I’m struggling a little to write at the moment. The following is hardly new or revelatory, but is nevertheless what is on my mind.
Earlier this year I was sitting in a restaurant and the woman opposite me confidently announced:
Love does not exist.
She then qualified that with this statement:
Oh I love my children. Of course. But I never felt that way toward my husband and therefore I did not love him, and it is an impossibility.
One of the problems with the English language is that the word “love” is horribly overworked. It gets used as a catch-all for all sorts of things and this can create abject confusion. People can apparently be using the same language, but attaching very different meanings to it. This can happen with many abstract/intangible words of course, but perhaps love is the worst culprit.
We are all familiar with
He said he loved me but it was a lie.
Not necessarily I’m afraid. It’s entirely possible he did, in the terms of what he understood it to mean, so he was being honest. It just wasn’t what you understood it to mean. We have a depressing tendency to assume that everyone else sees the world the same way as us, and this applies to the attachment of meaning to words, too. I am sometimes accused of pedantry because I ask questions about what people mean by the words they use, and ask for a bit of clarification. Sometimes it’s all a bit nebulous, but to return to my first example, on occasion the discrepancy is so striking it is obvious. I can attempt to rephrase what she said as follows:
Oh I love my children unconditionally. The only kind of love I understand is unconditional love, and because I did not love my husband unconditionally, I conclude that I did not in fact love him at all. Actually, I can’t imagine ever loving a man unconditionally, therefore apart from what I feel toward my children, love does not exist. He didn’t love me unconditionally either, so he didn’t love me at all. I know this because he left me. He cannot have loved me because by my definition, love has no conditions and is eternal.
That’s more like it.
It carries a huge psychological signature, though, that statement. A belief that love is always unconditional.
Well that just isn’t true.
Unconditional love has its place of course. We need that in our infancy and it is what parents provide. Usually.
As adults, no. No-one is going to love me unconditionally and I don’t expect them to. If I did, I would run into trouble, the same trouble that woman had. If we expect unconditional love as adults it all goes pear-shaped. For a start, the only way to get your partner to demonstrate their unconditional love is to behave like a complete asshole. And if “love” can only be demonstrated in a situation where at least one of you is being totally unreasonable, then you know there is something up with your definitions to start with.
Adult love is conditional. That is absolutely fine. It is the very conditionality that gives it value. It requires the attendance of both parties to the needs of the other, which is worth something. Is there an expectation in love? I think so. Love expects. As long as it’s mutual.
Gawd I’m running the risk of sounding self-righteous. No, it’s all soupy for me too.