Is There Such a Thing as Unconditional Love?
We hear a lot about unconditional love because we watch romantic movies and read books and stories about romances whose participants vow to love one another no matter what. We also learn through a variety of media outlets about famous people who have loved without placing conditions on their relationships.
Fiction is, of course, written by authors who specialize in romanticizing the relationships that people have and, in truth, we only know about those famous people mentioned above because of how they have behaved in front of others and what they have told them.
The bottom line is that although unconditional love sounds like a dream come true for many, we cannot really know if it exists!
What Is Love?
Before people can determine the existence of unconditional love, they need to possess a clear understanding of what it is.
The problem is that each one of us is raised with certain beliefs that follow us into adulthood. Those, as well as the personal experiences we have through the years are what determine how we view love.
Also, love comes in many forms. The feelings one has for parents, children, other relatives, friends and individuals they meet along life’s path clearly play roles in his emotional development.
The love a child feels towards a sibling is a far cry from how he feels towards another child with whom he shares a deep, caring friendship.
One’s culture also guides the ways in which he feels love because each has different sets of values.
For example, some Mormons still believe in Polygamy. The man in the family is the master. He sese nothing wrong with his having several wives. Each loves him as if she was his only wife and treats him accordingly.
Details how this system works. Clearly it does work, or Polygamy wouldn’t exist!
On the other hand, most Christians would never tolerate Polygamy because they believe that marriage can only exist between one man and one woman. Recently this view has been politically challenged, but only in terms of gender. The issue of two people loving only one another is still the standard value all Christians (as well as many other religious groups) hold.
Love Standards in the U.S.
The United States is comprised of people from multiple cultures, so there are many nuances within them that define love.
However, in most of these cultures, the following values are standard:
- Sexual Compatibility
- Emotional Compatibility
- Emotional Support
- Personal Sacrifice
Not all of these apply to every relationship, but within them are elements that are part of every type of relationship.
For example, parents are expected to be willing to make personal sacrifices for their children, but the same is only true of children when they reach late adolescence.
Siblings are expected to be emotionally supportive for each other as well as affectionate but relatives outside of the immediate family may only be expected to be affectionate and trustworthy.
Of course, each relationship is different, so the items mentioned here are only generalities. Sometimes, for example, cousins become best friends. Once this happens, the concepts of trust and honesty becomes activated.
As previously noted and, as you can see from what is written here, defining love can be extremely complicated simply because there are so many forms of it!
However, there are two types of relationships that test the concept of unconditional love.
Parent to Child Love
Many people believe that the love a parent feels for his child cannot be broken. They think that nothing a child ever does should destroy those feelings of love.
What few children seem to care about is that their parents sacrifice a great deal to raise them in terms of personal and financial hardships, worry and fear.
It is unfortunate that children learn very early in life to use this fact to manipulate and abuse their familial relationships.
Parents who tolerate this type of behavior are those who believe in unconditional love and will proudly state their feelings to anybody who will listen. They believe they are being good parents and, in extreme cases, ruin their lives trying to prove that they love their children. Ironically, many ruin their children’s lives as well as their own.
Parents who participate in these types of relationships actually don’t “love” their children. They are using them to prove to themselves and others that they are willing to do just about anything to keep their kids happy with the hopes that the love they give will be reciprocated. It rarely is.
What happens is that the children become takers who lose the ability to give. Why should they? No matter what they do their parents will stand by them, so why reciprocate?
I have actually seen adult children arguing over insurance money while standing at the grave of their recently deceased father or arguing over a parent’s will while he’s still alive in a hospital bed awaiting death!
The parent-child relationship is extremely complex, but regardless of that, in order for there to be love between people, it must be a two-way street. There can never be one party always giving while the other one always takes If this situation sums up one of these relationships; it proves it is not a healthy one.
Therefore, all of those parents who are killing themselves (literally) to give all they’ve got to their kids might want to come to terms that what they are doing is not giving unconditional love, but rather appeasing some need they have.
Adult Romantic Love
What is interesting about adult romantic love is that in order for it to work well, it must be composed of all of the values (and then some) that I listed above.
If any of those qualities are missing, there cannot be love. There may be affection, sexual compatibility and a certain amount of emotional support, but they are only part of the puzzle that is love.
Of course, for many people, emotions block out the problem areas for a period of time. However, once the luster of beginning love starts to wear off and reality sets in, the success of the relationship depends on how willing one or both partners are to accept the flaws of the other.
- If they are totally accepting, yes, they have unconditional love.
- If not, they don’t.
In the second instance the couple will try to justify issues that rear their ugly heads and will even use them as excuses for claiming they have unconditional love for one another.
Take Spencer Tracey and Kathryn Hepburn for example. He was a Catholic, and he was married to another woman. She was single. They fell in love, but because of the “condition” of his relation, he could not divorce his wife. Hepburn tolerated the circumstance, but was either unhappy about it or actually enjoyed the titillation of being involved with a married man while still having her freedom!
Yet, theirs is seen as one of the greatest love stories in Hollywood. He was the taker. He had the best of both worlds. She was either the giver, or a person who benefitted in her own ways from the affair.
They no doubt loved one another, but the fact that there was an excuse that kept them from marrying put a condition on their situation.
It is likely that the same can be said for many romantic relationships, but this does not prove that unconditional love in a romantic sense does not exist.
Love Feelings Differ From Real Life Behaviors
Because love is an emotional feeling and not an action, it is different from real life situations.
It is one thing to feel that you love someone unconditionally, but another to be able to continue loving that person when his actions are abhorrent to you or go against your own value system and beliefs.
- If you are a racist and your child marries someone from a different race, would you still love your child?
- If you married for better or worse and your spouse becomes an abuser, would you still love him?
- If you find out that a good friend has stolen money from you, would your love feelings for him or her remain the same?
For most people the answer is “No”. Human beings can only tolerate so much emotional upset. When there is so much that it overwhelms them, the great majority find it impossible to continue loving.
Unconditional love generally cannot survive under the weight of such circumstances unless one person in the relationship is willing to give so much of himself to maintain it that he depletes himself.
The Bottom Line
People, for the most part, are romantics. We all want to believe that those who are involved in relationships love one another enough to be willing to do anything to support and protect the other.
Despite what has been said here, I have no doubt that there are children who do reciprocate for the sacrifices of their parent and adults who love one another equally and in healthy ways.
However, I still have to ask myself just how far people would be willing to go.
If it came right down to it, would one lover actually give his life to save that of his partner?
Would these things be done out of love or out of the need to assuage feelings of need, guilt or shame?
It is easy to say what you would do in a given situation, but actually doing it may be much too difficult.
Unconditional is a big word. It should not be used loosely. In most cases, there are always conditions because there always are consequences for people’s actions.
If you meet the values stated above, you have a good chance of finding unconditional love…as long as the other person meets them, too!
Do you believe there is such a thing as unconditional love?
© 2019 Sondra Rochelle