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What Kind of Love? March 24, 2007

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Family, Friends, Love, Parenting/Children, Self-Worth.
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Lately, I’ve been asking myself about the nature of love. No, not THAT nature… the “collapse of ego boundaries” (as Scott Peck describes it) and all of its ramifications between two people. I’m not thinking specifically about romantic love here either.

love-heart

What are the limits of love? What should those limits be?

Three Kinds
I have seen and experienced three kinds of love in my life. To make it easier to describe them, I’ll refer to them as: If-Love, Because-Love, and Regardless-Love.

If-Love is what many people experience as manipulation or coercion. It’s a conditional love that says, “I’ll love you if you _____” (fill in the blank). Sometimes, this is spoken out loud (unfortunately, most of the time when it’s spoken aloud it’s to children), and sometimes it’s implied. Either way, it’s a message that’s easy to receive and understand.

Because-Love, at first blush, seems like a better love than If-Love. I think this is largely due to affection being a result of things not consciously done. Because-Love says “I love because of who you are… because of what you mean to me.” Is that better than an If-Love? I suppose at some level it is, but what happens if the other person changes (as people are wont to do)? What if our perception of who that person is, was completely wrong?

Regardless-Love is pretty much what it sounds like. “I love you, regardless of who you are, who you’ve been, who you’ll become. I love you, regardless of what you’ve done, what you’re doing, or anything you’ll do.” Theists will generally suggest that this type of love isn’t something humans are capable of, but is the realm of God alone. I’m not so sure.

Testing, 1… 2… 3
Here’s an interesting test: Think about someone you love, and then ask yourself a question. “What could this person do that would make me stop loving them?”

Your answer to that question will reveal much about your true feelings about that person. If the answer comes quickly as “If they were to ____, then that’s it… I can’t love someone like that,” then your feelings for them probably fall between the If-Love and Because-Love frames.

What about when someone changes? If you’re homophobic, and your son or daughter were to “come out of the closet,” what would your response be? Would you disown your own child because the conformance of their behavior to your standard means more to you than the relationship? What if your romantic interest becomes someone emotionally distant and disconnected? Do you stop loving them?

When I was a teenager, I came into the house late, having been out drinking with several of my also-underage buddies. I tried to sneak in unnoticed, and after slipping into bed, settled in with the smug satisfaction that I had, once again, pulled one over on my parents. Moments later, my mother came into the darkened room, sat down on the side of the bed, and said “You should know that your father and I know what you’ve been doing. We don’t like it, but we realize that no matter what we do, if you’re determined to live this way, you’ll find a way to do it. You should also know that we love you, regardless of what choices you make.”

I was very lucky. I was loved, unconditionally, by my parents. I know how good it feels to live, every day, secure in the knowledge that I could not ever become “unlovable.” Now, I may not have ever loved another person as deeply as they loved me, but that’s my goal. What’s yours?

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Comments»

1. Oscarandre - March 24, 2007

Perhaps love is just a word that we have created to describe a great need in us that we erroneously displace onto other people. We could ask ourselves why “love” necessarily involves someone else at all. It so rarely works out, particularly when institutionalised by marriage, that maybe the whole concept needs to be revisited. I may, in fact, form a committee of review…Oh, and welcome back!

2. Tim - March 24, 2007

Oscarandre,

Leave it to you to take a nice, neat little package of a blog entry, and turn it completely upside-down! 😀

You’re asking a good question. Self-love is an important thing (to me), and I suspect largely a function of feeling valued by others. If your “Committee on Marriage” operates like most that I’ve seen, I’ll look for a preliminary report in 2010. 😉

Thanks for the warm welcome upon my return. We had a great time, and laughed so hard, you’d have sworn we were a couple of teenage drunks (not unlike the evening visitors you blogged about recently)! – Tim

3. damewigginsoflee - March 25, 2007

Very interesting post, Tim.

What about if-because-regardless-love? I don’t think I can separate them, to tell you the truth.

Kinda’ like, ‘…IF you love me (and dont knowingly hurt me) BECAUSE i love you (for who you are and for loving me for who i am) REGARDLESS of (any x number of infinite things) anything and everything…’

Yeah, I think I’d have to smoosh them all together.

Then I’d slap myself silly and snap out of it. (Oops.)

4. Tim - March 25, 2007

Hmmm…

For me, the test reveals the true nature. A good friend called me on this several years ago, when I was disciplining one of my sons. I had said “I love you Son, but I will not allow you to behave this way” and she called me on “I love you, but…” part.

She didn’t fully understand the context of my comment, and it revealed to me that she had experienced a great deal of If-Love in her life, and was speaking from her experience. She had never felt Regardless-Love from her parents, so she had no frame of reference.

Ultimately, I decided that my “I love you, but…” was completely appropriate, because over the course of time, both of the boys had learned that I would never withhold love from them as a form of discipline. Parents do that a lot, even when they say they don’t. Sometimes, it takes the form of emotionally disconnecting or not communicating with the child. Sometimes it’s just a glare.

Imagine the child who’s misbehaved, been taken to a private place, given a swat on the backside, and then held and hugged. After the tears passed, there was always eye-to-eye contact, wiping away the tears (which were never from the pain of being swatted on the backside), and verbal affirmation of Regardless-Love.

Maybe if-because-regardless-love exists. If it does, I haven’t felt it, so I have no frame of reference. 😀

5. damewigginsoflee - March 25, 2007

Tim, I think I need parenting classes from you. The kids aren’t even awake yet, and I already feel guilty. I am sooo ashamed!

6. Mia - March 25, 2007

Some of us start off with IF love (out there in the world), phase into Because love (as we struggle to find our way) and only truly discover Regardless love in Christ. Usually by others who already have experienced the depth of a personal relationship that embodied unconditional love.

I marvel at unconditional love because as you well know it is tested and tested until “I will never leave you nor forsake you” becomes something tangible, a reality that can not be just kept to oneself, but that must be shared with others so it will continue to blossom into its fulness season after season.

Sometimes as parents we forget that our children are gifts that come through us and belong to the One who destined them to be. For me it was the realization of their value that helped me to finally understand that I was His child and that His love for me was unconditional. I believe your Mom understood this with such a depth that she engrained it into her children and the generations that followed.

Soli Deo Gloria

7. Tim - March 25, 2007

DameWigginsofLee,

I make no claim to parenting genius. I’m simply repeating patterns that were demonstrated to me. I have been encouraged by one of my very best friends to write a book about parenting (boys, in particular), and blog entries like this are my attempt to codify such experiences.

With that said, it’s NEVER my intention to make someone feel guilty! (Unless, of course, it’s the kind of guilt that inspires one to action, rather like the way watching “Hook” always inspired me to stop acting like an adult, and “go play” with the boys.)

Mia,

You have clarified (once again) things that may have been confusing, and have shed light in corners I failed to illuminate. You have very accurately portrayed the understanding of Regardless-Love that my Mom knew and understood, and demonstrated time and again over the course of my life. It’s one of the many reasons I miss her the way I do. 🙂

8. dame - March 25, 2007

Write the book, Tim. If someone close to you sees it’s potential (and your gift to present it) then by all means, spread the wealth.

And don’t worry about the guilt, it’s a given. Catholic guilt follows me wherever I go, despite the circumstances. I could be nailed to the cross and still manage to feel guilty for hanging crooked.

Oh wait, that wasn’t right. Back to church!

9. richardmcchurch - March 28, 2007

…… Thanks. I too, think often of love and what it all means,,,,,,,,

Hope you will read my post on the same (similar) topic)…..

RMcC

10. Rose - March 29, 2007

Great post, Tim! And, welcome back.

I think we can experience Regardless-Love here on earth, but I think why many people believe on God can emote that type of love is because of His ability to forget those past mistakes. Like Mia said, your Mom’s “Regardless-Love” for you was washed in her understanding of Christ’s love…which makes it all the more beautiful.

I understand how you miss your Mom so…I do too for the same reasons. 🙂

11. Loving Annie - March 29, 2007

Tim,
Because love usually makes my heart sing…. It is so sweet when you feel it…
The hard part is loving yourself enough to not love someone regardless of what they do… Boundaries always have to come into play in male-female relationships…
I liked reading your responses here… Very thoughful ! Glad I found your blog ! I’ll be back to visit —
Hope you have a good Thursday !

12. Tim - March 30, 2007

Richard,

It’s very good. I particularly liked the sprinting analogy. It’s especially poignant because I’m running in a 10-mile race tomorrow morning. (Crawling the last mile.)

Rose,

Thanks, and you’re right on all counts. However, I didn’t realize you missed my Mom for the same reasons. 😉

Loving Annie,

You’re right about boundaries coming into play, but I don’t necessarily agree that loving yourself sufficiently leads to not loving another. However, I would agree that if you love yourself enough, you won’t allow yourself to be abused and mistreated.

One of the tragedies of abusive relationships is that they seem teach people to extrapolate all of the cruelty of one relationship to others. That can become a poison, because you start to read all sorts of evil intent into anything a person does that hurts you.

Since the reality is that all of us are going to disappoint and hurt those around us, this can put a relationship in a state of perpetual breakup/makeup. (This is because “the breakup bomb” may be the only weapon someone bound up in abusive relationships can wield to exert control over their environment.) I have no easy answers here, but I’ll agree that some might find it difficult to draw the line between the normal ups & downs of a relationship, and something that’s abuse/mistreatment.

13. Loving Annie - March 31, 2007

Have a good Saturday, Tim !

14. Loving Annie - April 1, 2007

Hope you are having a good weekend, Tim ! Looking forward to your next post !

15. Bonnie (One of Tim's Sisters) - April 17, 2007

(Apologies for the delayed comment – my computer has been down!)

Having grown up with the same mother as Tim, I want to add my two cents.

While still in high school (and single) some friends marveled when I claimed that if I went home and told my mother that I was pregnant, I knew without any doubt that she would still love me. She would be disappointed, but she would still love me. At that moment, this epitomized the extent to which she loved me unconditionally.

Oddly enough I made a bad decision not to fully trust her love a few years later. In my 20’s, having moved out of our family home, I had a very traumatic experience that I did not share with Mom. In fact, I did not share it with anyone for many years. Looking back on the decision not to talk to Mom, who was my best friend until her death, I see that this one event created a snowball effect in my life. I started increasingly hiding “the real me”.

As I began hiding increasingly bigger portions of my life from people who loved me, I began to experience a corollary for Christ’s words, “You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.” My corollary: “The more lies you live, the more those lies will bind you up”. The more parts of me that I hid, the more isolated I became. I found myself increasing tense and emotionally brittle. I was becoming more and more bound up.

In the midst of grief after Mom’s death, God provided a best friend who loved me unconditionally. She began to melt the snowball, to stretch the metaphor. As I opened up with her, it became easier to allow others to see more of the real me. Circumstances triggered by Mom’s death and family emergencies also drew me closer to my brothers and sister, and gave me multiple opportunities to test their love for me. I learned that Mom taught them well.

Tim, you asked about my goal. My goals include: to find people who allow me to love them unconditionally, to maintain relationships with people who love me well, and to trust them to love all of who I am.

I’m proud of you, Tim.

16. bob denison - January 22, 2009

LOVE spelt backwards is EVOL (Evolve)
God is love.


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