The limits of love

Unconditional love is a term that gets bandied about a lot in a spiritual context, often without this kind of in-depth consideration. I struggle a lot with the idea of unconditional love.

Theists often (but not always) suggest that God or the gods love us unconditionally. We are to understand that this may not be expressed to us in any way we can grasp. Life may be cruel and unfair, but the Gods love us. If holding that thought helps you cope – all power to you. If it’s not how you are able to think, then the sense of somehow having missed out on the unconditional love can add to the existential angst a good deal. (I fall into the second category). I suspect that to experience a sense of unconditional and divine love it would be necessary to first believe that it existed and then believe that it could be directed my way. I can’t get further than ‘maybe’ on the first and really struggle with the second.

I have carried a desire to love unconditionally and wholeheartedly for as long as I can remember. However, humans are not perfect. That means when we love unconditionally we have to accept the shortcomings of the beloved. When ‘unconditional’ love is untested by circumstance, is it really unconditional love? Is it in fact entirely conditional on the other person continuing to be pleasant and decent? I know from experience there are things which can entirely destroy my ability to love a person. There are things I will not tolerate, and in face of them, all capacity to feel warmth and compassion disappear. In face of deliberate cruelty, I cannot love unconditionally.

More often it isn’t that extreme, but there are boundaries. There are people I have to approach in very calm and guarded ways in order for them to be comfortable. Love makes that possible, but the restrictions on open heartedness also limit what is possible. There are people whose personal issues make them unreliable, unable to deal with certain things, people I do not entirely trust, with good reason. I guard my own boundaries, and in so doing I hold the conditions of love very clearly. Step over my lines, and I will walk away from you and I may not come back.

Love is not a simple, flowing thing. To love one thing or person unconditionally might make it very difficult to love another in the same way. If we can only love one person unconditionally… that’s actually a condition. We are time limited, and that creates some very real conditions about what we can give. Love held as a well meaning abstract can be much easier to bestow on everyone, than something more immediate and active.

The love and time that I pour into politics is energy that I cannot at the same time also pour into my writing. That I am in a passionate and dedicated relationship puts certain conditions on all other interactions. There are not enough hours in a day to devote to all the people I am fond of, and I am obliged to make choices. I cannot do everything, and that alone creates conditionality.

Treat love as a spiritual abstract not to be sullied by too much contact with actual life, and expressing unconditional love to the universe is apparently quite easy. I’ve seen it done, as far as it is possible to tell from the outside. It is possible to have unconditional love for everything in a vague, abstract way, and really struggle to experience any kind of love in a more personal and immediate way – again, as far as I can tell from observation.

We do our best with what we’ve got, but as humans we are capable of imagining a great many things that are entirely beyond us.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

3 responses to “The limits of love

  • syrbal-labrys

    I’ve found (sometimes to my grief) that people ASKING for unconditional love not only GIVE it the least, but already know they are not going to be even reasonably “lovable” and they intend to condemn and browbeat those who find their love stressed to the breaking point. And even when one succeeds in still loving someone who may be abusive, drug/drink abusing? At what point does that love and actions inspired by it become enabling of those un-lovable actions?

    My own belief is that love IS conditional to a degree and probably should be — it is not a healthy thing to love someone into monsterhood, for instance. A narcissist demands abrogation of the lover’s very self, for example. Love should be constructive in effect and not destructive.

  • locksley2010

    Love? Like all things it waxes, it shines and it wanes. It can make us feel dizzy and immortal, or it can be the most painful wound we ever receive.

    I have found that love is in fact conditional: you get what you give.

    Love is hard work and always needs attention and effort, not every second of everyday, mind. Just enough to keep it going… to make it worth it. And to make it worth it, both people involved have to want it. Sorry to sound a bit preachy here, this year has taught me about love in the most unexpected way…

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