About a year ago, the kids and I got a shelter cat, Gala. Right from the start this ginger-colored feline was completely polite — nary a potty accident, clawed furniture or scratched child. After a half-day hiding under my bed, she started hanging out where ever we hung — but rarely interacting: lounging on the back of the couch as Helena read, laying at the foot of Lucas’s bed as I sing lullabys. Even though she was just a year old when we brought her home, Gala was never the playful kitten I had hoped for my kids. I admit it: I was disappointed. If our first meeting had been a date, I would have deemed the cat too boring and not returned her texts. But I had no room for complaints, and of course we were committed to her. As I often remind Helena and Lucas, she is a lifelong part of our family.
I’ve been thinking about Gala since my friend Betsy gave me the smackdown when I whined a few weeks ago that I’d really like a serious relationship. “Then just go have one,” said Betsy, who has been married to Kris for 20 years. “There are so many interesting men in this town. Pick one.”
Humana – wha!? I didn’t even need to think about what she said. She was right: relationships are really about commitment. Find someone who you like, who likes you back, whose faults you can tolerate, and sign up for the long-haul. Nothing people haven’t been doing since the dawn of time.
Betsy and Kris (you may know them through their wildly successful podcast, Croncast, recently relaunched — you heard it here first), have been through their share of crap. But two decades, just as many kids and a more-or-less insane existence together, I don’t doubt it when Betsy describes Kris as her best friend.
Betsy’s dead-pan admonishment made me think of some of the men I’ve met in the past year. There was the delightful surprise of Lou, who I expected to be a hot hookup but drew me into many more dates — and insight into how important it is to me that a future mate be passionate about family and generally examine my dating criteria. Or the recent fling with a man I initially painted in broad, doucey strokes in this post, only to get to know him — and understand that all that blustering doucery was but a flimsy guise to protect a recently wounded and very tender heart. And I think about all the lousy vibes I’ve no doubt thrown off on first dates — and was not given a chance to redeem myself on subsequent ones.
In a well-stocked dating scene like New York where I live, it can be so easy to fish all the live-long day — tossing back slightly imperfect catches with little thought, certain there is another — better — catch within easy reach. Wearing a class ring? Buh-bye. Look way older than your pictures? Toodles. Can’t decide where to meet for drinks? Wrong number. Let me pay even though I really didn’t mean it when I offered? You’re dead to me.
Of course, we’re all imperfect catches and it often takes a second, third or 10th date to really see someone for who he is. Isn’t that what relationships and marriage are really about? Being committed not only through rough times, times when at
least one of you act like a total asshole — or life is just impossible for a spell? But also committed to being patiently open to receiving magical parts — the parts that they may be shy about showing on a first date, but later reveal slowly and deliciously as the relationship and trust grow. Instead, I’ve been looking for that lightening-bolt, love-at-first-sight fairy tale date, where I just know as soon as he bellies up to the bar that we will never, every annoy each other. Of course no one wants to waste time with someone you know is wrong for you. But Betsy’s words made me see that expectation is just my own blustering douchery created to protect my own very tender heart.
Which brings me back to Gala. Her name alone was a happy surprise. We kept her shelter name, and frankly her unexplained moniker seemed like a rather lame reference to a charity ball (when I called “Gala!” at mealtime, I imagined her wearing a tiny of Dynasty-era sequined gown). Then one day the kids and I remarked about her cute white paws, which looked like she’d stepped in a milk puddle. Helena — whose dad is half Greek — piped, “You know what Gala means in Greek, don’t you? Milk!” And suddenly our lame-named cat had the coolest name in the world.
Gradually she has revealed to us who she is — chatting frequently and earnestly in a hoarse, high-pitched meow that seems to ask about your day, or tell you about the pigeons outside the window. It has only been the past few weeks that we’ve seen a another side to Gala’s character — a full year after being part of our family and settling into a glossy-furred feline with quiet if alert eyes. She suddenly became a playful pet — giddily chasing a bouncy ball around the wood floors and mischievously hopping into open dresser drawers. When I practice yoga in the evenings she hops onto my upward-dogged butt. At 3 a.m. each of the past few nights I’ve been awoken by Helena’s grumpy wail, “Mom! Gala is being naughty and jumping on my bed to play!”
And so I find that we committed to a cat who is far more wonderful than our first date suggested. She returns the favor — when we walk in the front door, she’s loyally curled up on a nearby dining chair — the only time she naps there — committed to us as much as we are to her. And for all of our sakes, I am so glad.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.