Is Unconditional Love Possible?
I've been mulling over the the topic of love and reciprocity for a while now. The big question that always gets me stuck is: Is unconditional love possible? To me, unconditional love is about giving wholeheartedly without expecting things in return. It's about loving the person for who they are and to love their strengths and even their flaws. Yet, it seems terribly hard to love 100% without expecting reciprocity.
The friends I've discussed this with all had differing opinions on it. Some said they don't think unconditional love is possible, yet others were ardent believers of the opposite view.
There are a few friends in my life I deeply care about. I saw myself giving and giving and continuously putting themselves before me, but when I perceived that I wasn't getting the reciprocity I desired, I started getting bitter and frustrated. And that got me thinking: What was it that I really wanted? Was it my friends' love, or was it their acceptance of me? Did their lack of response (at least from how I perceived it) mean that I was valued or worth any less? No, not necessarily so. Perhaps the bitterness and frustration I feel from their 'lack of love' (from how I saw it) are only reflections of the lack of love I have for myself. The narrative of "they don't reciprocate, therefore they don't love me, and they don't love me because I am not good enough (for them)" comes to the fore. The belief that "I am not good enough" can be so strong it burns through and I mistake certain 'lack of's as the shortcomings of other people.
Loving someone is great. And expecting to have something in return is perfectly normal. Yet, I realised that I only viewed certain responses as 'they are reciprocating my love'. And if I'm putting myself out there and am only open to certain forms of reciprocity, I am not really accepting my friends for who they are. I'm trying to fit them into the little mould I created and labelled 'if you behave this way, it means you love me (or not)'.
And if I love my friends for who they are, it doesn't matter how they respond to me. I have to bear in mind that their responses are their unique ways of communicating their love for me. And that should be enough.
Another friend pointed out a really valid point too. He said: "What love means to me is not what I want from the person, but what I want for the person." When he said that, it really was a reminder for me to break my habit of focusing inwards and to start focusing outwards. To give and not take. And this giving has to come from the genuine care you have for someone. You want the best for them, you put forth the message clearly with your actions, and maybe your courageous display of vulnerability and love gives them strength to accept this love and to love bravely too. That your choice to love someone wholeheartedly allows them to make a similar choice in return.
My friend carried on: "Love is light. It doesn't have to be laden with all these pressure and expectations. Love light. If you fall or trip, it's okay. Just keep remembering to choose again." Because love is a choice, and how we love is also a reflection of the choices we make too.
By loving ourselves completely and wholeheartedly first and accepting our own flaws, it naturally opens up so much more space in us to love others wholeheartedly as well.
Back to the issue of reciprocity, it's okay to expect something in return. It's like if I study really hard for a test, I expect to get good grades. Expectations aren't bad. They are merely human or animalistic. For animals, for example when dogs behave well, they expect a good treat in return. Yet, for healthy and long-lasting relationships, maybe it's worth looking at what it is that we expect from others, how these reflect our own beliefs of ourselves and them, and what choice we can make that will serve ourselves and them.