Philosopher, writer and television programme maker Stine Jensen was the guest in the January edition of the Ambassade Hotel’s literary interview series, Literaire Salon @ Ambassade Hotel. Writer and journalist Chris Keulemans talked to her about her essay ‘First Love’, which was commissioned for this year’s Spirituality Month. The essay combines an account of Jensen’s experience of first love with philosophical and spiritual reflections on love in relation to attention.
What can you remember about the first time you were in love? Hopefully, it was an all-embracing experience of complete attention. All your attention was focused on the other person, and theirs on you. But is that what really happens?
When Stine Jensen looks back at her first love Mark, she arrives at a different conclusion. Mark showered her with attention. Every day she would receive long letters, which he would deliver through her letterbox. Much as she loved this, she never wrote back. One day the letters stopped coming, and the self-doubt began. Had she done something wrong? Wasn’t she good enough anymore?
Now, in retrospect, Jensen sees that this first love wasn’t about her attention for Mark at all; it was her self-love that was being gratified. Isn’t it wonderful to feel that you’re special? And doesn’t it make you panic if the attention suddenly dries up! Significantly, it works both ways. Mark’s letters weren’t declarations of love, but accounts of what he’d been doing that day. They were actually about him.
In the light of Jensen’s first love experience, it’s not hard to make a connection with today’s social media. We constantly post messages and photos to show the world how interesting and fun we are. We hope to receive likes and comments as a confirmation that we are seen by others. And what happens when we like something online ourselves? Do the things we like really have our attention, or is it simply another way of putting ourselves in the limelight, in the hope that other people notice us? These are uncomfortable and confrontational questions.
But what is attention, actually? And what does it do?
Attention is a genuine and sincere interest in something or someone. Not seeing but looking, not hearing but listening, and not thinking but feeling. It is this form of attention that fosters love – in whatever form – and it is vital for long- term relationships. Without real attention for the other person, love soon dies.
Looking and listening
When you fall in love for the first time, you usually haven’t learnt this yet, and the attention you give and receive is principally a means for your insecure pubescent brain to seek reassurance. But over the years, most of us discover that to nourish true love, you need to pay less attention to yourself and more to the other person.
In an age when our pinging phones constantly beg for our attention, this is often where the problem lies. How much time do we spend truly looking at and listening to other people? Whether they’re our partners, our children, our friends, or even strangers. And if love thrives on real attention, isn’t it high time we went analogue now and again? Philosopher Stine Jensen thinks so. She argues that we owe it to ourselves to live more consciously and offer one another our genuine attention.