People talk about unconditional love as if it’s this otherworldly phenomenon we should all aspire to achieve — like you could only ever experience real happiness and fulfillment in your relationships if you could just find someone to love you unconditionally and receive the same in return.
A unicorn in the dating world, people treat the idea of unconditional love as a sign you’ve found ‘The One’. That once you’ve had a chance to experience a love that knows no bounds, you should hang up your dating shoes and lock that person down for life.
But I take issue with unconditional love and what it purports to promise. Maybe I’m reading into it a little too seriously (something I do best as a journalist), but I don’t want to love or be loved “unconditionally” — at least not in the way movies make it out to be.
In its narrow and stripped-backed definition, unconditional love means to love without conditions. Sounds cute in theory, but shouldn’t we all have conditions?
Conditions that protect us from feeling hurt; conditions that dictate how we should and shouldn’t be spoken to; conditions that make us feel like we come first; conditions that protect us from being walked all over.
With this in mind, does loving someone unconditionally mean you invite them to treat you in any which way and still have you accept them wholeheartedly at the end of the day?
Kevin Vun, psychotherapist and counsellor at The Indigo Project, says there are other, better ways to find love without conditions, or at least a love that accepts qualities less desirable in people we date because the other, wonderful qualities make up for it.
“The idea of unconditional love sounds amazing; an ideal to strive for. But is it realistic for us to not expect a level of compromise when we date or look for our potential partner?
“It’s challenging to think of unconditional love as ‘do whatever you like, and I’ll love you’, but rather, ‘let’s treat each other with respect, honesty, and understanding — so we can learn to love each other unconditionally’.
The right way to love unconditionally
Before entering the dating scene, Vun advises we “go ‘shopping’ and write down a list of important traits, qualities, and the stuff that we find important in a partner.”
“Go to town: the height, the eyes, certain personality traits, do they love dogs — whatever it is that you find important.
“Now that you have the list, go through it and rank your items in terms of importance — you are allowed to rank more than one item on the same level. For instance, trust, communication and honesty may receive a ‘1’ on the importance scale, versus money, style, or opinions about food which could be ‘2’, ‘3’, or ‘4’ in rankings of importance.”
By doing this, we find out what traits are most important to us versus the aspects we’re more flexible on.
And those in relationships now can also perform this exercise to establish whether there are traits that need working on in their own relationships, or if you and your significant other are actually well suited to each other’s needs.
Vun says the checklist may help you to appreciate or love someone unconditionally if a lot of what you value in a relationship is being ticked off, or is being worked on.
“If someone is ticking off a lot of boxes, unconditional love begins to grow between the two of you.”