My cat Thomas and I have entered the next phase of our relationship. To use romantic-pairing milestones as an analogy, we’ve gotten to something like the “I don’t have to close the bathroom door when I pee” stage, or maybe “This union really feels like home now.” I don’t have a name for this one (yet), but it’s a noticeable change like the ones I mention above. Thing is, such stages often happen organically, and you recognize them only when a feeling overcomes you, or when you just intuitively don’t close the bathroom door and go “huh.”
This transformation with Thomas, though, has a hard date: Dec. 29, the end of 16 days apart. No, it wasn’t a trial separation. It was a vacation — a two-week trip overseas, to Brussels, Berlin, and Munich. And rather than giving Thomas, my girlfriend, and myself separation anxiety, it brought us closer together. Thomas has been a different cat since Daphne and I got back, and the change is definitely for the better.
Before I left, I was kind of a wreck thinking about leaving Thomas. Keep in mind that Daphne and I have the best cat-sitter in the universe in the form of a neighbor named Laura who loves to spend lots of time with Thomas (sometimes taking four-hour naps with him). Still, I was beside myself thinking of our little gray tabby wondering where we were, night after night. This in itself marked a place I’d not been in man-cat relations, as before previous vacations I’ve been sure my cats would be okay and that they’d get over any separation anxiety upon my return. With Thomas I was more like a parent leaving a kid for the first time.
Thomas mitigated this for me somewhat. While Daphne and I were away, I dreamed about Thomas. I apologized for leaving him for so long, and he said to me — in the dream he was able to speak, albeit telepathically, I think — “Don’t worry about it. You guys are on vacation. I’ll be okay.”
That put my mind at ease. You see, I believe that Thomas and I are connected, and that we’ve communicated with each other telepathically via a Tarot reading I gave him last year. So when he comes to me in a dream and says, “Don’t worry about it,” I don’t worry about it.
Daphne and I did miss Thomas terribly, and during the final days of our trip when we envisioned our reunion with him, we based it on our past experience: We’d come home, Thomas would sniff our luggage and shoes urgently, he’d pretend not to notice us for about five minutes, he’d fall down and get heavy-love petting for about an hour, then for about a week he’d be a little skittish in the evenings and do his extendo-meow a bit more than usual until routine brought his mind back to normal.
That’s not how it happened.
Thomas did do his urgent sniffing, and there was an extended period of heavy-love petting, but there was not a trace of anxiety. Daphne and I had set aside three days after our return before going back to work to accommodate jet-lag and exhaustion, and during that time Thomas was King Love Cat. He had transitioned from a rambunctious teenager to a more mature creature with a calm demeanor, not afraid to show love and affection, as he sometimes was before.
Here are some specifics on how Thomas changed:
Thomas reached out to me repeatedly and consistently during the night in ways he rarely had before. He slept alongside me, either touching me or within a couple of inches where he knew my arms or hands would be while I slept. Several times I woke up in the dead of night with my hand on his back, him purring.
He slept on top of Daphne, and several times before we went to sleep, he reached out and touched her with a paw in what she describes as “I love you … I must touch you gently on the face now.”
There was a time when it took half the night for Thomas to “remember” that he could easily hop onto the couch and get petting while Daphne and I watched TV or a movie. He would meow and meow and meow until I picked him up and set him down between us, after which he’d settle down, accept petting, and purr forever. Upon our return, however, he hopped up without fanfare and lay down on one of us, being a lap cat for the first time in his feline career.
I learned about the “I-love-you blink” from Jackson Galaxy — it’s that slow, lazy sequence of blinks (often three) that’s a way cats express love for humans. I’ve tried giving the love-blink back to a handful of cats, including one named Moxie belonging to one of our friends in Oregon, with dramatic results. Moxie’s eyes dilated to pure black, and she went into a trance on her back every time I said “I love you” this way. It was magic. I couldn’t wait to try it on Thomas.
But when I did, my rambunctious teenager would look away after one blink and remain fixated on a point just to my left (or right). But as of Dec. 29, he more often holds eye contact, throwing wide the doors of mystery that makes the deepest part of my unconscious mind ask, “Who are you? What are you? Who am I and how deep does this connection run?” He hasn’t gone into a trance like Moxie, but he at least has returned my blinks and holds my gaze in a fearless way.
Thomas is a talker, so when he wants something (which is to say, when he wants anything) he lets us know with the not-so-subtle MEOW! MEOW! MEOW! While he’s still quite a talker, since our return he spends much more time lounging near us (which is to say, when he’s not on us) in silence, making eye contact in most satisfied and contented ways, rather than defaulting to the extendo-meow. I’ve also noticed he sleeps near us more during daylight hours.
In these ways it feels like he’s telling us more that he loves and appreciates us, that he has let us farther into his heart and soul. His behavior suggests a certain wisdom and maturity, and it’s without even the subtle or low-level anxiety one might expect after a separation this long.
Have you ever had a cat behave this way toward you after an absence? In what ways have you noticed your relationships with cats progressing or deepening?
Also: Do you want to see more photos from the trip to Belgium and Germany, including many European representations of cats (as well as two real ones)?
Tell me in the comments!
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About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is senior editor at Catster and Dogster.