"Would You Eat Your Cat?" & Other Dating Questions
It spoke to me. It reached out to me with its little inquisitive blue cat eyes on the cover, poised, hopeful, and said “read me.” It was 2013 and my first time in the the Powell’s bookstore on Hawthorne Blvd – the smaller one in SE Portland, but just as eclectic and cute as the other. I was with my friends (and future Backwords cofounders), Matt and Jenny, exploring the neighborhood, having a wanderlust day that found us in thrift shops and in this particular iconic bookstore. It was a warm fall day in Oregon, and it was still my first year in Portland. We were all relatively new friends, sipping iced teas, bubbly and full of endless sharing about books.
“Have you read?” “What a terrible cover.” “How many times can Nicholas Sparks write the same plot?” “My grandmother reads romance novels.”
And yet there it was, Would You Eat Your Cat? by Jeremy Stangroom (someone I would refer to after looking into him, as a pop-philosopher), a book on “key ethical conundrums and what they tell you about yourself.” We flipped through and laughed a little at the mini-situations aimed to cause discussion. Subject headings included: Ethical Impasses, Rights and Responsibilities, Crime and Punishment, and Society and Politics. I decided on a whim to buy it. I knew it would inspire longer discussions later. But I also remember a face: there was a dreadfully handsome, slightly older gentleman that I kept locking eyes with while continuing to browse the shelves. I wasn’t the type yet to be brave enough to strike up a conversation or to engage in a meet cute type of situation, so I simply left, smiling, over the friends and the hunk.
That same evening, I saw this bookstore fox again – this time out at a club downtown. We recognized each other, talked, danced, and traded numbers. I found out he was a psychologist, and thought the book I had purchased the day we met would be perfect for conversation topics. Who better to talk dilemmas than with a psychologist? We went on several dates in fact, but lost touch over the holidays, never getting to the cat feast (one would assume the cat-based dilemma one would somehow have a twist to make the idea seem possible, right?).
A year later in 2014, the book came off my shelf and into a camping backpack, for a fresh summer tryst with a ravishing bartender I’d become friendly with. I had known him, personally, only a few weeks, but when he had asked me to join him and two of his friends for a weekend camping trip, I was already more smitten than I care to admit and said “yes.” Stangroom made a brief appearance over too many beers and a blazing fire with the group, but the discussion was much dimmer than the flames between us. It was all a non-starter.
In 2015, I started to think of Stangroom’s book again. This time during a Skype date with a boy from Boston – I’ll refer to him as “Boston,” a nickname I often use. Considering the distance between us, I wondered if discussing ethical dilemmas could be a good way to get to know someone and their values (this was before I had heard of The New York Times quiz to help you fall in love). Boston obliged, but we quickly glossed over the book and shifted subjects. I was undeterred and brought the book with me on my first trip to visit to the actual city, Boston, but we didn’t need it to fuel the chemistry we felt meeting for the first time. We did just fine at finding ways to learn more about each other, in other ways.
The ethics of dating are vast and rigid, or flexible and free depending on who you ask. I’ve always been the type to believe in monogamy, this search for a single partner. Someone to be both dearest friend and lover. But after having dated Boston for over a year and a half, a person that lives on the other side of the country, someone I only visited three times – them travelling to me, zero – I’ve questioned this moral position I’ve tried to hold myself to. Is one person enough? Or was it the distance?