There is something so romantic about the idea of unconditional love, but those warm fuzzies rarely touch on the realities of what it really means to love unconditionally. It's a concept I spend way too much time thinking about.
Having my ex abandon me in every way he could forced me to really look at what it meant to be the wife I wanted to be. I wanted to love him unconditionally. No matter what he was doing to hurt me and push me away and have another woman treat me like our 15 year marriage didn't matter, I took my vows seriously and I wore my wedding band and declared I was his wife, because it took two to get together and I never co-signed his departure. I wanted to love him no matter what he did because love is a choice. Every moment you choose to listen to the whispers that float through your mind. You make the selfish choices. You make the selfless choices, but you choose and you act, and at the end of the day, it is what we've made it and we choose to accept it or we don't. Everything I had known, trusted and believed in shifted on March 11 of 2015. It was in February - it was on my birthday this year that I decided loving myself without condition meant I had to stop treating myself worse than I would treat strangers. I was the wife I wanted to be and it was time to be the person I want to be. In the end, I loved my identity as a wife more than I loved him.
The picture above was borrowed from the blogger who shares her heart at Chinese Energy Healing and pictures that say so much more than I feel on Instagram. I've been blessed enough to experience one of her hugs, and she knows what it is to hold you up, and hold you together, and just surround you with her warmth and her love and you will be transformed by the joy she gives you, even if she could really use some of yours as well.
Unconditional love doesn't come with expectations and leave with disappointment.
If your heart is breaking, you expected someone's love to hold and keep you. In the absence of their love, you were left to fall and falter through disappointment, looking for solid ground because the rug was pulled from under you and every time you think you are standing, someone adjusts it violently again. It comes in cyclical waves. I know heartbreak because I know this reliance.
Loving without conditions means there isn't a cost to the love you give.
You love deeply and freely without reservations - without expecting something in return. You love when you know you aren't loved. You accept that they won't change for you. They won't give you their time. They won't do things for you or even let you know that they value you. You love them because of who they are, in spite of what they do. Reciprocation is just a bonus.
Love is about doing what is best for the person you love, not out of obligation or repayment, but because their happiness is so closely tied to yours.
As Mom, I love seeing my kids happy. I like to know that my drama isn't weighing on them. They have their own drama to sort out and knowing they feel confident and safe relying on me helps me put them first. This weekend and the last couple of times my Dad had a health concern, I was able to be the daughter I want to be. I was able to be there and help him if by bringing him peace, or by shifting his perspective by sharing the deeper parts of who I have grown into. I was talking with a coworker today who spent part of his weekend moving his Dad to his new retirement home. His sense of duty seemed to lattice into working with his hands and spending time with his brother but in the gentle laugh lines, a random scattering of gray hair and an open expression that settled into calm there was peace and sense of accomplishment that I could recognize. (Attractive? Yes but I'm not sure I'd ask a friend to step aside to stop blocking my view, which I did a little over a week ago with someone else.) I'm a nurturer, but even as a salt of the earth type, the responsibility that feels like unconditional love touches all of us if we let it. No matter what duty dictates, there is peace in knowing you can adult enough to take care of yourself and extend it to your parents, without being offered anything more than love and a heavy dose of frustration that looks like teenage angst and rebellion from time to time from both you and your parents.
If you're still lost on the concept, think about a favorite pet.
I got home with tired feet after having to drive 18 miles to pick up Kid1 from his Dad. The frustration peaked and I kept reminding myself that no distance is too far for my kids. I got home and my cat wanted to claw me because she wanted food. I'm not saying you should think of your pets as givers of unconditional love. They expect food and they lick you because they like you for caring for them. People don't get much more from pets than a place to pour love and attention and in return for love and food, they get wagging tails and licked faces (with the same tongue that licks their own butt). The joy of an animal is enough to so many people. The dog fills this for me because when I'm not being selfish, we're friends. The cat is here to keep the mice out of my 1020's bungalow on a hillside. She has a job and I love her because she does it. She also brought me little birds for a solid week when the ex left. She loves me. People love pets unconditionally.
Unconditional self love . . .
For me, this is a constant journey that unravels with deeper meaning and greater rewards each and every day. It means loving being alone because my own company is my very favorite. That looks like going to restaurants and dating destinations alone. I'm due for a walk along Santa Monica pier and a quiet sunset alone . . . likely at my next kid free moment.
It means I'm not settling into something because I'm grasping for a connection but enjoying each moment for what it is because it's right before me and it doesn't need to become more than what it is.
I'm not reliant on how others make me feel because there is so much I feel on my own and that is its own reward. It looks like a willing discovery of what makes me happy without framing it in the expectations or suggestions of others.
It's admitting that I can be wrong, but I'm still amazing in spite of that. It's knowing that a mistake isn't fatal unless it makes me stop completely when I can still go forward in a different way. It's being brave through fear because I owe the possible reward to myself. I take responsibility for my choices and hope to grow through facing up to how I might have mistreated others.
It's about loving my body right now, for what it is and what it has been capable of with special care to ignore what was and what it could be because that wouldn't be right now. With or without makeup I take selfies because I'm beautiful to me. Unconditional love is about loving what is rather than the potential we place on what could be. It's about exploring your own sexual freedom, whether that means free love or total abstinence. It's about what feels right to you because you matter more than anyone else.
Unconditional love means I forgive others that I felt have hurt or wronged me. Every once in awhile I am gobsmacked with rage at the latest offense by the ex and "I forgive him," becomes a chant. When sleepless nights were a nightly routine, I would wake and pray to God and forgive my ex over and over and eventually falling right back to sleep would happen mid sentence and now I rarely even wake up until the sun starts to filter through the curtains in a morning greeting of warmth and potential. I know that withholding forgiveness doesn't affect anyone but myself and that rage turns to bitterness so I forgive because then I am the one that chooses what my heart feels like.
We love because we can and it feels amazing. We can love without expectations. We can give because it's how we grow. We can give unconditional love and it can feel amazing to do so.