Unconditional love. It’s the much-hyped, much lauded, Utopian emotional ideal.
The idea that there’s someone for everyone, someone who will love us no matter what, accept us just as we are, warts and all. Someone who will continue to give us that love, regardless of circumstance or change, action or inaction. Blanket absolution for every flaw, every misdeed.
Friendship? The same ideals seem to apply. Respect? Admiration? Also the same.
The thing is, none of those things are unconditional. And I don’t think they should be.
There are conditions on every single type of relationship, on every human interaction. Those conditions are mostly unspoken, silently understood. Tacit social agreements. The clerk at the convenience store won’t charge you for things you don’t buy. If he does, he risks losing the employment through which your interaction with him takes place. The teller at the bank won’t pocket part of your deposit, or she risks the same thing. The trucker behind you on the highway won’t ram into you and push you into oncoming traffic, or he risks losing his job, his license, and his freedom.
Your friends won’t steal from you. They won’t trash your things, or take undue advantage of you. They will listen when you speak. They won’t decide that they know, better than you, what your motivations or experiences are. They won’t form their opinions about you without coming straight to the source, and giving you the chance to clear up any misconceptions they might have. If they do, they risk losing the friendship.
Your romantic partners won’t intentionally harm you. They won’t lie to you about important things. If you’ve agreed to be monogamous, they won’t cheat. If they do, they risk losing the relationship.
All of these things are conditions, set on relationships from the outset. Most of the time, they aren’t explicitly stated, but they exist just the same. No relationship is unconditional. Love is conditional. Admiration is conditional. Professional relationships are conditional. Friendships are conditional. Romantic relationships are conditional.
Frankly, it would be unhealthy, otherwise.
Unconditional love, unless it’s the kind given to minor children by parents, leads to some pretty busted shit. It’s at least a part of the reason, in many cases, that domestic abuse victims stay with their abusers. It’s the reason why people allow themselves to be beaten down, repeatedly, in unhealthy relationships with relatives.
Without these conditions, you’re basically saying, “You can treat me however you like, do whatever you want to me, and I’ll still take it, still allow you to have influence in my life, still continue to make you a priority.” You’re devaluing yourself, your emotions, your safety, your own experience, and the relationships, themselves.
Our relationships, whether romantic, friendship, professional or otherwise, exist for a reason. There’s a commonality between you and the other person, between your interests, ethics, goals and/or ideals. If this weren’t the case, then the person with whom you have the relationship wouldn’t matter. You could replace them with any warm body, any other person, no matter their personality or commonality with you, and it would make no difference.
The conditions are what make the relationships valuable, at their core.
Unconditional love is a sweet and reassuring concept, on the surface, much like “…and they lived happily ever after.”
But only children believe in fairy tales.