Recently, while catching up with a friend she mentioned that she had reunited with an ex. They had broke-up because they wanted different levels of commitment; she wanted an exclusive relationship while he wanted the freedom to see other people. I asked her if he had changed his stance. He hadn’t. Was exclusivity no longer important to her? It was, still. “So, although you prefer exclusive relationships you would much rather share him than not have him at all?” I inquired. Her response was that she went back because she wanted to practice unconditional love; a noble objective or a deceptive rationalisation?
I can fill a page with names of women, I know personally, who have used the pursuit of unconditional love to rationalise their choice to settle for a lot less than they want romantically. My name would also appear on the list. Due to personal experience down this rabbit hole I knew the right question to ask my friend to determine whether hers was a genuine desire for personal growth or a clever rationalisation to justify her decision to sell herself short. I requested an honest, heart-based the following question; “If you loved yourself unconditionally, would you be with him?” Her answer was a deflated, yet resolute “NO”.
Often this is why we stay in relationships that are not worthy of us. Our love for ourselves is conditional. We love ourselves enough for someone of our looks, social standing, professional success, etc. Even more tragic, how much we love ourselves depends on how much we think certain people in particular love us. We think that our lovability is determined by others, so we work hard to ‘make’ them love us, in order to prove that we are loveable. Meanwhile the truth is the opposite, how much we love ourselves determines how much others will love us.
Years ago I was struggling to leave a relationship. I desperately tried falling out of love with the guy, thinking this would minimise the heartbreak when the time to end the relationship came. I attempted to achieve this by focussing on all the things I hated about him. This strategy didn’t make me love him any less; all it did was make me feel worse about the relationship. One day I had an epiphany. I realised that the issue was not that I loved him too much; it was that I did not love myself enough. I admitted to him; “my problem is that I love you more than I love me, and when the day comes that I love myself more, I will leave you”. From then on I worked on cultivating self-love. I withdrew my focus from him, what he did right or wrong, what I hated or loved about him, and focused on learning to love myself. Months later, the day arrived when I was able to fulfil my promise.
Unconditional love is a noble pursuit with the potential to cure the world of all its ills, but like charity, it should begin at home.