Monday, January 22, 2024

CAT PERSON, “Cat Person” AND ME, and Cat Person (2023): An Age Gap Sexual Affair in Three Ways

Kristen Roupenian’s CAT PERSON went viral shortly after it was published in the Fiction section of the New Yorker (December 11, 2017). Almost four years later, Alexis Nowicki published “Cat Person” AND ME in the Life section of Slate (July 8, 2021). Nowicki wrote that Roupenian drew “specific details” from her life and asked: “How did she know?” And most recently, Nicholas Braun starred in Cat Person (2023), which is (loosely) based on Roupenian’s fiction. 

Below is Nowicki’s synopsis of CAT PERSON, followed by a recap and analysis of CAT PERSON, “Cat Person” AND ME, and Cat Person (2023), respectively.


Nowicki’s synopsis: Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person” is a fictional story that follows its protagonist, Margot, a college sophomore, as she navigates a relationship with an older man named Robert. They meet when he flirts with her at the local theater where she works concessions—he orders Red Vines—and they text for a while before going on a date. Throughout their time together, Margot vacillates between feeling disgusted by him and wanting more. Eventually, when they sleep together, Margot finds herself repulsed, creating an imaginary boyfriend in her head to laugh about the awful sex with later [sic]. In the following weeks, as she attempts to ghost him, Robert sends Margot texts that become increasingly aggressive, culminating in an encounter at a campus bar that leads him to text her: “Whore.


Margot met Robert, whom she thought was cute, during the fall semester while working the concession stand at an art house theater. (Interestingly, Margot had a “habit” of flirting with customers - for tips.)

Robert was described as “tall”, “on the heavy side”, with “a little too long” beard, and “slumped” shoulders. And very "sensitive” but Margot “knew how he could be soothed” “like a horse or a bear, skillfully coaxing it to eat from her hand.” 

While texting for “several weeks”, Margot found Robert to be “clever”, and she worked “to impress him”. Eventually, they met at 7-Eleven where Robert gifted Margot a “Cherry Coke Slurpee and a bag of Doritos and a novelty lighter”. Before departing, Robert “kissed her gently on the forehead” and said, “Study hard, sweetheart. I will see you soon.”

While Margot was on break, the age-gap couple “texted nearly non-stop”. And: “When Margot returned to campus, she was eager to see Robert again [...]” Consequently, they went to the movies at a theater “where students didn’t go there very often”.

During the movie, he didn’t hold her hand or put his arm around her, so by the time they were back in the parking lot she was pretty sure that he had changed his mind about liking her.

However, after the movie, they went to a bar, but, due to being underage, Margot was denied entry, which led her to share with 34-year-old Robert that she was 20, and she reiterated that she was a sophomore. 

And then, absurdly, she started to feel tears stinging her eyes, because somehow everything had been ruined and she couldn’t understand why this was all so hard.

“Oh, sweetheart,” he said. “Oh, honey, it’s O.K., it’s all right. Please don’t feel bad.”

He kissed the top of her head, and she laughed and wiped her tears away.

Then: “in his eyes, she could see how pretty she looked”, and he “kissed her [terribly] then, on the lips, for real”. 

Margot had trouble believing that a grown man could possibly be so bad at kissing [...] it also gave her that tender feeling toward him again, the sense that even though he was older than her, she knew something he didn’t.

After the dreadful first kiss, they successfully entered a different bar and after three beers, Margot was: “[...] thinking about what it would be like to have sex with Robert [...] imagining how excited he would be [...]”

Consequently: “[...] she took his hand and pulled him up, and the look on his face when he realized what she was saying, and the obedient way he trailed her out of the bar [...]” 

Margot suggested they go to his place where, you guessed it, they had age-gap sex. (Interestingly, 20-year-old Margot, despite having had sex with six different boys, had: “[...] never gone to someone’s house to have sex before; because she’d dated only guys her age [...],” which raises the question. Where did teen Margot have sex with six different boys? However, we do know that she lost her virginity in a bed-and-breakfast that her mother reserved.)

During sex, “Robert looked stunned and stupid with pleasure, like a milk-drunk baby [...],” which Margot attributed to “[...] the fact that he was older, and she was young.”

However, for Margot, the sex was worse than the kiss; thus, to Robert's dismay, Margot decided to make the occasion a May December one-night-stand. But she didn’t want to rudely “ghost on him”. Thus, Tamara, Margot’s friend, took it upon herself to text Robert, via Margot’s phone: “Hi im not interested in you stop textng me.”

Robert replied: “O.K., Margot, I am sorry to hear that. I hope I did not do anything to upset you. You are a sweet girl and I really enjoyed the time we spent together. Please let me know if you change your mind.”

Subsequently, the former age-gap couple saw each other in a bar. Ergo, Margot's friends: “[...] hustled her out of the bar as if she were the President and they were the Secret Service.”  Robert texted later and began with: “Hi Margot, I saw you out at the bar tonight. I know you said not to text you but I just wanted to say you looked really pretty. I hope you’re doing well!” But he ended with: “Whore.”

“Cat Person” and Me

Nowicki began by noting some of the similarities that she and Charles, her older lover, had with Margot and Robert:

The protagonist was a girl from my small hometown who lived in the dorms at my college and worked at the art house theater where I’d worked and dated a man in his 30s, as I had. I recognized the man in the story, too. His appearance (tall, slightly overweight, with a tattoo on his shoulder). His attire (rabbit fur hat, vintage coat). His home (fairy lights over the porch, a large board game collection, framed posters). It was a vivid description of Charles. 

Nowicki elaborated on her age-gap affair with Charles by sharing that she was an 18-year-old senior in high school and working as a host at a burger joint when she met Charles  - a 33-year-old server and University of Michigan biology labs applicant. 

Taking advantage of the age-gap, Nowicki asked Charles to buy her some “vodka from Target.” She wrote: “Later, drunk with my friends [...] I texted him.” And she made a Vine account, TikTok’s predecessor, recorded “six-second snippets”, and “imagined him watching them.”


Subsequently, they went on a date “to see Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby at the multiplex.” And later, after they “kissed for the first time”, she asked, “How old are you?”. Nowicki wrote that Charle’s 15-year-age-gap did not “scare” her, but she felt “empowered” by her “ability to attract a fully formed adult”. And she was “enticed by the forbidden nature” of their affair. Thus, she wrote: “ I smiled and kissed him again.”

“How old are you?” I asked him after we kissed for the first time. His answer, a hesitant “33, ” didn’t scare me. I felt empowered by my ability to attract a fully formed adult and enticed by the forbidden nature of our potential relationship. I smiled and kissed him again. 

After Nowicki moved into her University of Michigan dorm room, with the help of Charles, she got a job at the “local art house movie theater”. Charles would “drop off baked goods” at the theater and after her shift, Nowicki “biked straight to his house” where it’s safe to infer that they had age-gap sex. (Nowicki wrote that Margot’s “sexual encounter” and Robert’s “hostile text messages” were “unfamiliar”, that Charles was “careful, patient, and gentle”, and, that despite having to “sneak around in suburban basements to hook up”, unlike Margo, she was a virgin.)

Of Charles, Nowicki wrote in her journal: “I’m growing up too fast because I fell in love with you. It scares me that I want to be with you forever.” However, after Nowicki’s sophomore year, she and Charles began to grow apart and by the summer of 2015, they “[...] called it quits and started seeing other people.” Yet, before Nowicki moved to New York, she: “[...] stopped by to see the cats one last time.” [Emphasis added]

Cat Person (2023)

Here’s IMDb’s synopsis for Cat Person (2023): 

When Margot, a college sophomore goes on a date with the older Robert, she finds that IRL Robert doesn't live up to the Robert she has been flirting with over texts. A razor-sharp exploration of the horrors of dating.

Although, Cat Person is (very) loosely based on CAT PERSON, some scenes were taken directly from the New Yorker text. For example, in the film, Margo and Robert met at a theater. Before a terrible kiss,  Margot cried after she shared with 33-year-old Robert that she was 20. During sex at Robert’s, Margot inferred that Robert was “clearly overwhelmed by how young and pretty” she was and by her “smooth skin” and “perfect breasts”. And in the film, after sex, Margot decided to end the age-gap affair. Consequently, after Margot and Robert spied each other at a bar, Tamara Taylor texted Robert: “hi im not interested in you stop texting me”.  And Robert ultimately responded with “Whore”. 

The differences between the New Yorker piece and the film aren’t relevant for our purposes. For example, in the film, Robert brought the 7-Eleven snacks to Margot’s archaeology lab. However, there is one minor difference between Roupenian’s piece and the film that’s worth noting. 

Once again, of the kiss, Roupenian wrote:

Margot had trouble believing that a grown man could possibly be so bad at kissing. It seemed awful, yet somehow it also gave her that tender feeling toward him again, the sense that even though he was older than her, she knew something he didn’t.

But in the film, Margot shared with Dr. Resnick, a couple’s therapist, “I mean, here he is, older than me, and yet already, I know so much more about kissing than he does.” Dr. Resnick replied, “Or was that sensation a shift in the power dynamics between you two, a shift that wound up in your favor?”

Dr. Resnick’s question brings up an issue that ties CAT PERSON, “Cat Person” AND ME, and Cat Person (2023) together, which is that due to Margot and Nowicki’s youth, there was a power balance between them and their older lovers. 

Recall that Roupenian wrote that Margot knew how Robert could be “soothed” “like a horse or a bear, skillfully coaxing it to eat from her hand.” With the thought of having sex with Margot, Robert was “obedient” and “trailed her out of the bar”. And she wrote that before sex how: “Robert looked stunned and stupid with pleasure, like a milk-drunk baby,” which Margot attributed to “the fact that he was older, and she was young.”

And, to the dismay of feminists and boys, Nowicki admitted that Roupenian “got that the power dynamic went both ways”, because, although Charles was Nowicki’s “point of access to an entirely new world of culture”, Nowicki wrote that her youth “held power over him, too.” And that Charles was not: “[...] a predatory man asserting his power over an innocent girl.” In addition, Nowicki wrote that Charle’s 15-year-age-gap did not “scare” her, but she felt “empowered” by her “ability to attract a fully formed adult” and that she was “enticed by the forbidden nature” of their affair.


So, what inspired Roupenian to write CAT PERSON? And why was CAT PERSON, reportedly, the first viral New Yorker fiction piece? Nowicki wrote that Roupenian was a MFA student in the University of Michigan’s English department, Nowicki was “friendly with some grad students” in Roupenian’s cohort, and Charles knew Roupenian. However, of CAT PERSON, Roupenian related to the New York Times: “It’s not autobiographical [...]” But Roupenian confessed the following in a letter to Nowicki:

Dear Alexis, I’ve spent the past several days struggling with the question of how to balance what is right for me with what I owe you. When I was living in Ann Arbor, I had an encounter with a man. I later learned, from social media, that this man previously had a much younger girlfriend. I also learned a handful of facts about her: that she worked in a movie theater, that she was from a town adjacent to Ann Arbor, and that she was an undergrad at the same school I attended as a grad student. Using those facts as a jumping-off point, I then wrote a story that was primarily a work of the imagination, but which also drew on my own personal experiences, both past and present.

Thus, we know that Roupenian lied to the New York Times and we know where she got her inspiration. But the (rhetorical) question remains: Why did CAT PERSON go so viral? 

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