Let’s talk nuts-and-bolts today: Love.
Why do we talk about “unconditional love”? It occurred to me this morning that by definition, love should be unconditional, shouldn’t it? Do we ever talk positively about conditional love?
Someone on one of my online boards said her parents loved her conditionally, then proceeded to tell a horrible tale of manipulation and emotional abandonment.
Here’s my question: is “conditional” love ever appropriate?
I’ve said in the past that when I had my daughter Emily, diagnosed when I was 5 months pregnant with a condition that would kill her at birth, I was given the gift of experiencing unconditional love from the giving end. I would not be able to receive any of the “benefits” of parenting (grandchildren, “I love you,” watching the child become an adult, etc.) Emily could only receive love, and not (while in this world) give love back.
We talk about God’s love as unconditional as well. Now, what about everything in the middle?
Is “conditional love” even something that can exist? Because once you attach conditions to love, isn’t it “usefulness” or “approval”?
Of course, someone will point out that if someone you love does something terrible, of course you’re going to back off. And if there’s long-term neglect of the relationship, you’ll fall out of love. Okay: but that’s not conditions, really. That’s in the realm of “dealbreakers.”
Here’s a thought: in unconditional love, the default state is to be in love, and the other person’s actions don’t enable the flow of love as much as either reinforcing it or, if they’re egregious enough, causing a rupture.
In unconditional love, you would continue loving the person even if the other person never acknowledged you. Or even if the other person didn’t like you at all (presuming, of course, that this never manifested in behavior, which might change your perception enough that the love would evaporate.)
If love is conditional, then the default state is not to love the person, and the object’s actions don’t reinforce love but only give a temporary stamp of approval to the relationship as defined.
Which, to me, is not love. The conditional state above would only ever be able to zero out.
Is that ever appropriate? I would say in the early stages of dating, yes. But in every other area of life (in parenthood, in friendship, in a marriage) it’s not.
So let’s abolish the term “unconditional love” and make sure everyone realizes “unconditional” is folded into the term “love”.