Addicted to Attention
“I downloaded J-swipe,” my friend tells me when we’re getting ready for a night out. Coat after sticky coat of mascara, we’re exchanging our dating horror stories, not so secretly hoping that tonight’s the night we meet the love of our life in a dark Venice bar.
We laugh when she shows me her “I got a match” screen—a chair dances as the words “MAZEL TOV” plaster behind it. “I’m not looking for anyone on there,” she says. “But the attention is nice.”
“That’s what dating apps are for,” her roommate agrees. “Sometimes you just need the attention.”
Unemployment has turned me into a walker.
I wake up late, sleeping through the alarms I set at night thinking if I’m just on the same schedule as I was when I was working, I’ll feel better about myself. I make a cup of green tea and watch videos of people traveling and writing books and following fitness plans on YouTube while I sit in bed and disappear in their lives.
Eventually I feel the need to get outside. I check the weather on my phone—I live in LA. It’s always nice outside.
I pop my headphones in and start walking. Sometimes when I don’t feel like going, I tell myself I’m only trying to go two blocks up the street. If I can just make it those two blocks, I’ll have satisfied my need for movement. I’ll have done something.
I only have one rule when I walk: I’m not allowed to look at my phone. I can listen to audiobooks or I can listen to music. I can listen to the sounds of people’s laughter and birds chattering in the trees. But once my phone goes in my pocket I’m not allowed to take it out again until I’m back home. Not for a photo of the beautiful day or a Snapchat of my face when it sweats or to see what anyone else is up to that might be more or less fun than going on a walk in the nice weather.
Two blocks turns into a mile down the path—I get to the ocean. I think about how beautiful the day is, how good it feels to be looking at the ocean, admiring its beauty and being fully present in the moment. Every time I wonder why feeling present feels so hard anywhere else.
Every time I go home and take out my phone from my pocket. I scroll and scroll until I’ve all but disappeared again.
I have craved attention from dating apps and from boys I meet in bars. I have craved attention from social media followers on a picture I like of myself. If it didn’t get enough attention I didn’t like the photo anymore. I have craved the attention of employers reading my resume and of readers of my blog.
I realized this past month that I craved attention more than I craved myself. I craved the attention other people were getting more than I was grateful for the love I already had. I started to use things that should have been fun to prove to myself that I mattered, because I stopped thinking that I did.
So I cut myself off.
May was a month without dating. A month without social media. A month of trying to shut down self-pity and a month of trying to find gratitude in what I already had.
Months of walking with my phone in my pocket turned into trying to keep it there for 31 days. I woke up in the mornings for a book and plans with friends that nobody on social media needed to know about. I reached for notebooks instead of an iPhone and used my alone time planning ways to get out of this rut I’d dug myself into instead of searching for someone else to save me from it.
Even though nobody was around to witness my transformation, I felt like it mattered anyway. It mattered that when I returned home to my apartment, I still felt like I was standing at the edge of the water, admiring the ocean.
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