“It’s the prettiest, shiniest foodbowl. And look how full it is!”

This is what Daphne and I say to our cat regularly. And by regularly, I mean every day.

For the sake of the cat’s anonymity, let’s call him Fat Shit Cat. We say these things to Fat Shit Cat because Fat Shit Cat feels compelled to show us (and our guests) his food bowl whenever he gets the chance.

Maybe Fat Shit Cat thinks we’re hungry. Or he’s reminding us to keep the supply topped off. Or maybe he’s just  some sort of a pervert, possibly a voyeur (yea look at that food bowl, look at it bitch).

Which, okay, we can’t blame him. Pets take on mannerisms of their owners sometimes and we both love to cook and bask in the awesomeness of our food. I’d be more concerned if he started filing taxes or disappeared for an hour at a time to doomscroll on the toilet.

At night, Fat Shit Cat takes this behavior a step further, which makes us believe that there’s actually some utility to all of this. (A/N: Don’t worry this isn’t another one of those pet stories where the owner never shuts up about how amazing their dog/cat/wombat is and you can’t excuse yourself fast enough to go pee (or eat cake or whatever) but by pee (or eat cake) you mean walk into another room and stand there for a couple minutes like an idiot to give off the impression like you were “doing stuff.”) See, we have to first look at his food bowl, but then also sit next to him for a few minutes and “stand watch,” presumably so predators won’t jump him while he’s stuffing his face with crunchies.

Fat Shit Cat’s behavior was amusing at first, but now it’s become a meme that won’t die. It speaks to a deep, primal truth, a need that every conscious being has–everyone wants a witness for their food bowl.

Your food bowl could be, for example, a presentation you nailed at work or the leaky gutter you fixed on the side of the house. (Jesus, finally!) In the case of our partners, Julie and Jace, it means looking at a new dress Julie sewed for herself or looking at all of the new fly fish lures Jace built for an upcoming fishing trip. In either case, Julie andJace get a “Wow, that’s an amazing food bowl!” from us. They are most impressive, after all, and are deserving of praise. When we want affirmation we ask our partners to look at our food bowls (Daphne likes to plan and make lists. I draw things. We’ve been told that our food bowls are quite shiny.)

“Look at my food bowl” has become a reciprocal circle of caring.

Another couple we’ve been dating for years come from Mexico. In their culture, it’s common practice to give affectionate nicknames to people you care about, usually by denoting an “ito” or “ita” at the end of their name. There’s an understanding that everyone wants to be talked to like they’re loved, so it’s actually embedded in the way people speak to each other. “Estan mis gringitos” roughly (and affectionately) translates to “these are my little white friends,” something they call us a lot. This practice really stuck with us because we associate it with the same circle of caring as “look at my food bowl.”

Daphne and I like to mix it up and gravitate towards calling each other pieces of food. Daphne is “mi carnita”, or “my little beef.” We’ve never really been fans of traditional pet names (like Baby, Darling, Honey, or any of that nonsense), so we try to creatively use odd or specifically non-flattering terms for each other, usually related to food since food is a love language for us (see: Fat Shit Cat and his love of the food bowl). It’s a game we play, and it’s ours.

Knowing that you have a witness for your food bowl makes life better. The little part of you from kindergarten that exclaims “Look at me and what I can do!” is met and affirmed as an adult, which honestly, I think the world could use more of.

Living a life with multiple partners, Daphne and I have many witnesses for our food bowls. Because we have witnesses, we’re recognized and affirmed regularly. Our day-to-day lives feel more fulfilled, and we’re more resilient to the nonsense games people play and participate in. We approach the world knowing we’re loved and appreciated, so the little dumb annoying things that other people do that make our lives more difficult or the unsettling events that pop up in our news feeds, honestly they just don’t matter.

Who would have thought that Fat Shit Cat’s strange tick would serve as a blueprint to treat ourselves and other people better. Turns out behaving thoughtfully as each other’s witness has helped us stay sane during COVID. Understandably, people are really afraid right now about any number of things, such as whether they can pay rent next month, if their kids are going to school, violence in their neighborhoods, something, something politics/race/sex/gender…the list goes on and grows every day. I can only speak from my experience and what I see, but it appears that a great number of people are walking around with giant holes in their chests thinking everything’s fucked and they’ve been lied to, and, in trying to fill those holes, they are inadvertently making things more complicated and more miserable for everyone else.

Mi carnita and I believe that the most sincere thing we can do for each other right now is to be better stewards for our own, and each others’, food bowls. Talk to people like they’re loved. Be a witness to their greatness, no matter how small the victory. Eat and praise deeply and watch minds and bellies fill in all the right ways.

Zachary is a user-experience designer by night and an artist/musician by day. He loves stories and deep convos over coffee. When he's not head deep in code or covered in charcoal you can catch him tending to his garden or out and about rescuing orphaned plants in need.

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