I try to avoid stereotypes whenever possible. Lacking in originality, they are annoying because they demonstrate a certain laziness on the part of the writer. They exist because they function as a type of code, a way to explain something without going into great detail that someone might not want to read. This is handy because we are all so pressed for time lately.
Social media is full of these labels right now; with so many people documenting their confinements, it’s hard not to sort folks into tidy boxes. Other people’s vacations have always looked better online, and that is also true of pandemic posts. Here is the competent mom homeschooling her children; that one is the hilarious sports nut who is narrating his dog’s race to finish dinner first. Further down the feed you will find various posts documenting dinner, exercise and wine consumption. We have all been divided into categories by this digital Sorting Hat, and more of us are landing in Hufflepuff than we would have liked.
Apparently, I am a cliché as well, as is evidenced by those memory prompts that show up at the beginning of my Facebook feed. Judging by that data alone, I am a single woman with cats. This is a trope so judgmental that it has been the basis for countless loser sitcom characters and even a Broadway musical. The stereotype immediately calls forth a lonely older woman, often crazy, who walks upon cat-pee soaked carpets surrounded by dozens of felines who are just waiting for her to croak so they can eat her face.
While there may be the tiniest modicum of truth in that description (mine probably will eat my face), I am here to defend the reputation of my fellow online feline lovers. We may be alone but we are not lonely. We have many remarkable qualities and talents; it’s simply that those don’t photograph as well as our cats.
Do not pity or mock us, for we who are going solo with our pets have developed remarkable symbiotic relationships. We can share the stockpiled cans of tuna we have been hoarding since the pandemic began. When the heat is turned down to conserve electricity, our fingers will not freeze as we type, for there is often a furry body fully draped across the keyboard, its hind leg twitching as we feel around under the haunch to find the shift key. We do not envy the families with small children, planning activities for learning and exhausting the day’s curriculum by 9:30am as their young students prove why those Teacher Appreciation Day gifts from the past were so important. Our companions fight to participate in naptime, a skill that we have all gotten remarkably good at during this confinement.
My cats and I enjoy Binge Watching, as it provides quality lap time while I lay motionless on the couch, the only sign of activity a quick flick of the remote when the television asks me Do you want to continue watching Netflicks? The first week or so in confinement, I watched all seven seasons of Mad Men. That is 91 episodes, or 68.25 hours. I was sorry when it was over.
Now more than ever, it’s important not to reduce people to the flat portrayals that we see online. We all have more depth and dimension than is visible on a monitor. We are not our Instagram profiles. We are not Kardashians.
Someday, maybe soon, maybe later, we will stumble out toward the fresh air and rediscover the depths of intellect and emotion that is hidden inside those stereotypes that box us in online. And when that time is finally here and we are bathed in the light, my first thought will probably be Damn, I have a lot of cat hair on me.