How owning a pet can change your dating life

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By Sarah Stanley

I’ll be honest: If I find out that someone is a cat person, I am much less likely to befriend them — or even trust them. I think that people have the same personalities as their pets. As a dog person, I feel that my personality and a cat person’s personality would clash in the same way cats and dogs sometimes do. Even with friends that have cats and dogs, there are bits of their personalities that I could instantly label “cat,” like being picky or distant. However, after reading this study, I have gained a different view on what pets mean for the personality of their human owners.

Though more research needs to be conducted in this field, it seems apparent that having pets can affect personality traits that are crucial in a relationship.

If you haven’t already noticed, the term “fur mom/dad” is an actual thing that doesn’t mean something weird. Our pets are increasingly becoming our babies. Because they are less work than having actual children, the young adult group can balance their drive to achieve goals with their desire to nurture a living being.

Traditionally, women would look for long-term partners based on how well they interacted with babies and children, using this as an indicator of the prospective partner’s caregiving and parenting qualities. Now, women aren’t as interested in having children so early in life. Instead, we have pets.

Having a dog or cat makes you somewhat like a single parent. You probably want your date to like your pet and hope they will have the caregiving capacities to take it out or feed it if you asked them to.

Anthrozoös published a study on how pets affected dating. In this study, women judged men more harshly based on whether or not they owned pets. Additionally, they judged cat- and dog-owners differently, with dog ownership being used as a compass for the other’s caregiving qualities.

This new test of date-ability certainly has its drawbacks. Babies and animals are much different in how much commitment they take to survive and be happy. Babies cry at night, you can’t leave them alone, and you certainly can’t lock them in your house for hours on end while you go to school or workthe entirety of their lives. Children live longer and require more psychological nurturance to grow up and become successful.

Knowing if someone is a pet person and what kind of pet they own may not tell you exactly how adept they are with the intricacies of human relationships, but it can clue you in on some other important traits. Knowledge of these traits can be helpful in determining just how compatible you and this person might be.

In the aforementioned study by Reevy and Delgado researchers assessed the personality traits of dog owners, cat owners and individuals who owned no pets. The traits that they focused on were traits from the Big Five Inventory: conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness. Additionally, they looked at how different attachment styles were related to different types of ownership.

In a broad sense, pet owners were found to be much more conscientious than those who do not own pets, which makes sense. Having another living being to tend to day after day certainly makes you more responsible and focused.

In general, it was found that self-identified dog people scored higher on extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness. It is not hard to determine how extraverted and agreeable someone is. Speaking to someone a few times should give you that information, but you might need to know someone more intimately to determine the degree of these traits. However, it can be quite difficult to determine how neurotic or open someone is without having a deeply personal relationship with them.

Through this study, it has been shown that cat owners are, on average, more neurotic than dog owners or non-owners. Neuroticism is also associated with depression and hostility. Despite this fact, cat owners are not inherently worse dating partners. Most are probably not dangerously neurotic, and cat owners still have traits that can make them desirable.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the study was the link to different attachment styles. For instance, cat people were more likely to have anxious attachment styles and people without pets were more likely to have avoidant attachment styles. These different attachment styles are important in dating relationships and can almost determine what arguments, fears and feelings partners can have in the course of their relationship.

Avoidant attachment was most seen in those who do not have pets. For those concerned with long-term commitment, this means that having a pet can decrease avoidance regardless of any human relationships or caregiving roles that the person might have.

Cat ownership, on the other hand, was linked with anxious attachment. Such an attachment isn’t necessarily harmful in pet-human relationships, according to Delgado and Reevy. However, they state that anxiously attached parents tend to be more overprotective of their children and will not allow the child to grow and change in a healthy way. During the course of a relationship, either party could undergo a great deal of change. For an anxiously attached person, this change can be perceived as a threat to the stability of the relationship. Knowing if someone tends to be more anxiously attached can help ignite positive discussions about the relationship.

With extraversion, agreeableness and the lack of maladaptive attachment styles, dog owners seem like the best pick for dating. However, those who do not own pets may be better partners in hookup or short-term situations and cat owners would be better partners for those who do not mind giving reassurance periodically and enjoy having someone depend on them.

In any case, it is apparent that being conscious of which pets someone has, if any, can be more useful in determining certain traits than knowing how well they interact with children.

The next step, having a pet with someone, can act as a test run for having children. 

“Getting a dog as a team with my partner has been a fantastic, rewarding experience that’s taught us both a lot about raising and caring for something together and has allowed us to have some good conversations about things we may not have discussed as early on,” says Jessica Remitz, a pet parent living in Chicago with her boyfriend and dog.

These topics included finances, adopting more pets and even the possibility of having children. These experiences and conversations are important in discovering if the person you are with is right for you and if the relationship is baby-ready.

As for advice on taking the step of getting a pet with a partner, she says, “If you’re raising a pet together, the best thing to do in my experience would be to talk about as many issues in advance as possible.”

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