Many people recognize that feeling of falling in love. If Kitty gazes at you adoringly with her big golden eyes, pines when you are apart, then greets you with a symphony of operatic purrs when you return, you might find yourself wondering if she’s been struck by the love bug.
The writer C. S. Lewis famously said that romantic love was invented by French troubadours in the 12th and 13th centuries -- singing poets who celebrated unquestioning devotion to the beloved. Lewis believed that the troubadours influenced our contemporary perceptions of romantic love, and was making the point that this type of love, with which falling in love is associated, is a cultural concept. Because only people are influenced by cultural ideas, it’s natural that Tinker doesn't really care about lovesick troubadours – his main priority is that dinner’s on time.
There’s a fine but fixed line between the romantic notion of falling madly in love and calm, sane love shared between close family members including, naturally, your kitty. The anthropologist Helen Fisher, however, does note similarities between romantic love in people and emotional attachment between mammals. Fisher believes that romantic love is a higher form of the affection between birds and mammals. “In humans, the developed form of animal attraction is known as romantic love, obsessive love, passionate love, or being in love,” Fisher writes. According to Fisher, birds and mammals express attachment through grooming, separation anxiety and mutual proximity. Felines, as you know, display the same kind of affection toward people. Therefore, it’s probably safe to say that while your pet loves you and is attached to you, she isn’t in love with you.
Felines have their own unique means of expressing affection. The face rub, for example, is a grand romantic gesture in feline terms. Your pet has scent glands on his cheek and when he caresses your face with his, he’s telling you that you belong to him and are a cherished part of his family. The feline kiss, bestowed via a leisurely blink, is Tinker’s way of telling you that he loves and appreciates you. People often express their love for their kitties in a more traditionally human romantic way. Christopher Smart’s famous poem, “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry,” is a love letter to his beloved pet.
The love between you and your pet is the best kind of love because it lasts forever. It’s the unconditional love Shakespeare celebrates in Sonnet 116, when he says that “love is not time’s fool.” Your kitty won’t care about your middle-age spread because the more there is of you to cuddle, the better, as far as he’s concerned. The best word to describe this is “agape,” which is derived from the Greek word for love and means selfless, unconditional love. As author James L. McClinton notes, the love of our pets is a perfect example of agape love because they “don’t care if we play the piano or are attractive enough to land a movie contract.”
- Paw Prints In Heaven?: Christians And Pet Loss; James L McClinton
- The Allegory of Love; C S Lewis
- Helenfisher.com: The New Psychology of Love
- Manhattan Cats: Separation Anxiety in Cats
- Poets.org: Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry]
Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Burns began writing professionally in 1988. She has worked as a feature writer for various Irish newspapers, including the "Irish News," "Belfast News Letter" and "Sunday Life." Burns has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ulster as well as a Master of Research in arts.