Speaking of Love, Could it ever really be Unconditional?

Lately, I’ve been thinking of love (yet again). 

More precisely, I’ve been pondering an idea that has, frankly, confused me for quite some time: unconditional love.

Honestly, this concept can be such a mystery…

***

Now, growing up, there are many things one hears said about love.

Some of them, such as the concept of a love at first sight, quickly meet their death at the hands of the harsh reality of human interactions. People don’t just look at each other and fall in love. Certainly not if love is to mean anything more than pure lust, anyway.

However, other things one hears, such as talk of unconditional love, can be more difficult to grapple with.

That is why, personally, I have always felt a bit ambivalent touching on that particular subject. Partly it’s because love itself is hard to experience deeply, but mostly it’s because the requirement of unconditionality goes against many of my usual intuitions.

For instance, if love is good for something (and if it isn’t, why pursue it?), then presumably it can only produce its fruit in a delicately nurtured environment and only in the presence of the right person. 

In greater detail, that means: if love is to make us happy, then it can only fulfill its purpose in the company of an overall positive partner. And if love is to make us grow, then a partner who doesn’t actively sabotage us would be necessary.

In all cases, however, love always ends up seeming vulnerable and fragile. If a partner’s personality is one brain damage away from its opposite; if a partner’s optimism can be put to sleep by any unfortunate string of events; if there are other potential partners with whom love would be more effective; if all of this and much more is true, then how can one make sense of unconditional love?

Crucially, how can one accept the inherent sacrifice embedded in the very core of the idea? How can one love even when there is apparently nothing left to be loved?

***

I guess, one can try and regard unconditional love as a nice feel-good story without taking it too seriously. For example, if a loved partner suddenly goes mad and consequently all life turns into hell, of course love should end right then and there. In this view, the unconditional view is only there to facilitate the  romanticization of the relationship. It’s not really a sign of any deep commitment. In fact, it’s a lot more like the naive stories teenagers tell themselves about love.

But even if one’s more idealistic and actually regards unconditionality as real, then even more troublesome questions arise. 

Firstly, it seems truly irrational to commit to another person unconditionally. The very way relationships develop is meritocratically. In other words, we don’t fall in love with random people. Rather, we love those who did something amazing for us and who made significant differences to our lives through their actions.

But if actions is what it’s all about, what if those actions came to an end? What then? Isn’t an unconditional love persisting in spite of the new reality the very definition of irrational?

Secondly, if unconditional love is about the other person, then we open ourselves to all sorts of haunting questions about identity.

Going back to the brain trauma mentioned above, it’s a good question to ask if the person after the trauma is the same as the one prior to it? (who did we commit to loving unconditionally after all?) And if not, what’s so special about brain traumas anyway? Clearly, the underlying issue is one of an altered attitude and behavior, not of so much one of bodily integrity. But then, what’s so unconditional about such a love?

Making sense of unconditional love thus seems hopeless.

***

Yet, unconditional love is intuitively attractive nonetheless.

So, following my hunch, I’ve spent the last few days playing with a few ideas approaching the question from a different angle.

Clearly, unconditional love cannot be rooted in the actions of the other, nor their attitude. So, a relationship being composed of (at least) two, there might be something to rooting the unconditionality in yourself.

Put differently, maybe the whole point of unconditional love is that it allows one to reach higher ideals only accessible through such a particular form of commitment.

Maybe we want to love unconditionally not because our partner literally deserves it.  (they never could) No, we want to love our partner unconditionally because in them we’ve seen the possibility for truly loving somebody deeply. (a partner that deserves a lot of love is easier to commit to than one that deserves our hatred)

It’s true that this view of love is much more explicitly “selfish”. At its core, it concerns the individual, i.e. the one who loves. Yet, in so doing, it reliably and affectionately reaches out to another. True, it seems a bit paradoxical. But is there a better alternative?

In any case, if the above view is true, then committed relationships are great because they are shared. More precisely, they are great because both sides are free to safely love unconditionally. The safety, of course, deriving from the shared knowledge (or at least trust) that the other is less likely to run away and turn their partner’s unconditional love into an unconditionally painful and unrequited one.

Which leads me to my current exploration: what precisely does unconditional love provide in the way of benefits for the one who does the loving? And are those benefits enough? Is unconditional love worth it, in the final analysis?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I myself will probably share my thoughts as they gradually appear to me over the next few days. But that shall wait for now. The question is indeed fascinating but, admittedly, nuanced and complicated 🙂

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23 Comments, RSS

  1. Aussie Carter January 16, 2018 @ 10:56 PM

    Unconditional love is not a safety net, nor is it rational. Unconditional love for someone means falling so hard for them, that you will love them no matter what. Even when things get tough, even when it seems better to walk away. It is a commitment to one person. Sure, sometimes it can be painful or unrequited, but that doesn’t mean you can just stop loving them. Sometimes you have to walk away if that’s what’s best for the other person, but you don’t stop loving them. You’ll spend everyday trying to make sure they are happy. Above all else, it is worth every tear.

    • blago

      blago January 16, 2018 @ 11:59 PM

      But is it just an emotion? Cause that can easily go away after a betrayal

  2. cmapillay January 16, 2018 @ 11:56 PM

    There’s just so much to talk about this topic! The whole idea of unconditional love is there is no looking forward to benefits. Worth it? Only time can tell that.

    • blago

      blago January 16, 2018 @ 11:59 PM

      But if there are no benefits why do it at all then :/

      • cmapillay January 17, 2018 @ 1:32 AM

        If you are looking for benefits or reasons then it destroys the whole meaning of unconditional. Its not even unconditional at that point. As far as the question of why do unconditional love, i think it just cones from within and you feel good about loving that someone that’s why you do it. But the day you start looking for a benefit it begins a conditional love.

  3. Christy B January 17, 2018 @ 1:56 AM

    I believe in unconditional love. But I’ve heard the argument that nothing is truly selfless as it feels good to love another without expecting anything in return. So… is anything really selfless? Interesting words in your post!

  4. littlegypsyblue January 17, 2018 @ 2:43 AM

    As far as unconditional love in relationships goes, that’s confusing. But a parent unconditionally loves their children, which basically means to me that I would still love my (step)son even if he went nuts and became the next Buffalo Bill or something. I’d be disgusted and angry and whatever you’d feel if your child became a serial killer, but I would love him nonetheless and it would never stop. Love is a funny thing.

  5. waughpaper January 17, 2018 @ 3:45 AM

    I agree with your assessment of a reality rooted in a paradox. But, like a tree rooted in either a soil that is fertile, full of nutrients, or a tree rooted in a cliff side, the tree exists and/or thrives according to its structure beneath the visible . . .
    The tree is real, regardless.

  6. paresh January 17, 2018 @ 4:19 AM

    Love is not just something we do , it is just the way we are .

  7. Hariod Brawn January 17, 2018 @ 6:43 PM

    An excellent and thoughtful article, for which many thanks. My own take is that so-called unconditional love doesn’t exist; it’s largely and frequently an allusion to religious and/or spiritual ideals that simply cannot be met in practice by human minds that are by their very nature conditional. I’m a parent and grandparent, and naturally enough love my family; but I acknowledge that love can’t possibly ever be unconditional. It seems to me that for anything to be unconditional then it must obtain beyond time itself, and beyond causality itself. I know of no such phenomenon. Thanks again!

    • blago

      blago January 17, 2018 @ 6:47 PM

      Hey thanks again. I read one of your latest post s and was brought back to Oxford 🙂

      As for love, yes, I’m having similar doubts. But it’s a very general critique that humans can never reach an ideal. But we wouldn’t say good doesn’t exist just because no one has ever been perfect. So maybe I am asking is there a there there when it comes to unconditional love. (Especially since for me love is more of a rational act and a product of will power / desire to commit, not just a mere feeling)

      Just some thoughts I’m playing with. Thanks for the comment!

      • Hariod Brawn January 17, 2018 @ 6:58 PM

        If love were unconditional, then it would be present all the time within consciousness, surely? But what tends to happen is that love surfaces within us as a result of proximity, of sense contact, of recollection. When we’re irritated because we’ve stubbed our toe, where is the love? Additionally, how can love be unconditional if it’s directed at one or a few subjects only? It’s presence is dependent upon (conditional upon) their having come into existence in the world, which itself is a conditioned phenomenon. Anyway, here’s to Broad Street et al! 🙂

        • blago

          blago January 17, 2018 @ 7:10 PM

          Ah yes, of course it’s conditional upon their presence. I don’t deny that. I guess the more idealist part of me is battling it out with the more cynical part of me. It’s easy to adopt a reductionist view on this, talk about molecules in the brain and such. But is there something more, like an emergent pattern or an idea we can consciously conceive of?

          But in general, I don’t require an unconditional love to be ever-present in consciousness. I mean, nothing really is. My problem with the concept right now is mostly, is it a wise thing to do, to commit to someone and care for them forever (just like one does to oneself even in spite of occasional bouts of self-hatred, etc. we just don’t give up on ourselves. so could / should we extend this sort of feeling to another person?)

          As for Oxford, well, I was in love with the parks. Port Meadow and the part of uni parks just on the back of St. Cats <3 Broad street was usually too busy and I prefer the solitude of nature 🙂

  8. I Am Halcyon January 17, 2018 @ 6:54 PM

    I too believe in unconditional love, when it is directed at the partner at the moment. Love is a feeling that is developed and therefore can disappear with certain events. Therefore the same person unconditional love is professed for can also be disliked to the point of hatred

    • blago

      blago January 17, 2018 @ 7:11 PM

      Interesting. I guess we disagree on what love is precisely. I don’t consider it a feeling. Feelings are too fleeting and it just seems like we use the word love in a different way. We can love somebody we passionately hate at a given moment (and that for me is not a contradiction, it might be one for you?)

  9. pinsforthewins January 18, 2018 @ 6:23 AM

    Your post really has me thinking…when I wrote my wedding vows I actually stood up in front of all my friends and family and declared that love is indeed selfish. This was much to my mother’s horror. I believe love truly is selfish and that you don’t necessarily fall in love with someone unless they do something for you. That something can be simple such as them making you feel good but at the end of the day it’s still about what they have done for you in the past, present, or even future. I love my husband but is it unconditionally? No I don’t think it is. I think the closest I can get to unconditional love is the love for my dog. Even that love is selfish, she loves me because I take care of her and feed her. I love her because she is adorable, provides me with a companion, and provides entertainment for me. So for me unconditional love doesn’t necessarily exist in the real world, but a selfish love does.

  10. galilabdelghani January 18, 2018 @ 6:02 PM

    Btw blago-That was a link to the “award” I nominated you to. It’s working for some and for others it not. Sorry… mistake but my intentions were to highlight your blog as an inspiration…but you assumed it was spam
    All good tho!

    • blago

      blago January 18, 2018 @ 6:13 PM

      Hey no worries 😉 I understood what was going on later (and felt stupid). Some people just post a link to their blog as a comment and it pisses me. All good indeed!

      • galilabdelghani January 18, 2018 @ 6:18 PM

        I would never ever spam and disrespect your blog or anyone else like that!

        • blago

          blago January 18, 2018 @ 6:21 PM

          I don’t doubt that any more. You are great 🙂 👍

  11. After The Party January 20, 2018 @ 1:25 AM

    I love my children unconditionally. I don’t think I could ever love another person that way, not within the bounds of a romantic relationship. I might love someone always, but there will always be conditions if the relationship is to work. But my kids? I would love them even if they wound up being murderers. I’d probably blame myself, and love them regardless. ❤️

  12. Jp February 14, 2018 @ 9:19 PM

    what precisely does unconditional love provide in the way of benefits for the one who does the loving? And are those benefits enough? Is unconditional love worth it, in the final analysis?
    Your readers have explained unconditional love exceptionally..but still..
    Love is not something to be analysed,it is something given freely. If you are wondering about benefits,then it is clearly not love.
    The beauty of unconditional love is that we do not expect anything out of it, We don’t even think before we express it.
    And final analysis? We do reap a lot out of it-the happiness of those we love

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