Dear Dr. Forsythe: Please settle an argument I’ve been having with my girlfriend ever since we moved in together a little over six months ago. Even though we really don’t have the space for an animal, my girlfriend keeps trying to coax me into adopting a cat from a local shelter. We don’t have a lot of money and we both work to pay the bills so I really don’t think it makes very good sense to rush out and get a cat. Also, we never discussed getting a pet before we moved in together, and I guess I took it for granted that we would both just enjoy visiting our parents’ animals when we visit our families who live nearby.
The problem is, she keeps bringing it up and making a big deal out of it. We actually got into a fight about it last week when she brought it up again in front of some friends of ours. I felt ganged-up on and got pretty upset as the three of them teased me and went on about how great it would be to get a dog or cat. So my question for you is, do you have some thoughts on what the best way to handle these feelings I have being in this situation? I really don’t feel ready to take on a pet now with all the new things going on in my life, and I’m kind of irritated at my girlfriend for bringing it up and making it a big deal. Your advice would be helpful.
Dear RC: My standard rule of thumb on this topic is “the No’s have it”. In other words, if someone in a relationship is gung ho to have a baby, adopt a kitten, or paint the kitchen bright yellow, and the other person really doesn’t want to, the “no” should get the right of way. It just seems to me that it is much easier to fill your days with other diversions, find other amusements, and choose other colors and decorations when you still have all the choices at hand. But once the cat, dog, ferret, hamster, parrot, etc. is actually in your home, it is too late to make compromises and go back to the way things used to be.
I agree the best thing is to let your practical reasoning guide you two to a calm discussion that will allow you to wait to get a pet until it is something that will bring you joint happiness and fulfillment. A pet can bring so much love into a household, but I’ve also seen pets divide houses apart when one member of a couple is infatuated with a puppy or a kitten while the spouse feels irritated, ignored, and, worst of all, replaced by it.
In this case, I think you need to communicate your feelings about this to your girlfriend and find out why she is so eager to adopt a cat. Perhaps you can make a plan to do so at some point in the future when things between you are more stable and you have more space.
And while I’m certainly no Dr. Phil, I also recommend you consider using this problem as a learning tool — perhaps there are other things that you may want to clear up at this point in your relationship, and the talk of a cat is simply a springboard into even more important discussions about your future… like say, getting married, and having children. Perhaps the good thing about this pet topic you wrote to me about is that it may actually be the gateway for even more significant life issues. I hope you two communicate thoroughly about this and come to a deep understanding. Clearing the air will hopefully allow you to look forward to many wonderful pets in the future.