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Emotional Blackmail and Love
Some notes on the conditional nature of being human.
I tell myself a lot of lies to get through the days. But I have been really focused on this one as of late:
“If you loved me, you would do this for me and you would want to do it.”
The “this” in this situation would be whatever I wanted. And the “want” would be you would want to do whatever I wanted because you loved me. And you wanted me to be happy.
I was talking to my therapist the other day about this. In her eyes, this statement sounded like emotional blackmailing. In my eyes, I was just raised in a culture that taught me that that was what real unconditional love looked like. We didn’t talk about the grey areas, the nuances of how love functioned, the origins of love, the how, and why, the context, the predispositions, and the theories of love. It was just that I felt like for love to be “real” it had to look like the life of my dreams.
Now, perhaps you are thinking, well, what about the other person’s hopes and dreams? That was not considered until I think my brain was fully developed. At this point, around the age of 25, I started to consider love working a little more like a balancing act of each person’s needs and wants with our ability/desire to give them.
This is a conditional state. Love is a conditional state. The longing for the ideal of unconditional love in a romantic relationship dissolved with the reality of what a shared commitment might actually look like in real life. It looked less and less like what I had imagined it to be.
A complication of this is that I did have “ideal” partners. People who would have done anything for me, and often did at my whim. I took this as just what people did for people they loved. But after a time, I would tire of this. And move on. I didn’t blame myself, as a more self-aware person might have, I just told myself that I couldn’t help that I was not that into it. I also didn’t start taking accountability for my actions until shockingly recently. Around the age of 25.
So how do we hold this ideal of love, of it being unconditional in nature, with the reality that no one really owes us this besides our parents? Or even that unconditional love could look drastically different to different people in different situations?
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For example, conceivably, I am being unconditionally loved by my partner, despite the fact that he does not make me coffee every morning. I am being loved unconditionally because he stays with me. Because we continue to choose each other in the big picture, the small gestures or wants can be overlooked because, in the big moments, we are there for each other. Or if he did leave me, he could still love me unconditionally, he just might need to do all that loving without me around.
How do we reconcile the love we have, with the love that we have been told that we deserve? Do I have to change this longing for the sort of Sex and the City love, for the love of making sure the laundry is folded correctly?
I'm looking for love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't-live-without-each-other-love.
This year, like every other year, I think about what love means in the moment we are in. I do this to make Valentine’s cards. I also do it because I love thinking about love. I love how our definition of love as a culture is changing. It is endlessly interesting.
This year I made this card:
The irony is not lost on me. I still want to believe in the certainty of love. Even when my experience of life tells me that it is just not possible, or even fair to ask of each other. What do you think? (asking for real…)
Thanks for thinking about life with me. This is still my favorite thing to do. Explore things with you. Hope wherever you are, you feel safe, loved, and part of something meaningful.
Oh, we just got more of this deck we made loosely based on the 36 questions to fall in love with someone. I wanted a framework to explore things with my partner where we could have the conversations I was longing to have.
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