Unconditional Love: Reality or Myth?
I've long held the belief that there is no such thing as "Unconditional Love". When I say this, most people balk at my opinion and attempt to explain why they believe there is such a thing. I'm always curious about why people feel the need to explain, by way of laying out real conditions, that unconditional love exists. What is it about challenging the idea of love being free of conditions that makes people so defensive? Is it because, for some, it loses its whimsy and seems more perfunctory? I'm not sure.
There is no such thing as unconditional love. For unconditional love to exist, it must be free of ALL conditions or qualifiers for why the love exists, right? That's my understanding of it, so we'll go with that. This applies to parents, siblings, children, lovers, and friends. Now, I know you're like, "But Feminista, of course parents love their children unconditionally!!" That's something we've grown up hearing and thinking we understand, but I disagree that parents love their children unconditionally.
Image: Bruno Cordioli via Flickr
You love your children, first and foremost, because they're your children. Being your children is a condition of the love you have for them. Were they some random kids/teens on the street, would you love them as you do? Probably not. Why not? Because they're not your children, so you don't have the same connection to them that would compel you to feel and express love for them. Being YOUR children is the motivating condition for the love you have for them thus making your love for them conditional. Does this make sense?
I think applies to our love lives as well. "You can't control who you fall in love with" is a fallacy, in my opinion. You absolutely do control who you fall in love with. You make decisions every single day that guide you through your life. Those very specific decisions land you in situations where you encounter people you might find attractive and worth getting to know. You have to make a decision to approach someone or open yourself up to someone approaching you with romantic interest. If you meet someone at work, you chose to work there. If you meet someone at your place of worship, you chose to attend services there. You control where you go and what you do, so on some level, you have a bit of control over who you encounter, so you're not just falling in love with random tourists snapping photographs at monuments in your home town, asserting, "I couldn't HELP it!! I just...fell in love!!"
When we consider how segmented our population is, we must know that most of us will never come close to interacting with a diverse array of people. Most people only ecounter people similar to them, which limits their exposure to people they can love to those similar to them. When people say love is "colorblind" for example, that's a crock of shit. Most people don't fall in love with people to whom they're not physically attracted, so you have to see things like height, weight, chin size, and skin color. We're not blind to that. We then choose whether or not we're going to follow through on what physical attractions we experience, yes? We're making a decision, right then, to go forward with pursuing a possible romance, which means what? We control the situation and thus can absolutely help who we fall in love with.
If we design the path that leads to love by making conscious decisions about where we are and which attractions we pursue, can we not make the case that we're establishing conditions for whatever love comes from that? When we love people, we love them for who they are. What if, one day, they were no longer who they are, as you know them to be now? Will you still love them? Isn't that often people fall out of love and relationships end, someone changed and became someone other than the person one falls in love with? So then, isn't being who they are a condition of the love felt for and expressed to them? Once that condition no longer exists, the love usually fades away, does it not?
I had a discussion about this with a pastor I respect on Twitter, Grammercie, who says:
"Unconditional love gives permission to the other person to treat you like crap or vice versa. Nothing good comes of that. In general, people who say they love unconditionally have not been tested on that; they just haven't hit their limit of nonsense they will take. AND some people claim that they love unconditionally as a way of holding on to people trying to let go. There's something about 'unconditional love' that implies an obligation to return it. Forget that! Really, if you say you have unconditional love, I'll probably push hard until I find the limit. which means some bad behavior on my part so I'd rather have someone who is clear about their conditions. I hate having to look for the limits."
I think she hit the nail on the head when it comes to romantic love, at least with that point about the value of limits and conditions. I think having conditions holds us to our words and our promises to be whatever it is we commit to be. It is an agreement that our love will flourish as long as these conditions are met and when things change, we have the opportunity to reconsider the conditions and make necessary adjustments. Now, these conditions aren't and shouldn't be petty things like basing love on fashion sense or appetite.
For example, a condition like "I love you because you are supportive of my dreams", however, is important and you should not back away from it. If your partner ceases to be supportive, after that characteristic was one of the main things that drew you closer and deeper into this relationship's love, you might have to reconsider things a bit. Sure, you can still love someone who stops being supportive of you, but are you going to be totally happy remaining with that person? Just think about that. It might be different for you, and that's OK.
Simply put: Remove the condition that created the love, face a huge risk of losing the love.
Some people think that once you love someone and commit to being with someone long-term, you're supposed to be there through good, bad, thick, and thin. I don't agree with this. I think you should stay with someone as long as you feel good and are happy within the relationship. As Grammercie said, staying around because of unconditional love can actually be detrimental to your overall well-being. You have to know where to draw the line.
I like conditions. I like to know why I love someone and why I remain committed. "Just because..." isn't strong enough or meaningful enough for me. I prefer to be able to answer the question, "Why do you love me?" with several strong reasons and examples of how my love developed and how is sustains itself within our relationship. I want my lover to know upon which I based my love so my lover understands what I value in him, what I expect of him, and what I, well, love about him.
What are your thoughts? Do you believe in unconditional love? Do you have an alternative definitions?