Unconditional love

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…and now for something completely different.

Statements such as ‘I will love you forever and no matter what’ — under the umbrella of unconditional love — have bothered me in recent years when I started to recognize what seems to be a sentiment coupled with unrealistic expectations and promises. Can a person genuinely say their love for another person will last not only a lifetime, but also be unconditional?

My relationships with others are conditional and provisional. While I may declare my love — whether romantic or not — for someone today and value the past, events may occur today or in the future which may lead me to reevaluate the status of — or my involvement with — these relationships.

At some point, I would feel morally obligated to terminate relationships or my love for another provided that compelling reasons exist ranging from the very extreme examples of a person confining me to a torture chamber and inflicting pain on me for the rest of my life or the slaughter of an entire nation of people following the use of a nuclear weapon to the milder examples of habitual lying and theft of my property.

While people may make errors of judgment and beg for forgiveness, my level of tolerance would not be infinite; I would feel compelled to sever the bond of a relationship following certain transgressions. There is a ‘line’ and, once crossed, I will step away. I have boundaries, pet peeves, and many reasons why my love for another may degrade.

Further, I cannot predict what the future may hold. Suppose I entered into a committed long-term relationship and became attached to a person whom I value, trust, and enjoy living with. This relationship may last for several years, but the interest may fade. Our interests may change. One of us may want to move to another part of the earth while the other would not. Professional opportunities may lead to a physical separation. My significant other may have a dramatic shift of personality and become someone I no longer want to live or speak with. With all of these possibilities and many more, I believe it would be dishonest for me to declare unconditional love.

This piece is not to say — as detractors elsewhere have mischaracterized — that I can never declare love for someone or that I believe love [or ‘love at first sight’] is not real (whatever that means), but rather is a challenge to the notion of unconditional love. Others may strongly feel this sentiment or ‘believe in it’ – and this is not to deny their feelings or beliefs; while they may feel or ‘believe in’ unconditional love this feeling or belief can be irrational and undesirable.

Unconditional love is not something to value. While a declaration of unconditional love may be a sign of good grace and a way for someone to articulate their love, we can more honestly communicate our love and/or affection for others without being unrealistic and promising what we can’t ethically promise. I can have strong relationships and love others without doing so unconditionally – and everyone will be better for it.

As always, feel free to leave comments below.

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