“Do you like me?”
Silence bounced, fell off his tongue
and sat between us
and clogged my throat.
It slaughtered my trust. – Anne Sexton
“I am not sure I understand, Momma. I am nice to her, but she ignores me. Why doesn’t she like me?” Her eyes are wide, the tears launching a mutiny against her face.
I am uncertain how to proceed. My rational self says, tell her this: “Oh, honey. That’s ok. Just play with other friends.” But inside, the bubbles of her hurt simmer and I want to scream, “It is not ok. You are right. You tried. She rejected you. And guess what? It will happen over and over again, as a young girl, a teenager, and as a woman.”
It is a basic need. To be liked. I am convinced more and more that whether you are a 7-year-old girl or a 50-year-old man, they share the same question: “Do I matter?”
The problem is that there are countless ways that we are careless with one another. Over and over again, I see it. Two days ago I dined at a restaurant and observed one particular couple, the man was texting on his phone, while the woman picked at her food. A few times she looked up at him, but he did not see her. She looked down, her body language saying, “You do not see me.” Technology increases our chances to feel unimportant. These days smart phones are like a vital organ. If we are without it, it is almost as if we will stop breathing. Because most of us carry our cell phone as our personal coat of armor, the unanswered phone call or text or email is another way of telling someone, “Guess what? You are not important enough to me to respond.” I realize that we are all “busy.” But I also understand that this is becoming an acceptable excuse that we tell one another, but I wonder what the lasting effects of this “busyness” factor ultimately does for human relations. Are we too busy to really see people and tell them that they matter?
It happens in other places as well. The smile that is not returned. The Hello that goes unanswered. The dinner invite that is rejected. Being picked last for the high school dodgeball team. Ridiculed because you are not the same skin color or don’t fit into an acceptable body type. Dismissed because you don’t fit into a particular socio-economic dynamic. Or that look of the once over, because of the car you drive or you had to drop off your kid off at school not looking your best.
I realize some of this maybe unintentional or lacks malice, but it still makes a larger statement. I am not excluding myself from this dynamic. My daughter made me see this because of something I did to make her feel less important. By nature I engage in multi-tasking (I know, I am trying to break this bad habit). A few days ago, my daughter wanted to have a conversation with me about something that happened at school, but I was preoccupied by something innocuous on my phone. For a few seconds, I tuned her out and she said, “Momma, are you paying attention to me?” I realized my actions made her feel less important, less liked, and said, “you don’t matter and what you say doesn’t matter.”
The truth was nothing I was doing was more important than what she was trying to tell me. Although her rejection from the girl was different, I essentially engaged in a behavior that made her feel less important. The undercurrent centers around the vacillation of the same question, “Do you like me? Do I matter to you? Am I important enough to be heard?”
We are looking for someone to tell us that we are not alone. That’s a lesson I am learning over and over again in big and small ways.