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A house cat sits in the foreground with a couple on a set of stairs in the background. On the stairs there is a potted plant, and above the stairs there is a window with floral curtains. Illustration.

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Only a duplex allowed me to tolerate my partner’s cat

I wanted to be easygoing and compromising, but I didn’t see a way to share a space with this particular, peculiar pet

When we have company, I tell people the cat lives downstairs because of my allergies. And I do have allergies, but that’s only part of the reason why my partner and I have this unique living arrangement—the cat lives downstairs, and we’re on the upper level of the apartment. The fuller reason is that I detest cats. I have tried to love them, but I can barely tolerate them.

When Jesse and I first met, I noticed him posting cat photos on Instagram. I’d always considered cats to be a dealbreaker, but of course, we fell in love anyway. And the chirrupy Russian blue he’d inherited from his previous relationship was part of the deal.

As our relationship grew more serious and we started discussing marriage and cohabiting, the cat issue loomed large. There were many screaming matches over this loaf of fur that he loved to love and I hated to hate; I have prayed without ceasing that a miracle would have me wake up one day, inclined to find pleasure in a cat’s company. I figured our best-case scenario would be living in separate nearby apartments forever, because that’s a thing—“Living Apart Together.”

Sadie’s breed is a talkative feline, similar to a Siamese—the kind that meows throughout the day. Cat lovers tend to find this trait charming and comforting, but to me, the sound is raucous, like the unrelenting bleating of a newborn on a transatlantic flight, or the insistent shrill of a car alarm. The grimalkin in question is also highly affectionate (some might say demanding)—again, a boon for cat lovers, but I’d much prefer to keep a cool, aloof distance. No leg rubbing for me, thanks.

I couldn’t fathom living with Sadie; the thought of her trotting her litter-box paws along the kitchen counters with impunity made me shudder. So did the notion of working from home with a chatty Cathy trailing me from room to room, sidling up to my calves, and shedding hard-to-remove hair all over my things. I’d slept over and pet-sit when Jesse was out of town with enough frequency to know this was what I’d be signing up for if we put our names on a lease together. I wanted so desperately to be easygoing and compromising, but after analyzing the situation from every angle, I still didn’t see a way for me to sanely share a space with this particular, peculiar cat (there are other, more low-key cats I can, in fact, abide).

Jesse and I have never butted heads on a matter so vehemently. For a time, whenever we’d pass by a real estate office with flyers posted outside, Jesse would point to an attractive one or two-bedroom apartment in our price range, imagining the possibilities. I’d want to go there with him, but my heart always caught in my throat. The cat. It wouldn’t be humane to confine her to one room, and she’d certainly have loud opinions about it all day and all night. If we gave her the run of the apartment, and I locked myself away in a bedroom, I’d come down with cabin fever quickly; I wouldn’t be able to stick around long. (A roommate once adopted a kitten without warning and I evacuated the house within 48 hours, never to return.) I put all my dreams of the future with my partner on hold.

But Jesse couldn’t imagine life without Sadie. He’s always had a special bond with her, despite not necessarily being a cat person—he says that what he feels for her exists outside the traditional cat-person dynamic. He’s co-parented multiple cats with past partners, and admits that if it were any other cat, re-homing might have been an option. Sadie helped him through the worst of a major bout of depression he suffered during our first year of dating. Knowing that this creature depended on him for survival kept him here, earthbound. Those traumatic times bonded him to the little beast.

For a while, Jesse and I were forced into what I’d call a long-distance arrangement—his new job relocated him to Upper Manhattan, while I still lived an hour-plus train ride away in south Brooklyn. The distance wore on us, especially me. The cat conundrum had been easy enough to place on hold when only five or six city blocks separated my studio and his one-bedroom in Crown Heights. But with the strain of inter-borough commuting, closing the gap between us felt more urgent. In that limbo, I often spent my evenings scouring apartment listings, looking for magical duplexes and strange layouts that might accommodate our special needs—somewhere where Jesse could be near his pet, but where I wouldn’t have to hear her mewls and could keep my belongings clean and cat-free.

One night, while browsing StreetEasy, I stumbled upon a unicorn: an affordable two-level, three-bedroom New York City condo for rent. It had been on the market for over a month already, and somehow hadn’t been snatched up. It seemed too good to be true. Lady Chatter-ley and I could both have ample space to ourselves, and Jesse wouldn’t have to choose between us.

We couldn’t put our deposit down fast enough.

Some people give us a hard time about this living arrangement; they insist that Sadie must be lonely downstairs. But if that’s the case, she has always been lonely, at home alone while Jesse is at work all day. She has the whole floor to herself. There are windows that make perfect perches—they’ve been lined with pillows and blankets so she can nap and bird-watch as she pleases, having those rolling guttural fits that pigeons induce.

Jesse spends most evenings down there with her, watching television and snuggling up for quality Jesse-Sadie time. Often, he even falls asleep on the lower level—which functions as a large living room-cum-guest suite with a smaller adjoining room where Sadie eats and does her private business. Meanwhile, I have peace and quiet upstairs, and get to enjoy the domestic bliss that is sharing a home with your loved one, waking up and spending your private time together, uninterrupted by loud, grating noises and non-consensual touching.

It all works so well, I can hardly believe our luck.

Depending on how you look at it, I’m the catalyst in this circumstance, and it seems like I’ve done the least amount of compromising. I experienced so much guilt while we were in limbo, because everything I’d read and heard from friends made me believe that the person without the pet should do the accommodating. Why couldn’t I force myself into not being agitated by the cat? I don’t know, but I couldn’t.

And I’m glad I didn’t bend on my boundaries. I knew what I could and couldn’t live with. I couldn’t live on the same floor with Sadie, but I wanted to build a life with Jesse. The situation seemed impossible, but thanks to this rare floorplan, I’ve managed to do both.

Abby Carney is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She’s written for Texas Monthly, the Washington Post, Saveur, Glamour, and elsewhere.

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