Love is one of the most unique things that exists in our world. Think about it. Everybody wants to experience it. Regardless of your color, creed, or culture, you want to experience love. It’s the one thing that’s unanimous among all people, the one thing that connects all people. Now I admit, love is a hot topic. Everybody wants to talk about it, everybody has their thoughts and opinions on what love is and is not. The weird thing about this topic is that even though everybody wants to experience love, we cannot all come to an agreement on a universal definition of the word. Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. Like I said a few sentences ago, a lot of people have their thoughts and opinions on love, and this post is just my perspective on it. Well, at least a part of the subject. I don’t think it’ll be quite possible for me to write a singular post on the entirety of my thought on the topic. Instead what I aim to write today, is narrowing in on one aspect of love and hopefully causing the reader (that’s you) to just think about this point of view. I really don’t care if I change your mind or if you agree with me, that’s not my goal. But if you think about it, mission accomplished. Today, I’m focusing on the conditionality of love. That was a convoluted way of saying I’m talking about conditional and unconditional love.
In order to talk about conditional or unconditional love, we must have a clear definition of what those phrases mean. While I’m fairly certain that you have a good idea of what they mean, I’m just going to simple define the words here for the sake of clarity. Fair warning, this isn’t a dictionary definition or a scientifically researched definition: it’s just the culturally accepted definition of the phrases.
Conditional Love: Love that is given based on something. In other words, conditional love is earned. You have to do something in order to be loved.
Unconditional Love: Love that is given without asking anything in return. In other words, unconditional love is free to the recipient.
We could go deeper into the philosophical discussions of these definitions, but that is not my intent. We can more or less agree that these are the culturally accepted definitions of these phrases and that’s enough to convey my message for this post.
The title of this post is “the Punishment for Unconditional Love” which should make you infer that the gist of this message will be centered on unconditional love. As you read on, most of what I’ll be saying about it will be things you’ve probably heard in the past. But I want to encourage you to read till the end and see a different approach to this subject.
One of the hardest things for human beings to do is to love someone else unconditionally. Why? Unconditional love by definition means loving someone without borders. Unconditional love means putting someone else before you. It means being unselfish, it means being a servant to the other, it means putting the needs of the other before you, it means listening to the other person, it means caring for the other person regardless of what they believe and regardless of how different they are from you. Unconditional love means loving someone even though they might hate you. See, the thing that makes unconditional love difficult is not understanding the concept. All of us know exactly what it looks like to love someone unconditionally. The thing that makes it difficult is the fact that we as a people (again, regardless of color, creed, culture) are a selfish people. We want something in return. Regardless of who you are, when you love somebody, part of you (and me) expects something in return. The parent who loves their child wants obedience in return, the teacher that loves their student might want good grades in return, the master that loves his servant might want good service in return, the child that loves their parent might want a later curfew in return etc. We can boldly claim that we actually don’t seek for those things when we love other people, but can we really back up those claims? When a friend calls you in the middle of the night because they need you and you go and help them out, that is evidence of you loving them, but when the tables are turned and you ask them for help and they don’t reciprocate, isn’t your first thought, “did you forget the time you needed me and I was there?” Intentionally or not, our selfishness makes it difficult for us to love others unconditionally, regardless of how well the illusions of our unconditional love might be.
The Punishment for Unconditional Love
Am I making the claim that it is impossible for us to love unconditionally? No. I definitely think it is possible to love unconditionally, I just think in order to do so, you need to be conscious of your actions., i.e. I do think it is impossible to love unconditionally unconsciously. To better explain it, let me replace the word “unconditional” with “sacrificial.” Unconditional love is sacrificial love. Sacrifice, by definition, is the act of giving up something valued for the sake of something (or someone) else – regarding them as more important or worthy. What do we sacrifice, then, if we are to love sacrificially? This is where the “punishment” comes in. While it may not literally be a punishment we are enduring for sacrificially loving someone else, it can feel like we are being punished. Because what we have to sacrifice for loving someone unconditionally is (I apologize for how dramatic this might sound) everything.
When I say everything, I’m being quite literal. We have to sacrifice literally everything. Our time, our work, our mind, our bodies, our hearts, you name it, you put that behind the needs of the person you are loving unconditionally. That friend you have that never bats an eye your way when you need them, but you put everything on the line whenever they need it – to the point that it feels like a punishment every time you care for them, that’s the cost of unconditional love. That boy or girl who has consistently broken your heart, yet you are still there whenever they need you, making sure that they are safe and taken care of and it feels like torture, that’s the cost of unconditional love. Every night that you go to bed, having spent the entirety of your day, week, month, etc. giving yourself to other people caring for their needs, their desires, making sure they have all that they need, and you have gained nothing back, not even a word of gratitude or a sign of appreciation, that’s the cost of unconditional, sacrificial love.
To truly love unconditionally, you have to accept the constant pain that comes with it. You have to take it and let it go. The moment you start desiring for someone to take notice of what you are doing, it no longer is unconditional love. Unconditional love is consistently painful and rarely gratifying.
You have a choice. Either love unconditionally and endure the pain that comes with it while being conscious to it every waking moment (because remember what I said earlier, you can’t love unconditionally, unconsciously) or love conditionally and enjoy the perks that come with it.
Conditional Love is Love (sometimes)
I’m sure many of you have heard the phrase (or even said it yourself), “conditional love is not love.” I know I’ve banged that drum plenty of times. And there is meaning to that. The gist of it is that you love someone regardless of who they are. If you love somebody only because they have a certain skin color or lifestyle, that’s conditional love and that’s not cool. That ain’t love. That’s not what I’m arguing against when I claim that conditional love is love.
Rather, I’m looking deeper into how love is practiced in everyday life and the necessity of conditional love. First off, the kind of person who can truly love unconditionally, dealing with everything I described above is few and far between. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone like that (except maybe Jesus, but I’m not talking about religion in this post). But conditional love is all around us, and sometimes it does suck but sometimes it’s kind of a must. It sucks when parents withhold their love to the children until they get an A in class. It sucks when a friendship is broken because one of the people in the relationship doesn’t want to pull their weight. But crap like that has to happen for people to remain healthy (emotionally and physically). If someone decides to put their emotional health before the other person, yes, that means the love is conditional, but I’d rather have that than a worse alternative. We need to make sure that when we say, “conditional love is not love” that we are putting it in the right context. Humans are not superhuman. The things that we sacrifice for others can take a toll on us and if the “lovers” are not taken care of, the outcomes can indeed be fatal. So, yeah, conditional love is love. And just because the individual is asking (either in her heart or through her lips) for a small reciprocation of her love – making her love conditional, she should not be chastised. She should be loved as well. She deserves to be loved, even though her calling (just as the calling of us all) is to love unconditionally.
Here is another angle (and this might piss off some of you). Romantic love is conditional. In other words, you cannot be in a relationship unconditionally. Let me break it down. For romantic love to exist, there has to be a mutual agreement on the expressed love. Take Matt and Jane, for instance. Matt and Jane love each other. They would do anything for each other, including lay their lives down for each other. But the relationship that they have, and any other romantic relationship, is based on the condition that the love is reciprocated. Does that make sense? Matt can love Jane all he wants and he would do anything for her. However, for the love to be romantic, Jane would have to love him back. And sure, the ideal scenario is that Matt and Jane love each other unconditionally, but even then, that is under the condition that the other will reciprocate that love. If you truly want to know if they unconditionally love each other, ask Matt and Jane (and as yourself), would you care for them if they broke your heart? Or would you care for their needs if one of them doesn’t love you romantically? Be honest with yourself. There is nothing you can do to change the fact that romance is conditional love. But like I said earlier, conditional love is love. If you want to know if you love them unconditionally, simply ask yourself if you would put the other person before your needs if the romance was not there. Let me emphasize that point: you have to put the other persons need before yours. Which means, if Jane wants space – Matt gives Jane space. If Jane doesn’t want to ever see Matt again, it doesn’t matter what Matt wants, he lets Jane go. It’s the same if the roles are reversed.
Now nothing. Just think about what you’ve read. Let me know your thoughts. Look, I’m not trying to make you question your life. I just want you to think about some of the assumptions you hold about life. Maybe look at it the other way. If your point of view changes, great. If not, just as well.
Also, is it possible that I’m just full of crap and not know anything that I’m talking about? Absolutely.
Until next time.