immediate and unrequited attention

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did i ask you for attention, when affection is what I need.

attention. it is a basic human need. physical and emotional, attention serves many different purposes in our everyday lives. as adults, it makes us feel recognized, understood, listened to, cared for, important, validated, worth something.

but attention plays many different roles in our lives, depending on what stage we are in. it is also exhibited in vastly different ways throughout the different times in our life.

at infancy, attention is human touch, feeding, shelter, etc. during childhood attention is being listened to, and given boundaries, and being formally taught information. and then there’s adolescence. in adolescence, attention is what gets us through those testing and awkward times of growing and learning through experience, trying and making mistakes, or succeeding. it gives us confidence to wake up and keep going. even though everything is telling us that it is too hard. and since adolescence is so difficult, the previously acceptable levels of attention that we received from our parents throughout childhood really don’t cut it anymore. so our needs meeting mechanisms kick in and create ways to get us as much attention as we possibly can. enter the annoying attention needy behaviors so easily identifiable in teenagers’ actions.

well, the majority of teenagers that make it out of adolescence alive move into another stage of life where attention is needed and demonstrated in a different form. this usually moves into physical and sexual attention. then it transforms into emotional attention. and, ideally, when we find a person that meets out physical and emotional attention needs we usually make some sort of commitment to that person, formal (marriage, if legal, ugh.) or informal (long term relationship, living together).

once we move out of the “get it at all costs, from any and everyone” attention neediness phase of adolescence, attention becomes a commodity. and to get it, you must (should) give it. hence actual relationships. the giving and receiving of multiple forms of attention. commitment to give to someone with the expectation that you’ll also receive. usually, if in an adult relationship one gives more attention than receives (costs/output outweighs the benefits/gains), there is some form adjustment in the relationship to fix this. hopefully in the form of open and honest communication of needs and mutual agreement to work at equal levels of giving. to survive, a (healthy) adult relationship must must must have two way giving of attention to meet each other’s needs.

where the hell am i going with this? right here.

much like in my one way relationships theory, social media and social networking sites are messing with naturally created mechanisms that foster healthy and sustainable relationships.

essentially, social media sites provide an avenue for receiving immediate and instant attention. and as all of us longer time twitterers, or facebook status users can attest to, the feeling like someone is always there listening, caring, and paying attention (giving us attention) is addicting. why is it so addicting? because, theoretically, as an adult we no longer need to give attention to get it. now you may believe that by following others’ status and goings on we are giving attention back. but i will argue that really it is just a passive act of being present on the site that ‘gives’ the attention. therefore it does not take effort or energy. (and you may WANT to give attention to friends and followers, but the act is not necessary)

in principle, this is what we call a win-win. i feel like i am listened to, and cared about, and validated without you having to do anything but be technologically present. and vice versa. so what is the problem in my crazy head, you ask?

the problem is that this immediate and instant attention gives us a false understanding of reasonable levels of attention giving and receiving in our real life romantic relationships. and the more followers on twitter that we have, or the more friends on facebook the more easily attained the attention and the more skewed our view on mutually acceptable levels of giving attention.

here is a blatantly explicit example:
gina (i honestly don’t think i currently know any ginas so this choice of name is to show that this is a completely hypothetical example) is a smart and very attractive woman. she is also very successful in her career, volunteers at the local homeless shelter in her spare time, and models for an organization aimed at breaking stereotypical norms of beauty (though, she is classically beautiful). on top of all of this, she is an entertaining and articulate writer and runs an engaging blog. now… gina clearly has a lot of followers on twitter (i use twitter here because following can occur one way, where as other sites require mutual relational agreement). she is what i would call one hell of a catch. people want to know what the pretty, successful, do-gooder is up to at all times. so they follow. and she engages with her audience (strategic use of the word, yes.) by asking their opinion on which new ipod she should get, or encouraging them to donate to her favorite charity. she is lively and entertaining.
well gina meets a boy in her city that she really likes. so they go on a few dates. and begin getting a little more serious. after a while they become exclusive and things are going well. then gina and boy reach their first ‘we care therefore we fight’ argument.
boy had some friends come in from out of town last minute and needed to postpone plans they made to go to the movie she’s been dying to see. boy explained that his friends were only in town for one night and he really wanted to see them. he promised to go to the movie the next night. gina was so disappointed that she tweeted out to see if anyone wanted to go see the movie with her. she many responses and ended up going with a guy that had been following her blog and on twitter for quite a while.
boy was then upset that she went out with another guy. she explained that she didn’t think that he had any right to be upset, since he broke the plans with her. and they ultimately broke up.

here we have it. the unconscious inequity of the give and take of attention in a relationship. the relationship ended because gina didn’t want to give (understand boy’s situation) as much as boy needed, so she tweeted out that she needed a companion to the movies (attention) and immediately got what she wanted. thereby, completely enforcing in her brain that she was not out of line wanting boy to spend the evening with her. and proving that if he wouldn’t give her the attention she desired that someone else would.
at this point, gina had no need to have to give attention (understand her boy’s request) to actually get it.

obviously, this was all unconscious. but see how easy it is to get addicted to an unrealistic amount of constant and immediate attention?

this constant availability of ‘free’ (no need to give to get) attention is defying the very mechanisms in our brain that encourage, foster, and regulate healthy relationships.

and this is all happening without thought.

leading me to the ever present, ever appropriate question….so, what now?

keep doing it wrong, keep singing along.

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