Stoya on Starvation Economies and Getting New Cats
Jul 4 2013
Daddy (my boyfriend/partner) and I took in an abandoned kitten last November. His name is Dr. Squeak McQueen, esq. and he is now a healthy eight-month-old ball of destruction. Actually, Squeak mostly just tears around the house like a normal cat and then knocks everything off the bathroom counter and shreds the toilet paper if he's left alone for more than half an hour. It's less destruction and more an indication that he might be lonely or bored. Daddy and I think pets should be as healthy and happy as possible, so we started thinking about getting another cat. We discussed this potential second cat on occasion for close to six months. We both tend to debate things at length when they involve permanent or semi-permanent decisions and we kept tabling the discussion because other important things like work and making out with each other required attention.
The last time the subject of adding a cat came up we started looking at online listings of animals in need of adoption. Two pages into the results I saw a picture of a one-eyed orange tabby and was completely infatuated. This tabby and his (also adorable but what nine-week-old mammal isn't?) red point brother were found on the street and needed to stay together. We met the kittens, we got along well with them, and the woman who had been fostering the kittens brought them to our home. I probably don't need to go into the details of the adoption.
I also swear I'm going somewhere with this if you'll just bear with me through all the crazy cat lady babble.
There's a whole process for bringing new cats into a home that is already home to other cats. Everyone has their own opinion about how to handle the introduction. I think a lot depends on the personalities of each cat, and it's best to err on the side of caution and restraint. We set the kittens up in a large bathroom and let them adjust to their new surroundings. Squeak alternated between doing his usual rounds of the house and sulking a few feet away from the bathroom. He could tell that something was different in that area but took his time before investigating the actual door. While the kittens settled in and Squeak adjusted to the new smells, we kept them apart. All three of them are affectionate animals. It was important to spend lots of time with the kittens to keep them used to people and it was also very important that Squeak not feel abandoned. For the first couple of days there were times where one or both of us was interacting with a cat on one side of the door and plaintive meowing started happening on the other side. Because they were being kept apart, a choice had to be made between one cat and another.
To me, this situation looks like a tiny four-legged scale model of love as a starvation economy.
I've only encountered the concept of starvation economy in BDSM-practicing and polyamorous communities. [Side note: BDSM and polyamory are two different things. Sometimes people who are interested in one are interested in the other, but they are not mutually inclusive.] Starvation economy might exist in psychological literature or economic theory or something and have a different meaning there, but I usually hear it brought up in two contexts. The first is when someone asks how it is possible to have enough love for more than one partner. The second is when a person is struggling with feelings of jealousy towards someone who is also receiving affection.
Love, unlike coal or natural gas, is a renewable resource. People don't have a jar of love next to their spleens that empties a little more every time they care about, have sex with, or exercise sympathy for another person. We have an endless capacity for love as both a noun and a verb. Love is a complicated emotion and is very hard to describe. Poets have dedicated lifetimes to the attempt to pin it down in words. Compared to the intensity of loving emotions I've felt for people, been on the receiving end of, and seen in others dictionary definitions do love little justice. I can't do any better than the dictionary when it comes to describing love, but I do believe that practicing love makes one better at it in the future. Love is not an economy in which one will starve just because another is being loved.
The time and physical presence needed to express love though, those things sometimes are limited resources, so a starvation economy of those things exists. I have had plenty of jealous feelings over time being devoted to someone else when I thought it should be mine. I have been emotionally hurt when I needed a phone call or time in the same room with someone in my life and they were elsewhere because I failed to clearly express my need or needed someone who wasn't able or willing to be there for me. I feel the effects of this time and proximity issue from the other end as well. On the most superficial level I felt it with the cats when I had to choose which animal needed attention more. As much as I hated causing them to make pitiful mewling noises it was really just three house cats being petulant about a closed door and everything was going to be OK. To call that a problem would be a bit ridiculous in comparison to, you know, actual problems, but sometimes it's easier for me to think about complex concepts through simpler metaphors. Bonus points if the metaphor involves whiskers and furry little noses.
None of us get more than 24 hours in a day and none of us can be in more than one place simultaneously. If you're anything like me or the majority of my friends and acquaintances, the 40-hour work-week is a hilarious myth. I can't speak for anyone else, but I feel like I'm always juggling 32 hours worth of stuff and trying to make it all fit or prioritize what's most important. Freelancing probably adds a certain layer of tension with its cycle of overwhelming amounts of work followed by an empty schedule and frantic booking of new gigs to be overwhelmed by. I'm pretty sure that's all just normal life stuff. Between taking care of ourselves, participating in social and familial activities, getting jobs, and getting our jobs done most of us probably have a little more going on than we can easily handle. Maybe not… maybe you have better time management systems than I do. The thing that's new and interesting to me is the way that my boyfriend consistently becomes more of a priority as the months go by.
Over the course of my career so far I've turned down work and press because I didn't want to do it, because I knew there was someone much better suited for it than I was, and because I didn't have enough time to take all the opportunities and some were better than others. I've turned things down because the cost of being prepared or getting to a location was higher than the rate being offered. I've occasionally turned down work because it wasn't worth the amount of reassurance that whoever I was seeing at the time would require. In retrospect that last one might have been a poor choice. Prior to this year I had never turned things down purely because that time was better used developing and maintaining a romantic relationship. Making sure that Daddy and I have caught up on each others' days is more important to me now than squeezing in another email or phone interview. That text message from my boss asking about available days to shoot a porn movie can wait half an hour if it means I get more snuggles before one of us leaves for work. This prioritization goes both ways. Daddy has put work on pause to discuss time sensitive things with me. Last night he chose to get five hours of sleep instead of six because I really (really really REALLY) wanted to have sex with him. In the morning, he frequently responds to emails from his phone rather than get out of bed while I'm still asleep and drooling on his shoulder. We both regularly choose more time with each other over convenience.
To everyone who has said my priorities would change as I aged—especially my parents and that lady who sat next to me on a flight four years ago—you were right.
The debate about whether women can have it all seems to have flared up recently. Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In probably has something to do with it. Plenty of opinions have been expressed, but I'm still going to add mine. I don't think anyone, regardless of what genitals they have and which gender they are, gets to have it all if all is defined as having everything with no compromise. I do think we get to have the handful of things that are most important to us, and that the people who look like they have it all have made plenty of sacrifices that we either don't notice or aren't told about.
I also think three cats is enough cats for this house.
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