Unconditional Love: Is That Really a Good Idea?
“I was told love should be unconditional. That’s the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyone try to do the right thing ever? If I know I am loved no matter what, where is the challenge? . . . It makes me think that everyone is very wrong, that love should have many conditions. Love should require both partners to be their very best at all times. Unconditional love is an undisciplined love, and as we have all seen, undisciplined love is disastrous.” – Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
One of the scariest books I have ever read is (no, not Gone Girl) The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
Scarier still was hearing it read at someone’s wedding. Really.
If you have not read it, here is the simple synopsis:
- In an effort to make the boy happy at each stage of his life, the tree gives him parts of herself, which he can transform into material items, such as money (from her apples), a house (from her branches), and a boat (from her trunk). With every stage of giving, “the Tree was happy.”
- The book ends with the only thing left of the tree is a stump, which the boy sits on, and “the Tree was happy.” That makes my skin crawl.
The point of this is not that the boy takes (although that is indeed concerning), but it is more concerning that the tree freely gives parts of herself to make him happy. She does this in some twisted ode to what we are told unconditional love is.
Love is not about giving yourself up in an attempt to make someone else happy.
That is a martyrish shell game of attempting to control someone else under the guise of selfless personal sacrifice. It causes nothing but resentment on both sides.
This whole “unconditional love” concept can get really murky and manifest its warped thought process in a variety of ways.
- Giving everything to another, putting them first always, even if it means compromising your values, your integrity, your emotional well-being, your health. Not so good.
- Thinking that by pulling the unconditional love card, you have been given a free pass to be your worst self as a way to test the love of your partner. “If you really loved me, you would not call me out on being an alcoholic, drug addict, liar, fill in the blanks.”
This segues into how the movie Love Story and its teeth gritting catchphrase “love means never having to say you’re sorry” brainwashed and scarred a generation.
Actually, love means saying you’re sorry a lot. I mean, a lot.
Not a reflexive, thoughtless, “whoops, sorry” but a contemplated, reflective, “Oh my God, look at the stupid, hurtful, mean thing I just said/did. Wow, I am so sorry.” That kind of sorry, and then you need to actively, intentionally, attempt to not recreate that scenario.
How do we be our most integrous selves, while not gilding over the more prickly aspects of who we are? How do we hold ourselves and our loved ones accountable for their actions, deeds, and words? How do we not fake perfection in the hopes of fooling someone into loving us?
Unconditional love does not mean passive, belly-up resignation to stick by someone no matter how horrible or exhausting or unhealthy or emotionally abusive they are to have in our lives. There are conditions to love, and that is not a bad thing, but the intentions behind the conditions might be.
If the intention behind the condition is to control or trap or get the upper hand with someone, or make ourselves look like saints, that is not so great.
But if the intention behind the condition is:
- Is this honest?
- Is this healthy for both of us?
- Is this respectful of my boundaries and yours?
- Is this the kind of behavior I want to interact with in my life?
- Does this serve us as individuals, which in turn allows us to bring something of worth to a relationship?
These kinds of conditions are healthy and vital to the overall well-being of everyone involved.
Tech tip: Don’t put yourself in the wood chipper to try and make anyone happy.
If someone asks you to? Run.