Are you searching for a soul mate or unconditional love?
Your quest can set you on an impossible journey to find an ideal partner. The problem is often twofold: No human being, nor any relationship can ever achieve perfection, and often unconditional and conditional love are confused.
Usually, we yearn for unconditional love because we didn’t receive it in childhood and fail to give it to ourselves. Of all relationships, parental love, particularly maternal love, is the most enduring form of unconditional love. (In prior generations, paternal love was thought of as conditional.) But in fact, most parents withdraw their love when over-stressed or when their children misbehave. To a child, even time-outs can feel emotionally abandoning. Right or wrong, most parents at times only love their children conditionally.
Is Unconditional Love Possible?
Unlike romantic love, unconditional love does not seek pleasure or gratification. Unconditional love is more a state of receptivity and allowing, which arises from our own “basic goodness,” says Trungpa Rimpoche. It’s the total acceptance of someone – a powerful energy emanating from the heart.
Love that is unconditional transcends time, place, behavior, and worldly concerns. We don’t decide whom we love, and sometimes don’t know why. The motives and reasons of the heart are unfathomable, writes Carson McCullers:
“The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love. . . The preacher may love a fallen woman. The beloved may be treacherous, greasy-headed, and given to evil habits. Yes, and the lover may see this as clearly as anyone else – but that does not affect the evolution of his love one whit.” The Ballad of the Sad Café (2005) p. 26.
McCullers explains that most of us prefer to love than be loved:
“ . . . the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself. It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many.” Id.
Ideally, the giving and receiving of unconditional love is a unitary experience. Couples experience this most frequently when falling in love. It also happens when someone fearlessly opens up to us in an intimate setting. It’s a being-to-being recognition of that which is unconditional in each of us, our humanity, as if to lovingly say, “Namaste,” meaning: “The God (or divine consciousness) within me salutes the God within you.” When we delight in another’s being-ness, boundaries may dissolve in what feels like spiritual experience. This allows energy to flow into places of resistance that surround our heart and can be deeply healing. It can happen during moments of vulnerability during therapy.
Yet, inevitably, these occurrences don’t last, and we return to our ordinary ego state – our conditioned self. We all have our preferences, idiosyncrasies, and particular tastes and needs, which have been conditioned by our upbringing, religion, society, and experiences. We also have limits about what we will and won’t accept in a relationship. When we love conditionally, it’s because we approve of our partner’s beliefs, needs, desires, and lifestyle. They match up with ours and give us comfort, companionship, and pleasure.
We’re fortunate to meet someone we can love conditionally and, at times, unconditionally. The combination of both forms of love in one relationship makes our attraction intense. It’s the closest we come to finding a soul mate.
Confusing Conditional and Unconditional Love
It causes stress and conflict when conditional and unconditional love don’t coexist¸ and frequently people tend to confuse the two. I’ve met spouses who were great companions and best friends, but divorced because their marriage lacked the intimate connection of unconditional love. This can be helped in marriage counseling when individuals learn empathy and the language of intimacy. (See my blog, “Your Intimacy Index.”) But it can lead to frustration and unhappiness if we try to force our heart to love unconditionally when other aspects of the relationship are unacceptable or important needs go unmet.