What exactly is love? Is it blind trust and loyalty? Is it helping each other out in times of need? Is it giving everything and not wanting anything in return? Is it accepting others for who they are, and not what you want them to be? Is it something that should always be perfect like in fairy tales? Or is it just a mysterious, indefinable word? Love: what is it, but a complex word. We love our parents, we love our friends, we love our pets, and we love our partners. Love, as they say, is a word used too much, and much too soon. Perhaps because of how commonly we use the word, we have failed to constitute its true meaning and the emotions this word implies. Love can be dissected into two different categories: conditional and unconditional. Unconditional love refers to love that knows no bounds or reservations. To love unconditionally is to love not based on any attributes or properties of the beloved, but on the basis of their being, and there being only.
It is to swear an unspoken vow that forever binds you to maintain that love, and uphold it to the same degree. It is to strive for the happiness of the other and not keep expectations of a reward. Unconditional love does not demand reciprocation, though the two are not mutually exclusive. Loving unconditionally is not as much of a feeling as it is a behavior; forgiving someone’s mistakes or wrongdoings is also a selfless act and are the kind of behavior that would lead to loving unconditionally. The antithesis of such love is conditional love which is love bound by the beloved’s actions and whether or not they are in accordance with the lover’s own notions. Consequently, people tend to alter their habits to converge with their partner’s. It can be argued that in this case, the beloved is “paying” for the love they are getting by actions that are tailored to please the lover.
When it comes to love, the first thought that crosses one’s mind is that of family, specifically, the love parents have for their children. Some argue that like two sides of a coin, the love parents feel towards their children can either be conditional or unconditional. ‘To love unconditionally simply means that parents accept their children completely and without restrictions or stipulations. There is no spoken (or unspoken) message causing the child to think he has to be something other than what he is in order to be loved. The need for unconditional love begins at conception.’ (Phillip, Barry)
Elizabeth S. Anderson endorses the view that the love parents have for their children is unconditional; no matter what the eventual behavior or beliefs of a child are, it would not affect his parents’ love. During the initial stage of parenting, it is relatively easy to love a child without conditions – the baby has no words to argue with, or defy parents in any offensive manner. Parents, therefore, cannot imagine this unconditional love to be threatened. As their baby starts to develop thought and exert his own opinions, parents are met with the notion that there will be disagreements between them and their child. Some years down the line, the child hits puberty and parents meet a new version of their child: the hormonal teenager. As the rebel takes shape inside this teen, conditional love steps into the picture.
Parents may have a difficult time loving their children if they are adopted because subconsciously parents will be aware that these children will not truly be their own. They will be someone else’s children, with features and characteristics inherited from their birth parents. Surrogate motherhood serves as an example that negates unconditional love and substitutes a love conditioned upon stereotypes or characteristics of a “good” child, such as intelligence, compliance, and beauty. But even with birth-parents, love is conditioned upon one unique property of the child: ‘being their child’. This is very important to remember, as parents do not choose their child, and have no absolute role in determining the selection of their child. No parent would love other children like they love their own.
This holds true even in cases when a child’s misconduct goes beyond noncompliance and delinquency to outright criminality. Parents come to visit their children in jails and stick by their side throughout sentences that last years, let alone disown them. Furthermore, the age old argument of nature versus nurture also comes into play. The environment that a child is brought up in plays an integral role in shaping his beliefs and notions. It can be argued, therefore, that the love parents place on that child will not be the love they feel for their child.
Instead, it will be the love they feel for who or what the child has become; a byproduct of the environment that has influenced his thoughts and actions.Similarly in the case of one’s siblings, it starts off as unconditional love as the children are unaware of a sense of competition or feelings such as remorse and jealous towards each other – this highlights the age of ‘purity’ and how relationship between siblings is strong and unconditional due to the lack of intellectual growth on the part of the kids.
However, with the passage of time – these feelings tend to develop amongst the children leading to conflicts and turbulence in their relationship as both compete for the parent’s love and approval. This results in the intense rivalry and lifelong feelings of hostility among children, whether consciously or subconsciously. Another circumstance of unconditional love is when a sibling suffers from a disorder such as autism or ADHD, the situation becomes complicated. In the case of autism, the child is unable to reciprocate emotionally or portray feelings of love towards anyone as they have difficulty emphasizing. Regardless of this reciprocity of emotions, the other sibling feels more close to this autistic sibling and takes care of him/her for no particular benefit on his own.
This highlights the possibility of unconditional love occurring between siblings. However, in the case of childhood – it could also be stated that the first born may feel threatened by the arrival of a sibling as he feels he would have to share the attention, previously received by him alone. This develops feelings of hostility and envy arising from feelings of threat and the desire to compete with the other, to win over the parent’s love. Also, parents mostly compare one child with the other further contributing to feelings of threat and insecurity, for which is no one’s fault apart from the parents, as each individual is different. These examples gather support for the impossibility of unconditional love amongst siblings.
To love a person of opposite sex is quite different from all other kinds of love for it is sexual, emotional and spiritual. It is in the basic nature of humans to get attracted to the opposite sex. As we hit puberty, we begin to develop sexual urges; we look for possibilities of a significant other as mating is our natural instinct. But why do we choose that one specific person? Why do we crave for only a particular person? Is there a criterion on the basis of which we chose that person? We look for certain attributes and properties in our potential life-partner and fall in love with the one who possesses these. For example, if Lily loves Marshal, it is because he possesses certain properties which appeal to Lily. These include, but are not limited to, the physical appearance, financial status, and sense of humor or treatment of others.
She might be attracted to Marshal’s blond hair or his hazel colored eyes. Marshal’s financial position is important as Marshal provides for Lily all that she wants. It could also be because of Marshal’s sense of humor or his kindness and generosity. It was these properties that led Lily to choose Marshal as her mate, and should he change these properties over time, there will be consequences. Since Lily’s “conditional love” for him is built upon his possession of said attributes, a loss in them will lead to the loss of Lily’s love. If, for example, Marshal poor or abusive, Lily will not continue to feel the same about him.
Another argument for why Lily chose Marshal is because of Lily, at the time she met him, was at a place in her life when she was ready to fall in love. With no competition around, Marshal was at the right place at the right time when he met Lily: he was exactly what Lily was looking for. ‘However, Robert Nozick argues differently in that he believes that although “love is initially conditioned upon the “specific” properties of the beloved, eventually you fall in love with the person himself, not the characteristics he possesses.” Nozick believes that love can die, but as long as it lasts, it is unconditional.’ (Hales, Steven D)
The phenomena of love in accordance with that of friends is not so different either. Unconditional friendship is quite difficult to find, however under some circumstances, we do find support for such a stance- on what basis do we choose our friends? The majority of the time, we do not choose our friends. They happen to be sitting with us, or we get along due to a common interest. On knowing them further, the bond strengthens. How is it then friendship can be unconditional? We may love them unconditionally because we see ourselves in them and can relate to them just like how we would relate to our own self. This sense of comparison and empathy enables between friends a feeling of unconditional love. On the other hand, conditional love is much more commonly found amongst friends. Why do we love them? Because we expect the same treatment in return.
After all, if they choose to ignore us or not make an effort to keep the friendship intact, the outcome would result in a loss of friendship. Therefore, without the reciprocity, the basis of one’s friendship would diminish. Apart from that, in this modern age of superficiality – children choose their friends on the basis of what they have to offer and how impressed they are by them. This means they choose their friends on the basis of the strength of his pocket money or the size of his house or even how big his car is, to be associated with someone of a likely background. Another reason could be the need to fit in, more simply known as peer pressure. Some children join in with such a group that offers them such prospects which appeal to them – commonly termed the ‘cool group’. In that case, the kids are not only lying to their friends by concealing their true nature and preference but also are lying to their own selves by living in the sphere of denial. Therefore the friendships they make are based on the “conditions” and not something non-existent like unconditional love.
Man’s last resort is the comfort and warmth of their pets. At the end of a long and tiring day, when one wants to be alone, one seeks the companionship of their pets, knowing their day will get a little bearable. The love owners feel for their pets is reciprocal, that is they love their pets because their pets love them back. One may ask how exactly it is possible to measure or provide evidence for the love pets feel for their owners? This can be answered through the loyalty of dogs – a man’s best friend. One can learn countless things from a dog’s behavior, personality, conduct, and especially for the essence or understanding of this topic, the readiness to surrender their loyalty and companionship for the safety of their family members, without expecting anything in return.
However, this is not always the case – as dogs are smart creatures and realize the need for shelter and love in return. They provide such loyalty to their owners knowing how the loss of their owner would put them at a disadvantage in terms of a feeling of loneliness. Therefore, only for the fear of being alone do dogs identify and associate their loyalty so strongly with their guardian. The vice versa is also true as in many cases old people pet dogs or cats just to counter the feeling of loneliness especially women of older age have been criticized for living with their cats in order to displace the need for sexual love, they are deprived of. Just like in the case of cats, the owner has to put up work with it, he has to play with the cat, feed it n times, give it proper attention and never neglect it. As a result, the cat loves its owner, but if the owner fails to provide all these things, and some other person comes in the picture, the cat would start to love the new entrant.
One might argue that in order to completely love unconditionally is not important and also it is not important what people expect from others, but the kind of love that does not vanish over time, no matter what happens or changes with the beloved. This is the strongest kind of love. On the other hand, the weakest kind of love is one that is not constant but changes with that of one’s beauty, intelligence and intellect. For example, Jack’s parents love him because he has the property of “being their child”, but this is a property that Jack cannot ever lose, so no matter how much Jack changes or what he does, they will keep on loving him. Therefore, it is difficult to say that unconditional love does exist as in many cases, people fail to realize that it is not your ability to love the person itself but to love the idea of the person that makes you believe and have faith in true love.
Also, with the passage of time – rather than getting stronger love eventually tends to diminish and fade away, leaving behind only the memories of what once was. Various examples of love have been portrayed in this paper, such as those of parents, siblings, pets, and friends. The one thing these all have in common is the tendency of expecting reciprocity that is expecting to be loved back. As without the lack of such feelings, love tends to become one sided and that is when the challenge or test of love begins.
This proves how unconditional love is not possible and is just an essence of imagination or denial. The existence of strong love, however, does exist.
Hales, Steven D. “The Impossibility of Unconditional Love” Public Affairs Quarterly 9.4 (1995): 317-320. Print.
Phillips, Barry. “Unconditional Love” The Natural Child Project. Web.
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