I have been lonely damn near all my life, but I never gave up on love.
As a little girl, it never occurred to me that I would have to think, say, or act a certain way to be loved. It never occurred to me that it wasn’t normal protocol to throw my arms around someone upon first meeting and say, “I love you.” I wore my quirky little heart on my sleeve, and learned quickly that being wide-open and heart-forward was over the line of what was acceptable.
Most often, I found myself in the presence of many, but still alone.
Like a recurring dream, the same tearful conversation with my mother would arise. Age six. Age nine. Fifteen. Twenty-three. “I cannot be the only one who feels like this. I love these humans so much, but I cannot be anyone but myself. Am I not enough? Maybe I’m not supposed to love everyone like this…”
As the many years passed, I solidified this tragic misconception—love is conditional.
In order to be loved, we must be easy, agreeable, and emotionally “together.”
In order to be loved, we must be constantly available to the needs of others.
In order to be loved, we must do everything we can to keep our broken bits to ourselves.
As hurtful as these statements were to believe, I accepted them as truth because solitude hurt more. I took them on as my own, and they became how I learned to “love” myself, and how I accepted “love” from others—my parents, friends, and romantic partners.
But this wasn’t love at all. Relationship, yes, but the sorry fact is that most relationships we engage in aren’t built on unconditional love.
We’re all walking around carrying our own set of conditions about what qualities in others are (and are not) acceptable to us. Every day we are alive, we are learning and changing these rules based on what triggers us, what our resources are (time, energy, or otherwise), and what kind of life we desire for ourselves.
As much as we might aspire to exist purely on unconditional love, so long as we are human, we have needs and desires and these are, in fact, conditional.
When we commit to a monogamous relationship, there is a condition that we will not go out and sleep with another person. As coparents, we have a condition that our partner will pick the kids up from daycare and keep them safe. Even in the platonic realm, we have conditions that time is made to talk, that we’re listened to, and that our friend offers kindness or value to our life in some way.
This is completely okay! It’s natural and good to know what our needs are.
But here’s what I’ve come to learn: While we may not be capable of unconditional relationships, we can choose to love beyond condition.
This means that even when someone makes a terrible, hurtful mistake, we can stay in our hearts. We can see the humanity in that person (who is clearly hurting in some way) and still love them.
This does not mean we sacrifice ourselves by continuing a relationship indefinitely. Oftentimes, the conditions of the relationship will no longer be met, or we will grow the need to redefine what our conditions are, but there is always space for love beyond those terms.
After about five years of emotional, psychological, and spiritual self-reflection and healing, I am learning how to let go of the conditions I put on myself to be lovable. I’ve unpacked and set free those terribly false ideas, and thus, have opened my heart to loving myself beyond condition.
In doing so, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to experience this kind of love through several connections in my life lately. To be honest, I have been left in awe on a near-daily basis.
More and more beautiful humans are entering my life who are doing the same. People who are doing their inner work and are mutually committed to healing and sourcing the courage to live heart-forward. People who genuinely love me for every shade of who I am and accept my shadowy, unglamorous aspects. It inspires me to do the same.
From this heart-space, I wrote a letter to let go of a hurtful parent relationship. I said goodbye to a partner who I loved so incredibly much, because I understood that this chapter of his journey required the freedom and focus of complete independence. I have felt profound love for a person I’ve never even met (someone far away from me) on the basis of empathy and shared experience.
In each of these situations, I have chosen to love beyond condition. I love my parent beyond his presence and assistance in my life. I love my ex beyond the circumstances of our breakup or his need to walk his path alone. I love my new friend beyond the confines of distance or time.
There isn’t the slightest doubt that each of these people are worthy of the purest love from me—love that is greater than the terms relationship requires. I want them to be truly, deeply happy, and I pray that they are supported with what they need to experience it.
Loving beyond condition is not easy, because it requires a constant flow of faith and courage to hold the sadness of inevitable loss in our hearts every step of the way.
It requires a genuine sense of wanting the absolute best for someone, even if it means we don’t get what we want. Even if it means we have to let them go. We must look our own insecurities in the face when our feelings get hurt and choose not to run away or throw that hurt back onto them.
Relationships may be conditional; but, love lays on the other side.
I believe with all of my being that this is our highest human potential.
We are here to love beyond condition. We are here to love and be free.
In Soul, Danielle
(This post was originally published on Elephant Journal)