Thursday this week is quite a controversial day. For some, they’ve been looking forward to this day for weeks. Others have been in denial that its coming up because it reminds them of their “loneliness”. Valentine’s Day, the day to appreciate and worship coupledom!
But is that all this day can represent? Certainly romantic relationships are precious and special. We find having this particular partner meets so many of our relational needs, and it is important to express our appreciation for that. But showing your appreciation for your partner and all that they do for you is a year long task, not something that can be checked off in one day. So what else is there to this day?
Our romantic relationships have conditions placed on them, and that’s a beneficial thing. For example, some my conditions for a romantic partner are: they listen to me, they don’t physically or emotionally abuse me, and they want to be in a romantic relationship with me. All great conditions to have on a romantic relationship. But we can often confuse “conditional relationship” with “conditional love”. When a relationship has conditions upon it, that means the relationship can only be if those conditions are met. And then those of us who grew up in a culture that interchanged the words “love” and “romantic feelings”, extrapolate the meaning that we can only love people who meet our conditions.
But this is a misunderstanding, an error we’ve made, both personally and societally. ”Love” and “romantic feelings” need not be the same thing. And while it is often a beneficial thing to place conditions upon what kinds of relationships we enter into with various people, it is often quite destructive to place conditions upon who we love. This is what conditional love looks like: “I love you as long as you stay beautiful”…..or “I love you as long as its easy”….or “I love you as long as we aren’t fighting”. And if the only love that there is is conditional love it then becomes impossible for us to stay in love with one another. Eventually I am going to let you down, I will not meet your conditions to love me. And when I stop being beautiful, it stops being easy, and I pick a fight with you, you’ll stop loving me. And when I experience you stop loving me I will either resent you for that or I will find it so painful that I’ll compromise anything just to win your conditional love back and won’t ever dare let you down again. Which partner do you want to date? Someone who resents you or someone who sacrifices themselves to constantly appease you?
For me its neither. So how do we get out of this trap? We make a separation between romantic feelings and love. Romantic feelings have conditions, but my love can become unconditional. I can choose to just love unconditionally, I love just as things are right now. And I continue to love when things change. Most of us have a hard time understanding unconditional love, mostly because few of us have actually experienced it. How can I just love? To love is to see and desire the well-being of another person, animal, or object. Here’s what unconditional love may look like: My partner and I are fighting…and she’s said those dreaded words “You are just like your Dad.” I am totally triggered up, and feel myself getting defensive. Here’s my choice: I no longer love you because you said that mean thing to me…or, “Wow I’m really angry now because in the moment I’m really not being seen for who I am separate from my father. But I still care about your pain too, but I’ll need a few minutes now before I can attend to your pain.” In other words, even though you’ve hurt me, I still love you/care about you/see you/desire your well-being. But notice that it doesn’t mean I care about you to the negligence of my own needs. I still have my needs, and it is still wholly my responsibility to make sure those needs get met. If I don’t stand up for my own needs, no one else is going to. So unconditional loving another person means being wholly aware of and responsible for meeting my own needs, while creating space for the other person to get their needs met as well.
So this Valentine’s Day consider love your valentine. How can you use this Valentine’s Day to practice and celebrate unconditional love? In what ways could engaging in more unconditional love free you from the pains of conditional love?
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.