Writing this article has taken a lot of time and given me a headache. Because its hard to pin down what love is, let alone write about it and there are opinions on both sides of the debate. And of course, I charged myself with the task of writing about conditional and unconditional aspects of something that is hard to define.*facepalm*. I decided to write this post as Ive found people are looking for unconditional love while carrying a bag full of conditions.
We hear these phrases a lot: Conditional love and unconditional love. While they are frequently thrown around in everyday speech, it can be difficult to discern conditional love from unconditional. Many of us grow up with some kind of trauma which teaches us the unhealthy kind of love. It takes practice, patience, and healing to understand and integrate the differences between conditional and unconditional love. Here, we will discuss the differences between these two terms.
But first, what even is love?
Some people say it’s a spiritual thing i.e. when 2 souls meet and fall in love that they were destined – as if their union is divinely bestowed. We have words in the lexicon of society such as ‘soul mates’ and ‘twin flames’, Some say its instinctual/biological i.e. the conventional view in biology is that there are three major drives in love – libido, attachment, and partner preference. While others says its purely neurological/neurochemical. With this blog post I will attempt to answer the question based on bodies of knowledge we can understand via modern means of study and inquiry, cos you know, ’science, bitches’.
Ultimately with such a huge question like this, there is one thing everyone can agree upon, love is subjective.
The feeling. We call it love. It feels like love. Is it in the heart, the mind, the body?
We get a kick from love, a chemical response that entices us to fall in love. Can we choose to love or not or is it a human need?
According to scientific research by Arthur Arun, it takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes to decide if you lust after someone. Only 7% of communication is verbal, around 40% is tone and speed of voice and the majority is body language.
3 Stages That Lead To Love
Helen Fisher of Rutgers University proposes there are potentially 3 stages of love – lust, attraction and attachment. Hormones and chemicals either drive each stage and or are created by each stage.
The first stage of love, driven by the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen in both men and women (research is often gender specific). These are both also present in BDSM play.
This is that fairy tale time when we feel engrossed and semi obsessed! Scientists propose three main neurotransmitters at this stage; adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. Again, these are hugely present in BDSM play.
The initial stages of falling for someone activates your stress response, increasing your blood levels of adrenalin and cortisol. The effect is that when you see your new love, you start to sweat, your heart races and your mouth goes dry. These are very present in play, and ironically, more so up front.
Fisher examined the brains of “attraction stage couples” and discovered they have high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This chemical stimulates ‘desire and reward’ by triggering an intense rush of pleasure. It has the same effect on the brain as taking cocaine. This again can also be said about after care, after play and the care we have and the play itself. Fisher suggests “couples often show the signs of surging dopamine: increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention and exquisite delight in smallest details of this novel relationship” .
One of love’s most important chemicals that may explain why when you’re falling in love, your new lover keeps popping into your head.
In Pisa, after analysing blood samples from new lovers (under 6 months), Dr Marazitti discovered that serotonin levels of new lovers were equivalent to the low serotonin levels of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder patients. So what does that mean?
It means that love needs in a way, to be blind. We idealise, brush over the worrying signs, reason their shit behaviour and spout about their god like qualities. Plus hey, it is a relationship and aren’t they amazing in themselves?
This is the bit where we attach and thats the final phase.
Attachment is the bond that we feel to another person. Parents initially, secure or not so secure, affecting patterns for life. Then siblings, relations and eventually friends and lovers. In theory this part is all about oxytocin and vasopressin. ‘Attachment Styles’ (based on the work of Attachment Theory by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby) comes into play here – full blog post coming on that very soon).
This is a pretty strong hormone released by men and women during orgasm. We don’t know for sure but we think it deepens closeness (it facilitates breast feeding of babies and mums create loads during birth). We feel closer with it, think of that post orgasm smile and cuddle (or not you sadists). It also states that the more sex (and play for us kinkyfuckers) we have the deeper we attach. If its lacking, animal experiments have shown rejection of their own babies.
This is released after sex. It helps us control thirst actually, but somehow creates a bond in that it promotes devotion and protection.
So that’s love in a nutshell broken down by the phases that , but, what of unconditional love?
The Distinction Between Unconditional Love, Conditional Love and “Duty’
Lots of people call unconditional love ‘true’ love.
There has been a distinction made between unconditional love and conditional love. In conditional love, love is ‘earned’ on the basis of conscious or unconscious conditions being met by the lover, whereas in unconditional love, love is “given freely” to the loved one “no matter what”. Loving is primary. Conditional love requires some kind of finite exchange, whereas unconditional love is seen as infinite and measureless.
Unconditional love should not be confused with unconditional dedication: unconditional dedication or “duty” refers to an act of the will irrespective of feelings (e.g. a person may consider they have a duty to stay with someone); unconditional love is an act of the feelings irrespective of will.
Ultimately, unconditional love separates the individual from their behaviours. Some argue that unconditional love isn’t a high ideal we need to aspire to and that in fact, striving after it removes us from the experience and the connections we could have, let alone allowing the person you are in a relationship being able to get away with anything. While others argue that unconditional love is the greatest thing a relationship should be based on.
Conditional love doesn’t feel very nice. In fact, it doesn’t always feel like love at all. When someone loves us conditionally, it means that they put terms, restrictions, or rules on the giving of their love (but don’t get this mixed up with boundaries). While a person can have feelings of deep care or affection for you, their love is conditional if it feels like you have to earn it. Additionally, conditional love often vanishes during difficult times. We can perhaps term this “fair-weather love,” meaning that your partner, family member, or friend, emotionally or literally fucks off when times get tough. Conditional love doesn’t feel good. It’s not a tried-and-true love and often it can cause deep pain to those on the receiving end. If someone is making you feel unworthy of love, even at your darkest times, this person is offering conditional love which, as you will learn, is contrary to the very definition of love.
If you are reading this and you are a sugar daddy or a sugar baby in an arrangement – Are you aware and ok with the fact that your ‘relationship’ is, more often than not, purely conditional? If so, more power to you. If not, and you choose to stay in the arrangement, don’t complain. I have never seen sugar relationships start conditionally and then move onto unconditional love, so choose wisely.
Where Conditional Love Originates From
People with conditional relationships never learned to see the people around them in terms of anything other than the benefits they provide. That’s because they likely grew up in an environment where they were only appreciated for the benefits they provided.
Parents and ancestral patterning, as usual, are often the culprits here. But most parents are not consciously conditional towards their children (in fact, chances are that they were never loved unconditionally by their parents, so they’re just doing all they know how to do). But as with all relationship skills, it starts in the family.
If dad only approved of you when you obeyed his orders; if mom only liked you when you were making good grades; if brother was only nice to you when no one else was around; these things all train you to subconsciously treat yourself as some tool for other people’s benefits. You will then build your future relationships by moulding yourself to fit other people’s needs. Not your own needs. You will also build your relationships by manipulating others to fit your needs rather than take care of them yourself. This is the basis for a toxic relationship.
Conditions cut both ways. You don’t stay friends with a person who is using you to feel better about themselves unless you too are somehow getting some benefit out of the friendship as well. Despite what every girl who posts cheesy Marilyn Monroe quotes on social media thinks, you don’t accidentally get suckered into dating someone who uses you for your body and sexuality because you’re unconditionally loving yourself. No, you bought into that person’s conditions because you were using them to meet your own conditions.
Most conditional relationships are entered into unconsciously. That is, they are entered into without conscious thought about who this person is or why they like you or what their behaviour towards you indicates. You just see their sweet tattoos and other external things and want to be close to them.
People who enter into conditional relationships enter into them for the simple reason that these relationships feel really good, yet they never stop to question why it feels so good. After all, cocaine feels pretty good, but you don’t run out and buy a bunch the second you see it, do you?
(Don’t answer that.)
Like many truly spiritual and transcendent things, unconditional love is difficult to describe. To put it simply, it’s love without conditions, limits, or barriers. In unconditional love, there is no sense of: “I will love you if…” or “I will only love you when you behave differently.” There’s no sense of owing or repayment. Love is given freely and without cost. Unconditional love is not an exchange, it’s an offering. Unconditional love is deeply healing because it means we are seen and accepted for who we are, even during our most difficult times.
How Do You Love Unconditionally?
It has to start with you.
You also need be an actual adult. An adult prioritises unconditional relationships. This is where each person is accepted unconditionally for whoever he or she is, without additional expectations. This mystical land called ‘adulthood’ is a place that few people, regardless of their age, ever see, much less inhabit.
The trick to “growing up” is to prioritise unconditional relationships, to learn how to appreciate someone despite their flaws, mistakes, ideas, opinions and to judge a partner or a friend solely based on how they treat you, not based on how you benefit from them (especially their status), to see them as an end within themselves rather than a means to some other end.
Unconditional relationships (romantic or otherwise) are relationships where both people respect and support each other without any expectation of something in return. To put it another way, each person in the relationship is primarily valued for the relationship itself — the mutual empathy and support — not for their job, status, appearance, success, or anything else.
Unconditional relationships are the only real relationships. They cannot be shaken by the ups and downs of life. They are not altered by superficial benefits and failures. If you and I have an unconditional friendship, it doesn’t matter if I lose my job and move to another country, or you get a sex change and stop being interested in kink; you and I will continue to respect and support each other. The relationship is not subjected to the ‘coolness economy’ where I drop you the second you start hurting my chances to impress others. And I definitely don’t get upset if you choose to do something with your life that I wouldn’t choose for myself.
The Keys To Unconditional Love: Loving Yourself & Selflessness
I feel that the people who are able to unconditionally love another first must unconditionally love themselves. If you don’t unconditionally love yourself, you may have the a whole bunch of trauma/wounding and schemas embedded in your psyche (and I can help with that – contact me for more info).
For unconditional love to exist, not only do I feel the 2 (or more) people in the relationship have to love themselves unconditionally, but they BOTH must be very selfless, to ensure they embrace each other faults and all.
Its more of an adjective, it is something you do, practice. I feel you need to actively choose this stance and practice it, consciously. It isn’t about being solely blind to faults, its about being open.
It also means not rescuing someone. Karpman’s Drama Triangle suggests three positions that you may recognise, the rescuer, the persecutor and the victim. These states are not “present” nor Adult. When we protect someone we take away or diminish their ability to cope and learn and grow, so it is about support with honesty, not shielding.
Create Hypotheticals With Your Relationships To Test.
– “If I lost my job, would Alina still respect me and want to be with me?”
– “If I stopped giving them money, would my parents still love me and accept me?”
– “If I told my boyfriend/husband that I wanted to start a career as a stripper, would it wreck our relationship?”
– “If I told Kurtis that I strongly disagree with his decision, would he stop talking to me?”
– “If I didn’t buy Charly a gram of coke, would she still want to be my friend?’
But you need to also turn around and ask them about yourself, too:
– “If I moved to Budapest, would I still keep in touch with Alana?”
– “If Casey didn’t get me free tickets to concerts, would I bother hanging out with her?”
– “If Dad stopped paying for my university education, would I still go home and visit?”
There are a million hypothetical questions and you should be asking yourself every single one of them. All the time.
Because if any of them ever has an answer other than, “It would change nothing,” then you probably have a conditional relationship on your hands — i.e., you don’t have a real loving relationship where you think you do.
It hurts to admit, I know.
But wait, there’s more!
If you want to remove or repair the conditional relationships in your life and have strong unconditional relationships, you are going to have to piss some people off. What I mean is that you have to stop accepting people’s conditions. And you have to let go of your own.
This invariably involves telling someone close to you “no” in the exact situation they want to hear it the least. It will cause drama. A lot of drama in many cases. After all, what you are doing is you are taking somebody who has been using parts of you to make themselves feel better and denying their ability to do so. Their reaction will be angry and they will blame you. They will say a lot of mean things about you.
But don’t become discouraged. This sort of reaction is just further proof of the conditions on the relationship. A real honest love is willing to respect and accept something it doesn’t want to hear. A conditional love will fight back.
But this drama is necessary. Because one of two things will emerge from it. Either the person will be unable to let go of their conditions and they will therefore remove themselves from your life (which, ultimately, is a good thing in most cases). Or, the person will be forced to appreciate you unconditionally, to love you in spite of the inconveniences you may pose to themselves or their self-esteem.
This is really fucking hard, of course. But relationships are difficult by nature because people are difficult by nature.
Final Words, When To Call It Quits & Abuse/Neglect Etc.
If we think about unconditional love as the “expression of our kindest self,” it can be maintained even if a relationship does not survive. You might know couples who still love each other but are no longer together. If a relationship is hurting you more than it is good to you, it is okay to feel unconditional love but let the relationship go.
Unconditional love is basic goodness and the total acceptance of someone, but it does not mean tolerating abuse, neglect, or other deal breakers. What about the less clear area of falling out of love with someone? If you still show them unconditional love, you will find a way to kindly and gently end the relationship.
In essence, when we first fall in love, it’s in an unconditional state, and we can’t ever imagine not feeling this way about the other person. Its a paradox as we live in a conditional world, and relationships do end. We all have different tastes and needs, and these can change over time.
One thing is certain; relationships that are completely lacking in unconditional love are unlikely to succeed. Beliefs and lifestyle are likely to change over time, and if you aren’t willing to see your partner go through changes, this could spell the end for the two of you. If life was just all fun, floggers and fucking, then nothing good would ever get done. And no one would ever grow.
Dear reader, I wish you the best of luck in finding love and remember, everyone is perfect in their imperfections – so find the imperfect that fits you perfectly.