The 2017 New Yorker story “Cat Person” went mega-viral for its painfully detailed, fictional depiction of 20-year-old woman’s relationship with a 34-year-old man, from their courting to aggressive break-up. Roupenian said at the time that the story—which spurred a seven-figure book deal and a movie—was inspired by “a small but nasty encounter” she had with a person she met online. But in a Slate essay, Alexis Nowicki says that her college relationship with 30-something “Charles” mirrors the piece in eerie detail, from the location of their first date to their respective mannerisms, their age gap and her hometown. Nowicki and Charles broke up and she found out he died last year. While reaching out to his friends, she found that Charles knew Roupenian and told her about their relationship.
Nowicki says that Roupenian confirmed in an email that details from the relationship ended up in the piece, but the overall work was fictional. She apologized to Nowicki for causing “significant pain and confusion.” Still, Nowicki wrote, she was uncomfortable with her relationship being improperly characterized by millions of strangers. “Meanwhile, I’m alone with my memories of what really happened—just like any death leaves you burdened with the responsibility of holding onto the parts of a person that only you knew,” she wrote.