Unconditional Love: You’re Not Doing It Wrong.
Love has many definitions in the dictionary, ranging from a sense of kinship and admiration to a more romantic feeling involving sexual attraction.
Unconditional love is considered the ultimate and perfect love. I first heard about it at church, as I was raised Christian and taught that God loves me unconditionally. This idea was tainted for me by the guilt of being a lowly, sinning human, a sense that the church helped instill in me: “God loves you, even if you don’t deserve it.”
Unconditional love is not only a religious concept, but a spiritual one. A spiritual approach shies away from the concept of deserving, and most of the texts I have read do not talk about sin. People talk about unconditional love and aspire to give and receive it. But, like almost any other concept on a religious or spiritual path, it can be misunderstood or used to make one feel bad about him/herself.
A friend messaged me recently, as he was feeling down and wanted to talk. He mentioned that it hurt to lose touch with people he still thinks about frequently. I knew exactly what he was talking about.
It has been a few years since I have seen certain family members, ones I think of every day, and I enter a state of despair that lasts for days or weeks when I convince myself that they don’t want to spend time with me as much as I wish to spend time with them.
At times, it has been difficult for me to forgive those who have been distant, who forged a mountain between us without my understanding the reason behind it.
I fell deeply for someone who could not be with me. I still love him. Yes, I would say this feeling that I have — for him, for all those people on the other side of the mountain — is unconditional love. Even on the darkest, starless nights, with no end to my solitude in sight, I love them. I always have loved them. Small, synchronistic events reminded me of their goodness when I did not want the reminders.
The thought of him not returning my feelings — there is no word in the English language to describe how I feel when I entertain that thought — brings a heaviness within my chest and belly that used to take me away from the present entirely. Even if the present moment was a good one, I could think of nothing, except:
He doesn’t love me. He doesn’t love me. He doesn’t love me.
In a friend’s embrace: He doesn’t love me.
In the window seat of an airplane, on vacation: He doesn’t love me.
After accomplishing a long-held goal: He doesn’t love me.
How long was this my mantra?
Yet, I still loved him. I knew there was nothing I could do, no way to get him to return this sense of deep, undying affection, devotion, and admiration. I stifled my feelings and tried to remove him, and all of them, from my life at the suggestion of well-meaning friends.
I wished I had never met them. These were my attempts at loving and accepting myself, my attempt and plea with time to wear down my feelings for them, more for my own sake than theirs. Eventually, I realized the answer was not in the external situations, and worked on myself. I got most of them back in my life without really trying.
I still wondered if his heart beat a little harder at the sight of me, but the question no longer kept me up at night or prevented me from enjoying my life, finding connection with others, even strangers.
Thoughts of him came up, thoughts of him loving others more than me, and I let the sadness nudge its way into my chest. I wrapped an arm around it, kissed its cheek, let it know that it was welcome. It no longer gnawed at my insides or sucked my blood to gain my attention; it didn’t have to.
It’s still there. The only difference is, I have taken responsibility for my energy. I have claimed my sadness rather than trying to stuff it down or ignore it. This would not have been possible, had I denied my love for him.
I will scream if I hear another self-proclaimed guru say that it is not unconditional love if you still care about whether the person you love feels the same for you, or if you still get sad, or you still try to adjust your behavior to receive the love you are craving.
Of course I care.
It’s human instinct to care.
Babies cry until their mothers pick them up and hold them close. I have seen children fight tears at a parent’s scolding and remembered how I felt at that tender age, when I imagined that, because I had done something wrong, Mom and Dad no longer loved me. I remember the feeling of hurt or even rejection at a stern look from them. I loved them, and I wanted them to love me.
Thinking that perhaps they did not love me any longer did not once make me consider withdrawing my love, even if I did want to withdraw my physical presence from the situations.
A spiritual channeler told me that, by withdrawing my energy from people I loved when it felt like they didn’t feel the same for me, or didn’t act like it, I should examine the ideas that I loved the people from whom I withdrew.
I have been much more discerning about who I will listen to or turn to for advice, but sometimes, I still make a mistake. I was upset about their answer and beat myself up for several days until my bullshit filter activated.
I confess, I have hoped that my loved ones’ behavior would change because of my withdrawal — that they would miss me, reach out to me, or let me know where I stand with them — but that was not the main reason I pulled away. Still, the channeler misunderstood, and described my behavior as manipulative.
I do not believe the word manipulative is an appropriate descriptor. This word carries a negative connotation and, to me, implies maliciousness. I know it is not effective to base my behavior upon an external result, but any time I have done this, at the root of it was a desire to be loved. There is nothing malicious about that.
Wanting love is not something dirty. Wanting love is not something that we have to keep behind locked doors and deny at all costs. If you are doing no harm to the people you love, want all that you want.
Want love, and want it fiercely. Allow yourself to want it without apology. Talk to the people you love, or don’t. Allow yourself the choice of not going where you don’t feel connected, understood, or wanted, but love anyway. Don’t withdraw with the expectation of getting something, but withdraw because it brings you a little bit of relief to feel that you don’t have to try so hard.
Withdraw because it helps you hear above the roar of, “They don’t love me.”
I won’t say that you’ll never think that thought again if you just love yourself enough, or if you perfect the way you love. Because even if you do, even if you already love well, you’ll still care. You will, however, have more control over your thoughts, and won’t find certain ones as debilitating as they once were.
Let the gurus think what they want.
Wanting someone to love you with the same depth does not mean your love is not unconditional. It just means you’re human.
Heidi Hendricks has called many places home throughout her life, but currently lives in Rochester, New York. Her work has been published in Adelaide and Buck Off Magazine. She is passionate about writing (obviously), music, and healing. It was only a year ago that she began to start sharing her writing with the world, but now that she’s started, she isn’t going to stop. You can find her on her blog.