This morning I posted a piece I wrote for Provocative Penguin, where I edit stuff by me and other writerly people.
A copy is up there, and below, for posterity.
We love our pets. They’re our companions, housemates and friends. We give them names. We give them treats. We display their photos and speak about them proudly, and sometimes, we speak for them. As a society, we love our pets.
We also really love our Facebook. We give it lots of daily attention, tell it all our most personal details, use it for communication, use it to post videos of our daughters’ laptops that we’re going to shoot with a pistol because they disrespected us on their wall. Wait, what? Okay, most of us are a bit more reasonable than that, but we DO take it pretty seriously. And very personally. So seriously and personally that we can be excited or hurt by people we don’t even see.
About a month ago, I log onto my own Facebook and, like many other days, I’m told that one of my friends has changed their profile pic, along with a bunch of others. I’m treated to the standard mosaic of avatars of whatever those friends are choosing to frame and spotlight in their lives right now. There are sunny backgrounds, dark, sad faces, artsy shots; but the one that’s highlighted is of a dog. That’s cool, right? Lots of people put pictures of their dogs in their profile pics. Except in this case, the profile actually belongs to a dog. Her name is Chutney. And, she’s MY dog.
Of course, she’s not really my dog anymore. She hasn’t been mine for more than two years. Even before we got a dog, we decided that I would love it as my own, but I wouldn’t be financially responsible for it, and if we ever broke up, he’d get ‘custody’. But Chutney’s always going to be MY dog. I was there, in the animal services cage where she sat pretty, with her mangy-looking tail, her sad beautiful eyes, and her long whiskery beard, when it became clear that it was impossible for us not to take her home. I was there when we posted that first album of pictures of our puppy and everyone was so excited to meet her. Back then, while we were still together, he made her a profile page on Facebook. People would post on her wall about tricks, treats, and how much they missed her. She’d become ‘friends’ with other dogs who had their own profiles. And he would sometimes write back as Chutney.
Two years later, though he and I have not even been Facebook ‘friends’ for some time, I still sort of know what’s going on with him because we have something like seventy mutual friends. So, when it’s highlighted in my news feed that his dog, my ex-dog, has changed her profile picture, it’s a total mindfuck! I sit, alone in my apartment, being sad that I don’t recognize her new picture. Sporting a full-on pout, I find myself seriously debating whether I should de-friend her. I go to click the button, but I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s all so symbolic. I sit there for way too many minutes, and suddenly catch a glimpse of my sorry ass self in the mirror and I burst out laughing. I am debating de-friending a dog! A DOG. It’s not even her that would notice or not notice, she doesn’t even know she has a fucking Facebook page. This is fully ridiculous, but I can’t bring myself to digitally indicate that she’s no longer connected to me.
I can’t do that because I was there when she scratched up our hardwood floors, snuck snoozes on our comfy green couch and stuck her wet, black nose through the space between our house and our porch when we’d come home from work. It was that same wet nose on my exposed feet that would wake me up, and her incredibly strong tail that would whack the walls and the door and the stair well, as she realized I would, in fact, take her outside to pee. I was also there when she wouldn’t nose my feet. I’d be woken by that smell from the dining room where there would be a steaming pile of gooey shit waiting for me, and she’d sit outside the door, looking adorably guilty while I cleaned it up.
So I don’t de-friend Chutney, and I carry on with my life. It’s a rather whole, exciting, fulfilling life, but there are parts of me that still lean toward the places in the city that I remember exploring with her. I’m frequently reminded of her, and I speak fondly of the time when I ‘had a dog.’ One of those times was during a recent trip to Colombia. It’s hard not to think about your own dog when there are so many beautiful, yet mangy strays laying around, panting in the sun on the streets and sidewalks. They reminded me of her, and how she showed so much potential, in her sad, soft eyes in the cage at the shelter. Nice. But they’re not Chutney. I get home from my vacation, and really want to look at a picture of her, so I type in her name in the search bar, and there she is.
“Chutney – +1 Add Friend”
Are you KIDDING ME? I’ve been de-friended by my ex-dog? My face flushes. My heart starts to pound. I frantically look through the profile pictures that I still have access to, and the list of mutual friends that we still have in common. Memories of ours drastically flashing before my eyes on screen, and deeper within my mind, I experience something akin to a psychotic episode of rage. It’s not like I would have gotten my relatives to get fatal revenge against her or her owners because of the de-friending, but I completely and totally lose my shit for a very brief moment. Then I get smashed in the face with the obvious recognition that it’s not HER. It’s not like she sat there at the computer screen, and used her paws to click on the unfriend button!! It’s either my ex, or his new fiancee. It’s a Facebook profile for a DOG, for god’s sake, controlled by a by a human. Why are we even giving dogs Facebook profiles?
Social media has this awkward way of allowing us to keep up with hundreds of people that we wouldn’t otherwise see on a regular basis. It also acts as a measure of validity of those relationships, such as when a couple, who’ve been dating for a while, makes it ‘Facebook official’ that they’re ‘in a relationship.’ But while the status of these connections can vary widely in real life, they’re limited to a drop-down list of pre-defined labels and a black and white friends vs. non friends.
In actuality, Chutney’s not my ‘friend’ anymore, so the status change on Facebook is an accurate reflection of reality, but that’s obviously not what it’s about. Through the magic of the Internet I can be, and still am, deeply affected by someone who hasn’t cared about me for years, via the conduit of a dog whose tail will still wag uncontrollably for me if we see each other in person. With the click of a button, years of interaction can’t be virtually negated. Because it was Chutney that made me feel safe on late night walks in that sketchy neighbourhood where we used to live. It was her that would stretch her body to be the length of a human, and lay on the futon against me when I was sick. It was her unnaturally soft ears that I would stroke while reading alone when he was doing shift work. Those memories will always remain but the symbolism of the digital disconnection hurts. A lot.
I can’t explain why, and I’m tired of trying. Instead, I will continue to focus my energies on the people I do get to connect with, whose friendship status will remain unquestioned, regardless of our connection label online.
And, if I ever get another dog, it is so NOT getting a Facebook page! (Maybe a Twitter… ha!)