Fighting for Attention

My days over the past three months have been consumed with nursing, diapering, holding, and rocking my baby. Even now after returning to work, the majority of my efforts and mental energy are devoted to him. Assuming we were blessed to be raised in stable households, when we’re babies, we receive the pampering and love essential to us; the affection of smitten, doting parents; and the abundance of attention any infant demands. As we then mature, year after year growing rightfully independent, an inverse correlation to the level of attention forms. The sheen of feeling like a prized gem deteriorates little by little, and we’re left seeking that degree of adoration and attention forever after. 

We look for it in grade school friendships, hoping to be in on the inside jokes rather than the last one chosen for the kickball team. We look for it in teenage boyfriends and girlfriends, craving the validation that we’re wanted and worthy of a fancy dinner date. We still look for it in college, hoping we’ll find a group of friends to finally provide the sense of belonging for which we yearn. We even continue to seek it in adulthood–perhaps even more so, as we’re the most distanced from our parents’ time and attention. 

I have settled for friendships, boyfriends (or almost-boyfriends), and an ex-husband, trying to fill the void once filled by my parents in their care of my infant self. I sought slivers of the love, attention, and loyalty I felt I deserved. Too often I stood in a mired hurt, let down by the guy who wasn’t willing to give me what I needed, by my family who didn’t prioritize spending time with me, by my friends who didn’t include me in their bridal parties. 

For three decades I asked myself what it is about me that makes me less deserving of affection, time, and attention, why I don’t seem to be worth the effort. Repeatedly, I landed on something lacking in me–some level of interest or degree of fun I don’t possess. But now at 36 and still asking the same questions in my muddled disappointment, at least I don’t believe it’s my fault or attributed to any kind of lack in me. I think it’s that all the people I’ve hoped would fill my need for attention and worth are, like me, wrapped up in struggling to find the same for themselves. 

Everyone’s too busy seeking to fill a void and juggling adulthood responsibilities to sit still, look around, and truly see how many people in our circle are reaching out for us–actively or subtly–but reaching out all the same. We are humans always on a mission for connection whether we know it or not, will admit it or not. If the past year of pandemic isolation has taught us anything, it’s that we need each other. We need to feel loved deeply, sincerely, and unconditionally. While it’s immensely important to give as much self-love and care to ourselves as we can (and I’m working on that), we still need to feel it from others, to know we aren’t alone in our journey. 

We need to feel as prized and adored as when we came into this world with our parents’ glowing smiles and dazzled eye contact hovering above our wriggling, giggling bodies. Perhaps we’re older, a little wiser, and much more self-reliant now, but we never really grow out of needing love, attention, and connection.

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