litter box your girlfriend currently has, but is it worth it to look into other options that reduce smell, dust, etc? There are self-cleaning ones and some that use alternatives to traditional litter. These higher end litter boxes get pricey, but it could still be worth trying out. I also have friends who got really creative with hiding their cat’s litter box: They bought a small cabinet from IKEA with a door (something like this), placed the litter box inside it, and cut a hole in the back of it so the cat could easily get in and made that back part face a wall with enough room for the cat to still maneuver into it. Then when they need to clean it, they open the door at the front, slide the box out, clean it, slide it back, and close the door. They did this so their dog wouldn’t be able to get into it, but it also doubles as a creative way to keep a litter box unseen in a home. The cabinet also lends an extra protective layer against smells.

I don’t like the creepy way he stares at me. This one, I gotta be real honest, is probably the least solvable one of the list 😭 cats do indeed just stare creepily sometimes. While I don’t see this as likely to change, I think it’s possible that if some of the other things on your list are addressed and your girlfriend works with you to reach compromises about the cat then it’s possible this won’t bother you as much as it currently does! This one might not be worth bringing up with your girlfriend since I don’t really see a way to shift it, and I think part of what will help with your girlfriend not getting stressed or overwhelmed is sticking to focusing on reasonable shifts that can be made. And I don’t say that to make you feel weird or like you’re being unreasonable! In fact, I’m confident from your letter to know you’ll understand why it probably isn’t reasonable to expect this one to change.

I think being open and honest with your girlfriend — if not sharing all of it — could lead to some further compromises which could in turn lead to a better relationship with the cat. I think it’s important to temper expectations. You might not fall in love overnight, so I like that you’re already striving for at least liking if not fully loving right away. It’s true that living with your girlfriend requires living with the cat, but loving your girlfriend doesn’t necessarily require loving the cat. It just requires making an effort, which you’re already in the process of doing. For what it’s worth, it sounds like you live with an easy-ish cat, so that’s good! If you don’t like cats, you don’t like cats. But you do like your girlfriend, and the cat comes with her. You can treat this as an ongoing process and open ended conversation. Letting things bottle up might make it so much worse.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 764 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. The staring & climbing are going to have to be tolerated. You might be able to mitigate the scratching with regular cat manicures. The litter box can definitely be moved or other options explored – enclosed or hidden ones are often far better and if you wanted to invest in a litter bot that could mitigate a lot of the faff.

  2. I can relate! I do admittedly like cats, but I’d never lived with one before and the transition was tough when my wife and I first moved in together. I grew up with dogs too, and honestly didn’t really know how to interact with a cat?? For example, that tail swooshes mean a dog is happy, buuuuut not so for cats! One thing that was really helpful for me was watching videos and reading about cat body language. It helped me figure out how to read the cat’s moods better (and made stuff like his staring feel less creepy lol). Even if you’re not a cat person, I wonder if learning more about cat behavior might help in cohabitating with him.

    It also helped me to realize that it’s a transition for you to live with the cat, but it’s also a transition for the cat to live with you! Even if you spent a lot of time over there before, it’s probably been a change for him to have different stuff and a whole other human in “his” space permanently. Stuff like creepy staring is definitely a cat thing and might not ever go away, but I wonder if he’ll relax and settle down after you’ve lived together a little longer? I also wonder if it could help to ask your gf for tips about the cat? One thing that helped me was asking my wife what stuff I was doing that made the cat uncomfortable (like staring back at him when he stared at me creepily lol), what I was doing well, and generally getting cat tips. Again, I’m more of a cat person, but I think this can be applicable whether the goal is to love, like, or tolerate a cat in your home!

    I love all of Kayla’s suggestions, and absolutely agree that you deserve to feel comfy in your own home! And I wonder if coming to it with your girlfriend as a compromise (which already sounds like something you’re already doing!) and saying “hey, can we do these things to make me more comfortable, but also what can I do to make the cat more comfortable?” might go a long way to help make her feel like you’re making an effort too (which it sounds like you already are!) Best of luck friend!! Cats are so weird and I hope you are able to find a good middle ground in cohabitating with him :)

  3. Some specific cat related ideas.
    Negotiate places the cat doesn’t go. Sounds like the bedroom is already on the list, but maybe it could be an absolute no go zone?
    If cats have enough places to scratch they are usually less inclined to scratch elsewhere. A taller solid post is worthwhile (you don’t need all the cat tree stuff if you don’t want it). Ideally, you would give the cat a treat and/or attention each time it scratches the post. Reinforces scratching behaviour, also, positive interaction for you both where you’re shaping the cats behaviour in the direction you want.
    Staring cats – check out vet advice pages. It’s generally because they’re curious or wanting something, like food or strokes. Not because they’re trying to psych you out!

  4. Jackson Galaxy is THE cat behaviourist who has great books and a wealth of free resources on his website/youtube channel that can help with scratching/climbing/mitigating cat behaviours with positive reinforcement and other cat friendly techniques. Can also strongly recommend getting velvet or microfibre slipcovers for furniture, they look beautiful and are much more resistant to scratching which helps you avoid having that “cat lady” look on all of your furniture arms. Good luck letter writer!

  5. Cats are a dealbreaker for me. Sorry but I despise them. They are the devil incarnate, chaos wrapped in fur and outfitted with claws. They scratch and shed and get underfoot and are an absolute menace. No. I wish you the best of luck.

  6. LW, I just wanna say that as a person who LOVES cats I can very much understand where you’re coming from. I personally hate dogs with a fiery passion (even though they can’t help that they’re dogs!!!) and I think if I were in your shoes with a dog in the equation instead of a cat I would have a very, very hard time. Just wanna affirm that I think you’re doing a great job and I hope your girlfriend appreciates that you’re trying!

  7. Some of the other comments have touched on this already, but it’s important to recognize that the cat is also building a relationship with you! If you’ve grown up with dogs, you may be used to a certain set of behavioral cues that do not apply to cats. For instance, the creepy staring. Unlike dogs, cats do not have as many controllable muscles in their face to make facial expressions. Domestication of dogs actually led to their acquisition of moveable eyebrows just to communicate with humans! It may sound like a lot of homework, but if you want to make this work long-term, I highly recommend you do some research on cat behavior so that you can understand what the cat is trying to say to you. This may not lead to you liking the cat, but at least you’ll know when the cat actually dislikes you and when they’re simply curious. Perhaps that will help lessen some of your discomfort. To be fair, even as a cat person, cats can sometimes just be weird. I personally find it hilarious, but I understand why not everyone feels that way.

    With regards to the cat behavior you can actually do something about, first, the climbing over the furniture. Cats are naturally inclined to climb. It’s just part of their instincts. One of the best ways to deal with that is to provide them with alternative things to climb. You don’t mention what cat items your girlfriend has already provided for the cat but if you don’t have one, I highly recommend a cat tree! Cats feel safest when they’re high up. You may not be able to discourage them from getting on your furniture entirely, but it will make a difference if you can move the cat from the couch to the cat tree rather than the floor. If not a cat tree, then some other kind of vertical space. My partner and I put a cat ladder on the side of a bookshelf and some carpet on the top so they have a place to lounge in our study. Perfect DIY cat tree.

    Second, the scratching. Again, this is an instinctive behavior for cats. They do it to sharpen their claws, relieve stress, express happiness and a whole host of other reasons. You cannot prevent a cat from scratching. Like climbing, the best way to deal with this is to redirect it towards things they’re allowed to scratch. Cardboard scratchers are a personal favorite of my cats. They last for a while before you have to replace them and are relatively inexpensive. To discourage scratching on furniture, cat tape is a tried and true solution. This double sided tape is just sticky enough to feel unpleasant on their paws without being harmful. It is also safe to put on most types of furniture, just don’t put it on anything with a finish the tape could pull up. My partner and I recently got a kitten who loved to get on top of the TV stand and step on the bluetooth soundbar, turning it off in the middle of a show. I put cat tape across the top of it, he tried it once, hated it, and then never did it again. Deterrent sprays generally don’t work but if your cat is biting or chewing on things, a bitter spray actually helps. It’s odorless and safe, it just doesn’t taste very good. Excellent for putting on wires they might have a perchance for gnawing on.

    Lastly, the litter box. I do not love that it is in the living room. That would drive me crazy. I typically relax in my living room and do not want to be able to see cat poop and smell cat litter while I do so. That said, alternative locations are highly dependent on the layout of your living space and how much room you have. Some people like to put them in the bathroom since the tile makes it easy to sweep up. I cleared out a corner of a hallway closet so that it was out of the way. However, please do not try to put the litter box in an enclosed space or put one of those lids on it. Cats have sensitive noses. If the smell bothers you, think about how they feel having to be trapped in it when they need to use the bathroom. It could encourage them to not use their litter box. Instead, to deal with smell, you might try to use scented litter. I would not recommend you use ONLY scented litter. It can be quite strong both for humans and the cat. Instead, get scented and unscented litter and mix them. Combine that with regular cleaning of the litter box and smell should be minimal.

    That said, moving in to a new place is already a huge change and adding an animal to the mix is a lot! It will take some time to get used to. Cats are unique and have their own quirks and behaviors you’ll need to learn in order to get along with them. Hopefully at the end of it you’ll feel comfortable around the cat even if you don’t end up loving them. But who knows, maybe once you understand their signals you’ll find them friendlier than you originally believed.

  8. you want to hear something really sacrilegious? I like cats and dogs the same but not indoors (in the house or flat). I grew up in village where all animals were outside…
    And I find it really interesting that here (Eastern Europe at minimum) most ladies have dogs and from what I understood is that cats are the more popular ones in U.S – would be good to do some sociology survey :)

  9. I really relate to this, so thanks for sending this question in. I don’t like cats and my girlfriend’s entire personality is her love for cats. I’ve literally talked to my therapist about this. But sometimes you love a person so much that you can tolerate the cats. I just wish she would let me ignore them as I don’t mind that they’re there, but instead insists I have the same fervor for cats as she does 🙄

  10. With regard to the staring: as others have said, the cat is working just as hard to adjust to you as you are to the cat. A lot of the time, they’re not staring *at* you,they’re simply gazing and taking in the world. The cat is probably trying to figure out where you fit in within that world. Are you going to eat them? Are you a food source? Are you something in between?

    A direct stare-to-stare with a cat is often viewed as confrontational. When the cat stares at you, try blinking slowly at them, looking away, then blinking again. Bizarre as this eye routine sounds, cats find it deeply reassuring. You will not eat them. Not being eaten is good. The cat can deal with not being eaten. You may find that after enough blinking and looking away, the cat will simply blink back, look away, and go about their business. Go about your business too, as much as you can. That should help both you and the cat feel more comfortable with each other.

    I would not like the litterbox in the living room either. I hope you can find a good compromise for all three of you.

  11. Didn’t come to offer any practical advice but just popped in to say I *finally* feel seen! I am a queer who does not like cats! I don’t understand why people do! But to each their own! Not sure why I’m emphasizing all those sentences, but it feels good to not feel like the ~ worst queer/person/devil incarnate ~ for not being into them at all. As others have said, there is definitely some room for compromise and it sounds like you’re doing a good amount of that already. You’re better than I am because I would absolutely not be jazzed about living with a cat. So kudos to you! From one cat-disliking queer to another – you got this!

      • Riese! I had no idea you weren’t into cats. Now I feel even more seen! All of the queer ladies I know who are allergic to cats still continue to have them? And just take Benadryl every day? And are fine with this? Which personally baffles me. The universe is a mystery! Anyway glad you and your girlfriend are living your best cat-free lives xoxo

        • Not only am I a moderately-allergic-to-cats cat owner, I also work as a veterinary nurse with a specialty in cat wrangling.

          40 mg of Zyrtec a day keeps the inhaler away. And allergy shots. And eye drops. But it’s worth it, I swear! A life of allergies can’t keep me away from my passions.

  12. I recognize this may not work in a lot of instances given the variability of living situations and pet personalities, but in the event that it does, I’d highly recommend the arrangement my partner and I have. I am a dog person, and my partner is a cat person. We each came into our relationship with our respective pets (and have since adopted new pets as our previous ones have passed away), and it’s sort of our unspoken compromise that we each get to have one of our preferred pet—we have a hard cap on one so no one gets overwhelmed.

    While I think it’s certainly true that, were we not together, I would probably not have a cat and she would probably not have a dog, we’ve both been surprised by how much joy we’ve gotten out of the experience of having one of each. There are a lot of things I love about our cat that I wasn’t expecting (and still some things I don’t love), and my partner has said the same about the dog. At the same time, when I’m not feeling particularly keen on the cat, I can cling fast to the doggo.

    Anyway, hopefully there is a solution out there that works for you both. Best of luck!

    • I dislike most dogs so I get it (I hate big animals jumping on me or getting in my personal space). If it literally makes her day worse to see the cat maybe she should just consider it a deal breaker… I don’t know if it’s worth it to have an animal you hate after all you’re going to have to care for it at some point

  13. So so glad I am never moving in with someone I’m romantic and/ or sexual with. My cats come first. They were there before the boo and they’ll be there after the boo and I break up.

  14. As someone who works professionally with animals and am the designated cat person at my hospital, I can tell you one thing – it’s going to take time.

    For reference, my girlfriend and I have been together for three years, living together for the last two. Her cat HATED my guts, which was very odd for me to experience. It’s been three years of winning this cat over and earning her trust, and while she’s still a cranky bitch sometimes, we’re at a much better place than we’ve ever been.

    All this to say that it’s worth spending time with this cat and getting to build a bond with him, even if he’s not your first choice in a pet. Obviously that’s not going to fix things like a litterbox in your living room (LitterGenies are absolute magic, I swear) or him scratching furniture, but it may make you a little more forgiving of his mistakes and him more open to being corrected in a positive manner. Feeding him treats, designating play times, and even short training sessions are a great way to spend quality time together.

    It’s important to note that cats are highly sensitive to emotions, so if the cat feels like you don’t like him, things may escalate from there. You being anxious means that he’s anxious, and he may avoid you to remove himself from that equation.

    I highly recommend vertical spaces like cat trees or cat shelves, as they will often prefer those over couches anyway, as well as window seats where he can engage with outside. I also like sprinkling scratching posts with catnip, as they will naturally gravitate towards that over other objects.

    There is this very strange dichotomy in America of cat people and dog people that I find baffling, even as an American. Perhaps it’s to do with what each represents in media (i.e. cats = independence, dogs = loyalty). I think it’s unfair, because cats have just as many redeeming quality as dogs (and vice versa!), and if you’re going to constantly compare your cat to a dog, you will be very much disappointed. Trying to appreciate him as a cat may ease some of your stress a little.

  15. My ex actually broke up with me because of my cats! I know, it’s crazy. When we first started dating, I told her straight up that I have three fur babies that I love like my own kids. I’ve had them since they were just a few days old, so I was up every two hours feeding them with a bottle, helping them go potty, and all that. She had a little dog that she doted on just like I do with my cats. I didn’t have a problem with that since I’m an animal lover and don’t see a difference between cats and dogs.

    Anyway, one day we were at the store and I tossed some cat food in the cart. That’s when she lost it on me, yelling that the cats had to come before anything. Then, another time, one of my cats wasn’t feeling well, so I took her to the vet cause she had blood in her pee. My ex flipped out cause I spent like $600 on the vet bill instead of going on a trip we planned. But I had just lost my job so I had to cancel. She totally hated my cats, and I never understood why. Looking back, I don’t think she was really a “cat person.” She didn’t know how to deal with them. She wanted them to love her right away but cats aren’t like that. You have to be patient and show them they can trust you.

    She was also always going on about how cats are stuck up and dogs are way better. I’m glad we broke up – it was so draining. Now whenever someone says “I hate cats,” that’s a major red flag for me. I don’t have a problem with dogs or anything, but I don’t feel the need to put them down to prop up cats, you know?

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