Over the weekend, the neighbor who lives behind me was lamenting loudly into his phone, "All I want is to be loved unconditionally. Is that too much to ask?"
For most of my life I believed one hundred percent in unconditional love. I know I love my children unconditionally--there is literally nothing they could do that would stop me from loving or helping them. I also know that is not a universal trait because my own mother does not love me--she is all about conditions and strings and grudges and blame. She has literally told me, "I wish you had died at birth" and "I have no compassion for you and would not shed a tear at your funeral." So...definitely not an unconditional love.
My father, on the other hand, was the epitome of unconditional love. He instilled in me the belief that family mattered above all else. Because of him, I spent most of my life trusting this idea that family would have my back no matter what--no matter my bank account balance, my relationship status, or anything. It wasn't until his death that I realized how fragile that belief truly was.
So, is there such a thing as unconditional love? The man who lives behind me--who was very upset and speaking loudly into his cellphone while pacing in his yard--believes in it and yearns for it. I once had friends who had been in my life for decades but who are now strangers to me. At one time, I had thought our friendships had stood the test of time and formed an unconditional love...I was wrong. Then again, I have a dear friend I've known since kindergarten and our friendship proves me right in believing. But, is the idea of unconditional love causing heartbreak? By trusting in this concept, are we doomed to be betrayed? Are we setting ourselves up for disappointment by believing in this idea that someone else will love us no matter what?
Look at the volatile political landscape and the divides it has created in the USA. How many of those broken relationships once thought they were unbreakable? That the bonds of family would withstand differing views only to be shattered?
As a romance author, the idea of unconditional love is actually an idea that I explore a lot while writing. What is realistic? What is too much? Sometimes I feel cynical about it, but then I follow my heart that is forever a hopeless romantic. I do believe in it, but I also believe it is rarer than I once realized.
I loved my late husband--I still do. Unconditionally, yes, perhaps even to a fault. I fought to save him from himself, which I now realize was an impossible battle. Only we can save ourselves. Only he could have saved himself. I was young, however, and thought love could conquer all. It didn't. And maybe that was an unreasonable expectation.
Despite my belief in unconditional love from family--which is now fractured--it took me a long time to turn that focus onto myself. Why was loving myself so hard when I freely gave that love to my children, husband, father, and friends? After the heartbreak, that became the true test. Why is it sometimes hard for us to love ourselves unconditionally? Do you love yourself that way? Can you look in the mirror without picking apart your alleged flaws? Can you review your past without making yourself the one to blame in all scenarios? Or, can you honestly look at your mistakes through the lens of compassion for who you were then and learn from the experience from a place of love rather than shame? If you're yearning for unconditional love, I believe you need to begin with yourself.
I have witnessed unconditional love, not only within my own little family, but in the world at large. I see it with people acting with selfless compassion to strangers and animals. (Oh, don't get me started about how much I love my dogs--even when they have eaten all of my shoes!) I see it in couples who have remained married despite outrageous obstacles thrown their way. It is easy to witness love when you are open to seeing it.
Is it love or a choice then? Is it simply individual to our level of commitment and responsibility? Or is unconditional love truly a soul-level energy that cannot be defined or rationalized? An ethereal feeling that simply 'happens'? As I said, I feel it toward my children (who are now in their 20s), but I also know that some parents don't. Why do some marriages flourish through trouble while others break? Love brought them together, but can it also tear them apart? These questions fascinate me.
As for the neighbor who lives behind me with his wife...I wish them well. They are a young couple and it's obvious from their loud disagreements that they are facing challenges unknown to me. I'm sure the pandemic has added to their stress levels, as it has with many of us. As he lamented into the phone about being loved unconditionally being the only thing he wanted, I thought to myself, 'that's a big ask, but not an unreasonable desire.'
I will keep writing about couples fighting their way through challenges toward that same goal of a happily ever after. Why not? The stories bring me joy and allow me to explore my own questions regarding relationships. Yes, love makes the world go 'round,-- it also makes life deliciously complicated.