Love (and Cats) in the Time of Corona

It's been a weird old time for romance. The dating landscape has changed drastically over the course of a year as we've had to adapt to a world where the awkwardness of not knowing whether to greet a person by shaking their hand or kissing their cheek has been superseded by a mandate to stay at least 6 feet away from others. What was once fertile ground for making a connection or, at very least, making small talk before faking a migraine, became a new frontier as people looking for love or for the frisson of flirtation had to learn to do so without the aid of an exciting venue or the promise of physical contact. In the spring and summer of 2020, major news outlets were producing illustrated guides to help single people navigate the "new dating rules" or to encourage them to "embrace the slower pace of a pandemic relationship". People who may previously have resisted dating apps in favour of finding a spark in the warm lighting and ambient noise of a bar began to see the appeal of finding a match without leaving their homes. On the 29th of March 2020, for instance, Tinder users across the globe made 3 billion swipes, a record-breaking high for the app.

A cartoon of two people wearing masks. One texts the other to ask them if they like cats.

The experiences of single people exploring dating "remotely" (we've noticed that WFH is now a popular acronym, but DFH hasn't really caught on) have spawned countless articles, blog posts and memes, but it's not only the love lives of single people that have been adversely affected by the "new normal"! People in established relationships have faced myriad challenges that they could not have anticipated. Many of those who do not share a household, for example, have had to swap cosy movie nights in for brisk walks on cold afternoons. Essentially, "Netflix and chill" has been replaced with "Netflix Party and, if you live within walking distance of each other, catch a chill".

Couples who were already living under the same roof have also had a rough go of it in that they've been made to endure cabin fever together. The pressure exerted by these extraordinary conditions is so irresistible to those who study human behaviour that research papers examining the impact of lockdowns on cohabiting couples were being produced as early as May last year. Then there are all of the weddings that have been postponed, which means that very few people have leapt around to 'Dancing in the Moonlight' in a group setting recently, which is a real shame.

This is the backdrop of Valentine's Day 2021. We could go on and on about the trials and tribulations of finding and maintaining love during a pandemic, but this isn't a think piece for The Mew Yorker. (If only such a magazine existed: "reading material for the cerebral ailurophile".) At Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, we are in the business of celebrating cats and cat lovers, so when we were sent a photo of two radiant newlyweds sporting our feline-inspired face coverings on their special day, we were touched and wanted to know more about them. No matter what your Valentine's Day has looked like this year, we've got a heart-warming story for you.

Cupid's Cat Emporium 💘

A high tea stand laden with treats.

Before we introduce you to our cat-loving newlyweds, Laura and Pascal, we want to take a moment to reflect on the Emporium's history as a venue that loves love! Usually when we talk about a "Lady Dinah's love story," we're referring to a strong bond between a cat and a human. This could take shape as the affection between a staff member and their best feline pal or as the "happily ever after" that comes with finding a rescue moggy their forever home. Sometimes we might even be thinking of a short-lived courtship: those of you who have visited the Emporium know that you can easily fall in love with a cat over the course of an hour!

We do not only facilitate tender feelings between cats and humans, however. The Emporium has been the site of many romantic rendezvous over the years, and we've hosted private functions for loved-up couples as well as Valentine's Day events. We've even had the honour of being involved in a few marriage proposals! For example, one soon-to-be groom-to-be made a reservation with us and came prepared with a mug that had the words "Will you marry me?" printed inside of it, at the bottom. He asked us to serve his partner's coffee in it; thankfully our head barista is experienced at producing latte art under pressure! When the lucky lady reached the dregs of her beverage and saw the message, she shed tears of joy before accepting the proposal.

On a couple of occasions, friends of the Emporium have enlisted the help of one of our cats to pop the question! Ginger ninja, Donnie, has delivered engagement rings to two proposees and you'd better believe that this has gone to his head! He's even more smug now that he's also attended a wedding... sort of. The design for our orange-cat face coverings were inspired by Donnie's handsome muzzle, so it's rather fitting (though coincidental) that Laura and Pascal chose to wear these on their wedding day!

A handsome ginger tomcat wearing a spotted green bandanna.

Getting "Meowied" During a Pandemic

We were emerging from the murky depths of Britain's first lockdown when Laura sent us her wedding photo (scroll up to see it!) in response to a post on our Facebook page. We had published an update about the availability of our cloth face coverings and she shared her photo in the comments section, which certainly demonstrated how great they look! We didn't know how well they complemented formal attire before having seen this beautiful portrait of two young bewhiskered newlyweds. It was the best possible endorsement and gave us a much-needed boost! Everyone at Lady Dinah's HQ was feeling haggard after months of closure and uncertainty, so it gave us a warm fuzzy feeling to see that, even though we could no longer facilitate magical memories in the way that we used to, we could still be part of people's wonderful stories. You can take the cat lovers out of the Emporium, but the wonderland stays with them! Since 2012, we've been fostering a worldwide community of cat enthusiasts, so it felt right to have been present at a wedding ceremony in Germany even though we were only there in spirit.

A lovely young bride holding a bouquet and wearing a cat-inspired face covering embraces a member of her wedding party.

We got in touch with Laura to thank her for having made our week, and we asked her to tell us a bit about her wedding day so that we could live vicariously through her. Thanks to Laura's impeccable English and the modern marvel that is video chat, it was easy to straddle the distance between London and Trier.

Before getting on to the subject of the Big Day, we started by talking about how Laura first met her husband. Her tale of meeting him at a friend's birthday party in 2007, and how this was soon followed by connecting via MySpace and then "awkward hand-holding in the dark" at a screening of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End made us feel nostalgic for our younger days and more generally for the Before Times, when mingling at parties and cinema trips were commonplace activities.

Laura says that the fact that she and Pascal were able to establish their feelings for one another within just a few days of meeting is "a mystery" to her as, aged 18 and 20, they were "not very suave". A crucial moment in the development of their relationship came when Laura was introduced to (vetted by) Pascal's best friend, Kim, who was the best man at their wedding. They hit it off immediately and Laura describes Kim as "tremendously important" to her and Pascal. It is clear that they regard him as family, a sentiment which is manifest in the name of their gorgeous tortoiseshell cat, Kim. It is worth noting that Laura and Pascal were together for over a decade before tying the knot, but they adopted a cat after only about a year of dating. These people have their priorities in order! Although their "grumpy" little lady (there's that famous tortitude shining through) is officially listed as 'Kim' on medical forms, she goes by "Katze!" most of the time, which is the German word for 'cat'. The exclamation mark is part of the spelling here, as Madame's name must be uttered with a certain degree of flair!

Kit the cat! A tortoiseshell cat sits next to a lamp.

Aside from acting as best man, Human Kim played a major role in Laura and Pascal's wedding in that they set the date with him in mind. Laura told us that she and Pascal didn't so much get engaged as they "loosely decided" that they'd probably get married eventually, and a "sticking point" for when this would be was that Kim needed to be in attendance. Kim now lives in the United States, so when he mentioned that he and his wife were planning to visit Germany in the summer of 2020, Laura and her (loosely) betrothed were incentivised to start making arrangements! These initial conversations occurred 1000 years ago in 2019, so Laura had no inkling that she was planning for an event that would be disrupted by a pandemic.

In what turned out to be a stroke of luck, the 1st of August was selected as the wedding date and everything was organised before anyone was aware of COVID-19. Laura told us that early August proved to be in a "sweet spot" as the rate of infection in her district was low, and regulations had changed in June so that weddings comprising up to 75 people were permitted. She is relieved that she and Pascal did not choose to cancel the wedding before seeing how the situation developed. The guest count was always lower than 40, which made things easier. Not only that, but the reception was to take place at a restaurant with ample outdoor space, so they didn't need to change their venue.

Some concessions had to be made, but nothing so large as to put a real dent in proceedings. Unfortunately, not all of their friends were able to attend, but this could not be helped. One such friend was shielding their immunocompromised spouse, for instance. The greatest source of anxiety for the bride- and groom-to-be was the uncertainty surrounding whether or not Kim could be there. Once it became clear that international travel would be subject to various restrictions, it started to look as though the best man would not be able to journey from his stateside abode. Given that the date of the wedding had been selected to coincide with Kim's holiday plans, the irony of his not being to make the trip would be too much to bear.

Thankfully, Kim's flight was not cancelled! But this was not the only potential obstacle... Surely, he and his wife would need to self-isolate for 2 weeks upon entry to Germany? If so, this would be disastrous as the wedding fell on the 13th day after their arrival. Just 24 hours off! "We were really stressed about it," Laura confided, but a fast-track COVID test at Frankfurt airport meant that Kim and his partner only needed to isolate themselves for a day before they received a negative result. After this it was just a matter of everyone being careful and monitoring their health before coming together for a celebration of love.

A married couple smiling on their wedding day.

Considering that Laura and Pascal were not always confident that their wedding would be allowed to go ahead, they were not fazed by the relatively small detail of being required to wear masks at the registrar's office. "They were most likely going to show up in at least a few pictures," Laura explained, "so I wanted them the be nice." She and Pascal are "huge cat lovers" and have visited the Emporium several times since we opened in 2014, so she follows us on social media and saw photos of our cat-inspired face coverings on Facebook and Instagram. At this point, "that little light bulb went off above [her] head" and she thought "If we're having half of our expressions covered, why not replace them with an adorable cat face?" She's glad that she had this idea as it gives the photos of her ceremony "a much more fun vibe," and we're delighted because our design brought some jolly feline energy to an extra special occasion!

When Laura described her wedding reception to us, we really felt ourselves yearning for languid sunny days with our loved ones. The intimate gathering took place at one of her favourite restaurants, which is in the grounds of an art school in Trier and has a terrace overlooking the Moselle, a river that flows from the Vosges Mountains in western Germany to France through Luxembourg. The sun was shining brightly, so spending almost every minute outside was not a problem, even though they were allowed to congregate indoors. These festivities were Laura's most cherished part of the day because it was "the first time we were seeing more than one or two people [at a time] in months" and the only time she and Pascal had "nearly all" of their nearest and dearest in one place. It had all of the markers of a perfect day, with Laura "lazily getting slow-roasted by the sun with a beautiful view, excellent food, and great people".

Love Is All Around

Wookie, a large tabby cat, rests on a table next to a paper love heart.

We feel it in our fingers, we feel it in our toe beans. As we all take stock of how our lives have changed since last Valentine's Day, let us leave you with this note we jotted down after speaking with Laura: "This is not only a story about romantic love. It's about the families we choose, the relationships we build." In bringing you an account of a young couple preparing for their wedding day, we assumed we'd be writing about gooey romantic feelings, but ultimately we were struck by Laura and Pascal's desire to be joined by their best friend. Any celebration of love, whether it's a wedding, an anniversary dinner or even a birthday party, is about bearing witness to something positive and hopeful. We often take being able to share our lives - the triumphs, the mishaps, the stupid jokes and fleeting crushes, the grand ideas and sobering thoughts - for granted, but the past 12 months have made us appreciate just how good it can feel simply to stand close to certain people. Whether that's at a registrar's office with your long-term partner and his best man, or in line at a supermarket with your mates and a frozen pizza, is sort of immaterial.

So, this Valentine's Day, irrespective of your relationship status or tolerance for "cheesy, corny, mushy" stuff, we hope that you're feeling the love! Maybe you've enjoyed a candlelit dinner with your partner, maybe you braved a picnic on a windswept common, maybe you'll chat to a friend on the phone tonight, maybe you just want to watch a slasher movie and eat ice cream... Whatever your plans, if you're lucky enough to live with a cat, give them a big smooch from us!

A fluffy black and white cat named Peter grabs at a Valentine's Day decoration - a toothpick with a paper love heart attached to one end.

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