The Limits of Unconditional Love
I believe true, pure unconditional love is only capable from God. I think the closest we come to that as humans is the love a parent has for their child. I also think we can try to sift through what true love is (there is the tough love variety and other sorts) and give it our best shot to love as perfectly as we can through our incredibly imperfect selves.
I remember a big aha moment in family therapy. We were having struggles with Matthew, who was then in high school. The very painful time came when our counselor talked to Tim [the author’s late husband] about whether or not he should continue to live with us. I was completely befuddled. I was a counselor too and I knew better, but I just couldn’t see it in my own life. I really thought if I could just love Matthew like my own child, give him that constancy he desperately needed, stability, etc. etc. etc., that he would come around. He didn’t though. He just didn’t. The therapist looked at me with compassion and just said that life and people don’t follow a formula. No matter what we do, sometimes people just don’t respond the way we think they should. I knew that in my head, but I was still devastated in my heart. I tried so hard to be the best mom I could, but it wasn’t enough back then. It just wasn’t where Matthew was. That brings me back to the God-thing. We still have free will. So unconditional love comes with no guarantees.
Thanks to the gender-fluid movement, referring to a person as a “they” is now considered grammatically correct even though it is a plural form used for a singular person. I like it though, because now I can write without defining a gender which helps protect anonymity. Sorry for the sidebar.
Since that painful episode with Matthew, I’ve about the limits of love, about sticking up for myself and not being a doormat. I learned that from a lot of sources, but one person in particular had a great influence of me. They are pretty rough around the edges, but with time I did a pretty good job of accepting them the way they were. Whenever they hurt me, I told them, so I didn’t repeat the doormat pattern. But I always forgave and I continued to love. I had always hoped they would learn from me as well. Maybe they would soften a bit, learn to be a tiny bit less selfish. Maybe try to care a little for someone other than themselves. I hoped it, and I know their friends did too.
Sometimes though, the opposite happens. Loving like that can create something else that is NOT good – that of just being taken for granted. Even though I showed my friendship in numerable ways with little in return, all it did was allowed that person to take me for granted. They became even more selfish and hurt me even worse. I can write about this because they told me they don’t read my blog because they just have no interest in the topics I choose. It doesn’t matter that I am one of their best friends and I write about what is important to me. That is of no consequence to them because I am not of consequence to them.
The other side effect of learning to stand up for myself, is being introduced to the concept of revenge. It was not something I visited often in my life. It was not usually a struggle. I guess in truth, it still isn’t in the sense that I don’t struggle to not act on it. But I am surprised by my thoughts. I think about wanting to hurt the people who have hurt me.
And I think about my friend and how they have hurt me. I can think of a million ways they could hurt. If they could hurt just a tenth of how much they hurt me, I would be satisfied. But then I hit the brick wall and remember that people like them can’t even be hurt. They would have to care in order to hurt. And some people truly don’t give a damn about anyone else.
The crazy thing is, I left the friendship in their court. I said if they could show me respect I would still hang in there. The response was a confident yes, they want my friendship. And then they disappeared. Anyone who knows me, knows ignoring me is one of the deepest cuts for me.
I know the answer I will eventually get to, is that I choose to love because it is who I am. I don’t do it for the reciprocation. But right now, the well is dry. I’m exhausted from caring for others so deeply and having it get me nowhere but more hurt and rejection. Shame on me, right? I will get there, I always bounce back. Because it spite of learning to defend myself, I am still at my core, NOT a jerk. I am NOT selfish. So I will find hope again. But going through the dark road to get there? It sucks beyond description.