After many weeks of pondering this question I have come to the conclusion that my answer is …
I do not believe there is any such thing as unconditional love. Unless you are Mother Theresa (only alive). Then there might be. Short of that, I have decided we all place conditions on our love, the offering of our love, the maintaining of our love, even quite possibly the inception of our love. Turns out we are greedy little humans and we want what we want when we want it the way we want it.
Now I know right now somebody is slamming down their wine glass yelling, “Now wait just a minute, Vic! What about the love a parent feels for their child? That’s pretty damn unconditional, right?”
Yeah. Sometimes. And sort of. I know my son would have to do something pretty darn dastardly for me to stop loving him. That said, the annals of history are filled with stories of estranged parents and offspring. Even murderous parents and offspring. I can attest to the fact that at times (not recently), my darling son treated his beloved mother horribly. Much more horribly than his beloved mother deserved. Perhaps there was a moment or two when beloved mother returned the favour? Who knows? I do know that even that most sacred of bonds can be tested to the breaking point.
I once dated a man whose mother refused to speak to him for a over a year. She refused because he had been an asshole to her one too many times and she was fed up. In his defense, he was 18 at the time and most of us were assholes when we were 18. When they finally rekindled familial relations, and many years had passed by, she became increasingly wracked with guilt. How could she have disowned her own son? What kind of mother does that, she queried? The kind whose son is an asshole, I answered, ever a beacon of sage and uncommon wisdom. But she was inconsolable. Didn’t matter what I said, she could not forgive herself. (For the record, he had no trouble forgiving himself for being an asshole). This Momma believe that her love SHOULD be unconditional and she had failed.
Now if my son did something really vile like, say, vote for Trump or storm the Capitol wearing bearskins and horns, there is a good chance my conditions would come screaming to the surface. I would probably even turn him in to the FBI. After which I would visit him weekly in prison and bring homemade cookies. But damn, I would be pissed!
Which brings to me to unconditional friendship love. I would like to believe that I am a nonjudgmental pal. I would like to believe that, over the years, many pals have come to me for honest, uncondemning counsel because my friendship was and is indeed unconditional. I’ve made way too many mistakes in my life to chastise others for doing the same. And it is not my place to tell anybody what is right and what is wrong.
But then …. (there is always a but) … a very old and dear friend of mine became a vocal supporter of Trumpism. She actually used the phrase “Drain the swamp!” on social media. She reposted “articles” that made my blood boil.
And just a brief aside – I have lots of friends who do not share my political beliefs and we have been known to engage in spirited, adult dialogue. We have ultimately agreed to disagree. But we are talking Canadian politics here; not the dangerous circus that has been escalating daily south of the border.
At one point, I felt that Miss Trumpster and I had truly reached a crossroads. How could we continue to be friends when she had joined a cult (my blog, my opinion)?
My inner voice whispered: What about unconditional love? Just live and let live. Concentrate on her good qualities and ignore the rest. Prove that you can do it, Vic. Prove that you do have unconditional love in you.
To date, my inner voice has won the battle. This friend and I are not in daily contact and, when we do touch base, we fill our chats with love (and no politics). But I will confess that, should push ever come to shove, our friendship will find that drain. Because when it comes to the American horror show that sadly demonstrates no signs of abating, my love is not nor can it be unconditional. I truly believe the future of our planet depends upon it.
So what about marriage? We all take vows hoping to honour them but we also promise to love unconditionally. This, to me, is a bit of an oxymoron. IF you are choosing to love unconditionally, why are you taking vows? Why not just say “I’ll do my best and I will love you if you do your best even if you fuck up but as long as I know that you’re trying I’ll be here because I love you unconditionally and I’ll try my best too I hope.”
Yeah, no. I don’t think so.
We want guarantees. And if the guarantee isn’t met, all the unconditional love in the world doesn’t add up to a hill of beans. (Who wants a hill of beans, anyway?) You know why? Because we are all greedy little human beings and we all want to BE loved unconditionally. We just don’t want to return that unconditional love when it doesn’t suit our conditional agenda.
An old friend of mine recently showed up on social media with a new name. “What the heck?” I asked. She responded that she and her husband had parted ways because he cheated on her. BOOM! Gone. She was moving on. Even after thirty-plus years.
“How is HE feeling about this?” I asked.
“He feels wretched,” she replied. “He is desperately sorry.”
So, now we take it to the jury, ladies and gentlemen. What say ye? Does she attempt to love him unconditionally and take him back OR does she stand by her ‘one strike you’re out’ rule and just gallop off running with that new name?
You’ll have to answer that one for yourself.
And then – briefly – there is the dog thing. Yes, they say a dog is the only creature that will love you unconditionally, guaranteed!
No. A dog (unlike a husband, say) has very few needs. Feed me, walk me, pet me, play with me, give me shelter. For most of us, those needs are easy to fulfill so we therefore feel unconditionally loved when we fulfill them and get licked on the face. But I am willing to wager that if you starve that dog, leave it outside in inclement weather, beat it, ignore it and starve it again, that dog will not love you anymore. It will probably eat you.
As you can see, the more I break it down, the less I feel convinced that unconditional love is possible. So why do we long for it? Strive for it? Insist upon it? Desperately hope for it?
I think it’s because we are so damn afraid of accountability. When we examine our personal ledgers we see lots of loopholes and digressions. We see errors and lack of judgement and gargantuan mistakes and tiny blunders we wish with all our hearts we could do over. As we gaze into that horribly unforgiving mirror we are fraught with doubt and then yearning. Doubt that we are worthy of love and then yearning for love in spite of our worthiness.
Yearning for unconditional love.
I am quite certain that both of my parents loved me. But as my mother so eloquently stated that one time I left my husband, “I love you, Vickie. But I don’t like you very much right now.”
In hindsight, and with the benefit of almost 30 years of parenting myself, I REALLY wish she hadn’t said that. I really wish she had said, “Vickie, I’m having a hard time understanding your choices,” or “Vickie, I can’t say that I agree with your decisions but hey, I’m not actually IN your marriage so maybe we should talk about this further …”
Yes, I really wish.
I think (hope?) that before she died, my mother realized how she had hurt me. How her “unconditional” love had actually been so VERY conditional.
I think that is all any of us can hope for.
Awareness and understanding that, although unconditional love may well be impossible, we have opportunities to strive for it every single day. We have a chance to set aside our greedy little human-ness and just love without expectation. We do not need checkpoints and a ledger. We do not need promises and guarantees.
We need open hearts. Open hearts WILLING to love. Unconditionally.