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In our Dealbreakers series, exes report on the habit, belief, or boxer brief that ended the affair.
Halfway through our first date, I pulled out my phone and showed Sam a picture of my cat.
“That’s the one problem with you,” he told me. I’d met Sam at the end of a marathon weekend of dates, an event I’d engineered to kick off my newly single life after ending a four-year relationship. After meeting up with a programmer, a lady doctor, and a guy who’d once been on 30 Rock, Sam proved to be the most promising candidate in the running. He was incredibly attractive, a feminist, a former rape crisis hotline volunteer, and a flirt who translated our effortless chemistry into plenty of playful touching throughout the nightcap we shared on the Lower East Side. He was also allergic to cats.
I had cats all through my childhood, and my choice of pet never seemed to make much of an impact on my social life. But when I reclaimed my childhood cat from my parents as an adult, legions of the allergic came out of the woodwork. I learned I had several friends who couldn’t tolerate the slightest hint of dander. I’ve never considered myself a cat lady, but suddenly, Miagi was threatening to intrude on my dating life.
When it got late, Sam leaned in to kiss me. I kissed back, and our goodbye embrace quickly escalated into a hot-and-heavy makeout session. As I became increasingly aware of the people around us, I pulled away. “I’d invite you home with me,” I said, “but you’re allergic to cats.”
“I can come home with you,” Sam rebutted. He said he wouldn’t be able to sleep over, but he’d be fine for a few hours. We rushed back to my place and locked the cat out of my bedroom. When rolling around on my fur-infused bedspread didn’t immediately send Sam into anaphylactic shock, I figured we might actually have a chance.
The next time I saw Sam, we went to his place. Normally, I try to avoid roommate-filled apartments in the outer boroughs, but I figured Sam’s allergy justified the trek out to the Astoria apartment he shared with two other people. At least we could get through a night without me worrying about killing him.
Dressing for the date, I’d tried my best to pick out clothes that showed no signs of cat hair. The task proved harder than I thought. Most of my clothes have some dander on them, and even after an aggressive lint roller session, my outfit remained not entirely cat-free. I had done my best. I figured it would be fine.
“I see cat hair,” Sam commented as I took off my coat. That didn’t stop him from aggressively making out with me—or rubbing his face on select areas of my shirt later on. Everything was fine at first: We made out, we went to dinner, we watched an episode of QI. But hours later, Sam’s eyes had turned a distinct shade of red—and suddenly, the strange exhaustion he’d felt all evening started to seem like a sinister sign. Something was definitely wrong: Whatever traces of hair still lingered on me were causing an allergic reaction. And though we tried to muddle through, it definitely put a damper on the evening. Even after a full night of sleep, Sam wasn’t completely back to normal—and I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to make this work.
Leaving Astoria the next morning, I formed an action plan. Seeing Sam at my apartment was out. Even going to his apartment had not proved as safe as I’d originally assumed. But I had options. I’d buy clothes to wear exclusively at his apartment. I’d shower when I got there. It was a hassle, sure—but if he was as awesome as he seemed, I could put up with a hassle. At 17, my cat was not particularly long for this world. If I had to jump through hoops a little bit longer in order to hold on to an awesome relationship, so be it.
The next few times I saw Sam, we hung out in public, and managed to navigate several more dates without any allergic reactions on his part. I was feeling pretty confident about things. Then I went home with him again.
I entered his bedroom and immediately shed my clothes.
“Do you want me to take a shower?” I asked, overly conscious of the trace levels of cat that must be caking my skin.
“No,” he said. “It’s fine. If I get sick, I’ll just take some meds.” Hours later, when my body had left Sam sniffling and red-eyed again, he announced he couldn’t possibly take the medication: It was too late in the evening, and he’d either find himself unable to fall asleep or unable to wake up the next day. We passed the night, him awake with allergies, me with guilt.
In my infatuated state, I refused to see that the relationship was doomed. I didn’t want to believe that this boy who seemed so nice, who kept telling me I was gorgeous and amazing and wonderful, could possibly be felled by something so small as my eight-pound Siamese. Sam, on the other hand, saw the writing on the wall. Two weeks later, when we had made plans to hang out after his trip to Palm Springs, he called and ended things.
“Did I do something wrong?” I asked, blindsided.
“There was one thing,” he said, his voice awkwardly stilted. “Whenever we hung out, you made me sick. And I don’t mean that you’re ugly or gross to look at—I mean that you have a cat, and I’m allergic.”
I moved to point out that I’d tried to work around that. That I’d gone out of my way to protect him from my cat. That, really, I could still do more, if only he’d let me. But I stopped myself. Sam’s overaggressive immune system was too strong. I had battled his allergy and lost.
It’s tempting to see this whole story as a "love me, love my cat" sort of tale, but I don’t think it’s that simple. After all, I know plenty of cat owners who’ve managed to find love with allergic mates. But if I ever fall for someone with allergies again, know this—they’d better be willing to at least take a Claritin for me.
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