I read an article recently about the many reasons relationships today fail. The article suggested that in today’s day and age, it has become more important for us to be noticed than it is for us to be loved. Interesting hypothesis, isn’t it? In the era of social media, isn’t it true that each of us is continually looking for some sort of validation?
I write this with the acknowledgement that attention isn’t always a bad thing. A little ego stroke now and again is good for all of us. But I think it’s very true that our 24/7, instant access, on-demand culture is turning us into a society of people who need consistent affirmation that we matter. Let’s think about this. When you last posted a comment or photo on Facebook, how quickly did you check to see how many people liked it? (Be honest.) Did anyone leave comments? And if they didn’t, how did that make you feel? It’s as if our worlds have become virtual picture windows where we put something on display and then count the minutes until we’re acknowledged. I am guilty of it, too. And when I think about it, it makes me feel a little bit shamed.
What further complicates this need for attention is that attention from the same person all the time – no matter how that attention is offered – starts to feel less significant than the attention of someone new. It becomes routine or dry. It lacks excitement. Again, consider the Facebook analogy. If the same person consistently likes your photos, or always says something nice about the baby pictures you’re posting, don’t they almost become discounted? What we begin to do is look for comments from new people… people who never expressed some sort of agreement in the past. The world of social media has created a population of attention whores who thrive on “likes” and “shares” to feel important. It prompts us to post one selfie after another, as if the new duckface is somehow hotter or more desirable than the last 300 images.
It is really no wonder that personal relationships are so challenging for us. Somehow, social media and our increased online presence have programmed us to believe that when it comes to attention, quantity really is more valuable than quality. And so, the superficial attention of many often outweighs the intentional and loving attention of one. Moreover, the promise of additional “likes” could easily diminish the value we place on one true and consistent voice. It really is an easy trap. And if the hypothesis is true that being noticed is more important than being loved, that special person – in the process of actually loving us – could easily become irrelevant on our attention meter.
I don’t ever pretend to be an expert on relationships. I’m just figuring it all out with the rest of them. But there is one thing I know to be true: in the list of 250 “friends” on Facebook (and I know my list is small, compared to many), there are only a handful of people who have held my hair back as I puked, who have called to see if I need anything from the store, or who picked out my last Christmas present with a true understanding of who I am. Those people pay attention. And their love is all the validation I need.
Just something to think about.