What is unconditional love? Is there such a thing?
That is the Universal standard, no? God’s standard?
I mean, by that standard any asshole can be, well, an asshole all the time and still be loved.
Number 1 was asking me about someone from my childhood with whom I’m friends on Facebook.
What is she really like? Is she like she seems? If so, why are you friends with her?
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I think so – I mean, she always was the way she seems now and – it’s friendship at a distance. I can filter it, so to speak.’
‘She has redeeming qualities. And there are no surprises. I don’t expect things from her I know aren’t available.’
‘Like anything beyond casual chat.’
You don’t do casual chat.
‘Sure I do.’
‘Don’t patronize me.’
Relax Mom. You’re just a little – intense.
Note the emphasis on ‘tense.’
‘I am so easy going. I am so laid back I’m nearly horizontal.’
Number 1 was staring straight ahead at this point and I spent a second imagining the conflict in his brain where it’s more logical and he was probably wondering what he could say at this point to lead our talk back to something less subjective than my state of being at any given moment.
‘Sorry,’ I said.
‘My friend and I share history. Some good, some bad but she seems to accept me the way I am and I can do that for her as well. Her perspective has always been valuable to me. Does that make sense?’
He nodded the way he always does when I’m winding up to speak in paragraphs.
‘I mean, we didn’t get along much when we were kids. Her sister and I were better friends but – there was something about her that I didn’t want to let go of. I did think she was just misunderstood, or vulnerable or something like that. Like someone needed to really, really reach her. I thought I was the one who could. It’s almost funny now. I couldn’t, no matter what I tried.’
Why, do you think?
‘She’s an asshole. There’s that.’
Is the fact that I am only a certain kind of friend to this person evidence that conditional love is okay? Or does everybody just love parts of people? The truth is we love, much of the time in spite of one thing or another. I happen to know for a fact that not everything about me is lovable.
No. Please. Don’t argue.
While we need not deal with a litany of what needs improvement in my personality and habits, suffice it to say I skate by on credit sometimes. You know, she was always so sweet, sort of thing. Which is bullshit, to be honest. I’m not sweet. I’m empathetic and try to be kind. It’s from the heart and it’s part how I was born and part how I was formed. But sweet? No.
I give those I love credit a lot as well. I – we all let things slide. You have to if you’re going to have relationships. However, lines have to be drawn. Not, I suppose on your love. Just – you know – the really important stuff. How much time you give. How much of yourself you put out there and on the line before you say ‘enough.’
How does one know, then, when love turns to, say, abuse? How do you know that someone is using you? How do you know when to turn and say enough? I’ve had enough. You are damaging me, us. This needs to stop. You’re out of line. How do you draw those lines without losing?
I think it’s all about what you’re gaining.
When you draw a line like that you gain yourself.
Of course, if you’re me, you are wracked with guilt for doing so, but you deal and push through.
What does that mean, you ask.
For me it means I come to terms with the fact that someone else’s truth does not diminish mine and vice versa. I’ve told this story before…….. While at a family reunion some years back, my cousin – three years my senior – apologized for treating me badly as a child. It wasn’t a purge on her part. I’m pretty sure her treatment of me hadn’t kept her up at night, though it took its toll on me. I’m not even sure it crossed her mind until that very moment. My cousin, my aunt (also three years my senior) and I were sharing memories of our childhood. There were some good ones – then there was that very large pachyderm in the room when all of us recalled the not so good ones and Sadie (cousin) said, “We didn’t treat you very well when we were kids and I’m sorry.” Her words were clearly a revelation to her. You could see it in her face.
“Thank you,” I said. “I appreciate that.”
That was it. Except, of course, that the aunt threw in a whatever because she never saw treating me badly as doing anything wrong. She still doesn’t, and that’s her truth and I’d say another story but it was actually the beginning of the end of another story.
What Sadie said healed and inspired me. Remember when I said I’m not “perfect?” I had (have) apologies to make and where possible, I made (still make) them. It was probably more important to me than the persons to whom I apologized. I sat down to write one particular note, thinking This man has grown up, become a lawyer, married, had children – all around successful and happy. What could he possibly gain from my apology?
I apologized anyway:
I’m writing to apologize for treating you badly when we were children. I realize you’ve lived well and successfully without my words, but it’s come to my attention recently how healing it can be to hear that someone realizes they hurt you once upon a time and regrets the pain they caused. I am sorry.
He wrote back:
Thank you. Your words meant a great deal. Truly, no apology was necessary – kids will be kids – but I appreciate it. I too know the redemptive power of reconciliation and forgiveness.
The kids will be kids thing was magnanimous of him because, let me tell you, I – along with my brother and several other kids – was a little asshole to this guy. He and I don’t have an ongoing relationship now because we never did, but we are positive energy in each other’s collective consciousness. Working toward good.
How, I’ve wondered over the years, do I get to that place with others? Words haven’t worked. With some communication was nonexistent. Not everyone likes to say everything that’s in their head. Go figure. Not everyone can face the top frigging layer of what’s in their heart and mind, let alone get in there deeper, no matter how many times and ways I tried to peal that onion.
I let many of these people go. Not with harsh words and not without feelings of loss. I am talking, after all, about people I love and who supposedly love me. There are ties, both emotional and genetic – neither to be sneezed at – but it eventually came down to survival. It came down to a question of whether or not I wanted to thrive. Did – do – I want to live or do I just want to exist? In the end – or in the beginning – it turned out to be easier than I thought. I mean – it was hard and it hurt – but when I stopped trying to control them and took possession of the fact that I had a choice in the matter there was clarity. I took myself out of the equation. Only in one case did I actually say the words “I’m letting you go with love.” It was a choice I made because the words needed to be said. They were not met with hearts and flowers and phrases like can we please make this work. It was more like middle fingers and kiss my ass.
Which was not unexpected.
You don’t walk out of someone’s life – you don’t tell your truth – without repercussions sometimes. The bottom line is, however, this is MY truth. It doesn’t diminish anyone else’s. It’s mine, though and I had to choose whether or not I was going to live it.
Do I feel happy, good, celebratory, enthusiastic about having walked away from some of the people who were very important to me?
I don’t look at it like that. To be clear, I didn’t give anyone a middle finger even when I wanted to the very, very most and when one considers how much I like the “F Word,” in all its forms, that’s saying something. I let them go. With as much love and peace as I was capable. It still hurts sometimes that we are not in each others’ lives and I have no idea if they miss me as well. Perhaps we’ll somehow circle back around to each other. The most important thing here is that I chose truth. I chose to thrive. I chose finding myself and filling my plate well over living off the scraps from someone else’s table.
I do love to mix metaphors.
We, all of us here on this planet are, as individuals and a collective consciousness, working toward something. When I let go of people (and things and places) it’s an exercise in freedom. When a relationship is becoming or continuing to be toxic it’s a huge drag on anything positive. I can’t move toward the light if part of me insists darkness is okay. My ego wanted so badly to hang in there with these relationships in order to fix what was wrong. Isn’t that my job? To bring light and love to everyone I encounter?
It’s like this – and I love this analogy. If your friend (or sibling or cousin or mother or uncle or spouse, et al) has pneumonia will it help them get better if you get sick too?
(The correct answer is no)
I mean – duh. Seriously.
I walked away for me. Not gonna lie about that. I had spent years – decades – trying to build relationships with people because we were tied by blood and I loved them and we were supposed to be close. Those relationships were the proverbial castles in the sand and I watched as they washed away again and again, only to try and rebuild them because we – well, what I just said. Finally. I stopped.
The funny thing is that my ego was okay with it. Turns out it’s not as big as I thought. Or it, like the rest of me, was tired of having the shit beat out of it. It checks in every now and then when we stalk someone’s Facebook page to see if they are showing signs of missing me, but mostly we (me, myself and our ego) just move forward with a shrug and love.
Are the people with pneumonia getting better since I stopped trying to be their doctor? If they are it’s not something they’re putting on social media. Again, that’s good because it keeps me free to be free.
I need a lot of checks and balances. Or a keeper, depending on the day.
In answer to my original question about unconditional love. Yes, it exists and I think it can be given but it has to start with unconditional love of self – which is only practical. You cannot give what you don’t have. You must form an acceptance, peace and affection for yourself before you are able to distribute those feelings to anyone else in any real, tangible sense.
I’ll leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes.
“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” Lucille Ball
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 21:31