We all know the feeling of having a crush on someone: the butterflies, the feelings rushing through our body, the fascination for that person, spontaneous and frequent fantasies involving your crush and yourself, craving to be with that person, and the list goes on.
And then you fall in love: you enjoy spending time together, you enjoy intimacy, you want the other person to be happy, and you want to understand them, and of course you want it to be mutual. It is like a very close friendship where you feel understood and not judged.
But really, if we strip all those emotions, experiences and desires away, what is this love all about? Is this magical feeling something where we feel and exchange affection for each other only based on (often instinctive, sometimes rationally decided) conditions? Is love conditional?
Here are at least five conditions which I think most always apply for romantic love to work:
Condition 1: I will give you signs of affection for as long as I have feelings for you
If my feelings change, my signs of affection will change. If my feelings stop, my signs of affection will stop.
Condition 2: I want to see my signs of affection returned from your part.
If this condition is not fulfilled, eventually my feelings for you will fade, sooner or later. If they do not fade, I might decide not to show you how much I care for you, or my signs of affection may have signs of distress, anger or sadness mixed in between.
Condition 3 (for monogamous couples): I want your affection for me to be exclusive to me
If it is not exclusive to me, I will feel uncomfortable and the nature of our mutual affection will either change, or end.
Condition 3 (for polyamorous couples): I want you to accept that I also show affection to someone else when I feel like it
If not, the nature of our affection will change or end.
Condition 4: I want your affection for me to last beyond this moment
If not, it is meaningless and hurtful.
Condition 5: I want you to love me for who I am
If not, I will not like myself when I am with you and my feelings for you will change.
Now, before you start to struggle and resist the notion that romantic love is always conditional, and before you want to say real love is UNconditional, I urge you to try to think of examples of unconditional romantic love. Think of anyone who denied to themselves, and to others that any conditions were involved in their feelings they had for someone special.
For example, think of someone who had a high school crush that was never reciprocated. You will surely say that that this someone continued to have feelings despite these not being mutual. Or wait a minute… In the cases the love forever unrequited, the person with a crush stopped having those feelings eventually, didn’t (s)he?
Aha! So their feelings WERE conditional!
But perhaps you are not convinced.
Perhaps you are one of those people eager to show off how superior and how much more genuine your love is compared to that of others who claim they love someone, because your love is truly unconditional you say. In showing off how genuine and true your love is, you make the claim that you want your loved one to be happy no matter what. To such people, I ask: really? What if your loved one would decide to start hurting you emotionally frequently, continuously and unexpectedly, would you still want them happy? I am sure you are a master of self-deception, but for once, try to answer honestly, not just to others, but to yourself. There is always a breaking point to change and stop those feelings. Always.
But how about enjoying love in the moment? Surely that is unconditional, right? After all, I myself have only just posted that it is unreasonable to expect someone to promise eternal love. On the other hand, if somebody convinces you they love you when you also love them, and five minutes later they say they don’t love you anymore, it IS going to feel uncomfortable. Although it IS unreasonable to expect someone to love you forever, you do instinctively want their feelings for you to last a bit longer than just a fraction of a moment if you have feelings for that other person. It is not without a reason that women who quickly went to bed with a bad boy, later on do not continue going to bed as quickly with every man they meet. When right after the sex the bad boy wants to keep his distance and not touch her, or leaves her all alone in the room and runs off, the woman only puts up a facade of being strong and being okay with it. But inside she feels very uncomfortable. She may deny it to herself and distract herself from that feeling, but the discomfort is there naturally. (Of course, with enough repetition, you can blunt yourself to the experience of this bad feeling, like prostitutes feel less and less uncomfortable. But at some point, even they reach tier limit, despite the emotional blunting.) And for men too this can happen: some loving men can feel really special about the woman who had no hesitations to have sex and be intimate shortly after meeting. Such men can grow to be fond of her very quick, but then when she just leaves very soon, the loving man will feel less than comfortable finding out it is all over so soon.
Love always comes with expectations. Always. Of course our expectations aren’t always met, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to meet them.
So yes, love IS conditional. Does that take away the pleasure we get from feeling it? I don’t think so. I think it is good if we are able to admit to ourselves that romantic love IS in fact conditional. If we can face and accept this truth, we can use it to our advantage. We can use it by trying to analyze our past relationships to see which other conditions would be basic for ourselves to feel comfortable in a relationship, and to decrease chances of feeling uncomfortable in our present our future relationship(s). After that we can take it another step further, and try to see which conditions decrease the chances of our loved one to feel uncomfortable.
Because that is ultimately what all these conditions are about: about being able to continue to feel the love, while reducing extreme discomfort that may make the love unenjoyable, or even extinguish it.