Tag Archives: unconditional love

Unconditional Love

I’ve always liked the idea of unconditional love, and I’ve always wanted to offer it. I don’t want to put limits on how I love, and my heart always wants to say ‘no matter what’. The problem with this of course is that if you run into someone who means you ill, then unconditional love is a really dangerous thing. Too much acceptance and forgiveness can put you in danger. It’s the sort of thing that really enables abusive relationships.

I’ve spent a long time looking for the right way to balance this. What I’ve come to at this point might be right for me. It might change over time.

There is how I feel, and there is what I do. Unconditional love in terms of how I feel is a thing I can do, and keep doing. It’s not quite a ‘no matter what’ – there are two people in my history who I truly loved for years and, as a consequence of their actions towards me, no longer love. In both cases it took some pretty serious shit to get me to that point. It is possible to break my heart such that I am no longer able to love in response to a person. I’m still not sure how to place this inside the story I want to tell myself about love.

Then there’s what I do – and I accept that what I do with someone I love will be informed by what they do. It’s not entirely my choice. I can’t do anything with someone who does not want my love, my time or my attention. I can’t enact love in a meaningful way when dealing with someone who really doesn’t want me to do that. I also can’t sustainably manifest love for someone who exhausts me and wears me down. I can love from a distance, and I can do the things in a partial way, but what I do cannot be wholehearted unless there’s a context where that works.

I’m finding this a useful way of looking at what I do, what I offer, and who I am. My heart says yes. My heart says yes when yes is not always a good idea for me. I can stay with that, and honour it, and recognise the limits on what I can do with those feelings, and maybe this will work.


Saying no to unconditional love

Unconditional love can often be held up as the ultimate that love can be, and can do. Some people become obsessed with trying to find the partner who will love them unconditionally. For me it’s been about the feeling that I *should* love others unconditionally and feeling guilty because all too often, I don’t. A new kind of clarity has occurred to me in the last week or so: In matters of love, the conditions are really important. Knowing what they are and why you need them honoured is vital. Understanding other people’s conditions and whether you find them acceptable is also essential.

There are things my marriage is conditional upon. That I feel safe, that my body, my feelings, my wants and desires are honoured. They don’t have to be met all the time, but they do have to be respected. My marriage is conditional on my partner being a decent human being, and if he woke up one morning and decided he wanted to take up deliberate cruelty as a hobby, I would not stay with him. That I cannot imagine him doing this, definitely helps!

I’m perfectly happy to accept similar conditions from other people. If someone has issues – practical or personal, one of the conditions of friendship may be that I am able to accommodate those issues. I may not be able to see them very often. I may need to cope with their illness, or be accepting of their circumstances.

I’ve had other conditions raised in relationships of all kinds of shapes. That they must never be told they cause unhappiness because it is unbearable. That they must always be right. That I must do as I am told. That my feelings are irrelevant, or that I am to submit to their understanding of what it is that I need. They are not obliged to flex or change to accommodate me, I must do all the changing required to make it work. And on, and on. These are observations of relationships that I have walked away from, because these are not conditions I can work with.

I’m very wary of double standards, and of people who have every justification for their actions and no scope to hear when it doesn’t work. I’m also increasingly wary of people who run forward proffering unconditional love, because I have noticed that the people who are keen to say that they love you more than anyone else ever could, often aren’t right about that anyway.

We need conditions on relationships. We need it to be acceptable to walk away from a person who does not uphold the basic standards of behaviour we need. If someone changes, or reveals their true face, or stops bothering, no one should feel obliged to stay and keep pouring love over them. Sometimes the act of walking away is the wake up call the other person needs to get their life in better order.

Boundless, limitless, endless unconditional language is very New Agey. “Everything is love” (even incest and murder?). Claiming everything you do is love can also be an easy way of shutting out any suggestion that what you do isn’t working for someone else. And really, there’s not much to be gained from dealing with the person who yells “everything I do is love” in your face whilst standing on your toes and stealing from your wallet. Conditions are a good thing, and we need them.

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.