March 27, 2017 by Gregory Josephs
“I Love You Because”—Choosing to Love Intentionally
If I said I wasn’t interested in unconditional love, would you think I’m crazy? Would you hit the back button as quickly as possible, black-list this blog, and write me off as some kind of sociopath? Surely, you’d think I’m insane; unconditional love is the pinnacle, the epitome, the ultimate level of emotional attachment, right?
I’m not sure. I think there is something better. . .
Today I’m celebrating the seven-year anniversary of the day I met my husband, and, believe me, I couldn’t be happier. So let me say now, loud and clear:
I’m not interested in unconditional love.
Still with me? Phew! Alright, good. Thanks for giving me the chance to explain. See, unconditional love means loving someone no matter what. Meh. I’ll pass. There’s something a lot better—something that takes a little work, but is worth it in the end.
But first, lets examine why unconditional love isn’t so cool. dictionary.com defines unconditional as:
not limited by conditions; absolute
Alright, the absolute part sounds pretty great. I guess I’d like to be loved absolutely, but the not limited by conditions bit is where I have the hang-up. When we agree to love without conditions, we essentially give others a blank check to do to us whatever they feel. Hopefully they’ll treat us kindly, but if they don’t? If they’re selfish, or cruel, or unfaithful, or abusive? What’s the damage if we agree to love them anyways? Don’t we deserve more?
Placed in this situation, maybe a few conditions are a good thing after all. Shouldn’t we expect a little in return for our absolute devotion? Respect, at least, or consideration?
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t love imperfect people. I’ve got more than my share of flaws, as I’m sure you do too. The problem with loving unconditionally, however, is that too often we find ourselves loving in spite of another’s flaws instead of because of another’s strengths. When we do the latter, we start loving intentionally, and I really think this is the better way.
It’s very possible you’re rolling your eyes right now, thinking that I’m arguing semantics. Hear me out. This is a cup-half-full or cup-half-empty thing, sure, but that is why it’s so important. Let’s consider my fateful first date seven years ago:
We were supposed to meet at 8pm at an Ethiopian restaurant in Boston’s South End. My train was delayed so I was ten minutes late. He was early, and when I finally arrived I noticed two things right away; he was really attractive—totally my type—and he was nervous. I knew I was going to like him, but regarding the nervousness. . .
Would I like him even though he was nervous (unconditional) or did I find it endearing that he was nervous and wanted the date to go well (intentional)? As it turns out, I’d been on quite a few terrible dates over the past year, and it was refreshing to meet someone who was as invested in the process as I was. I chose to like him more, right off the bat, because he clearly gave a damn!
Dinner was great—we ate with our hands using pieces of sticky, spongey African bread—and I’ll admit I was also nervous at first. With his amazing sense of humor, he quickly put me at ease, and the meal flew by. Afterwards we were having so much fun, we decided to continue the night at an eccentric little dive bar a few blocks away.
A few drinks in, something extraordinary happened; we started really talking about our lives. See, there were things about myself that I regarded as landmines—total relationship killers. I’d gotten really good at hiding my dirty laundry, but it all comes out eventually. I can’t count how many times I’d gotten a few dates in and then been unceremoniously dropped because I didn’t finish college, or because I worked as a professional lifeguard, and that wasn’t a serious profession.
But this guy? He was so great. I didn’t think I could stand to get to know him and then lose him over this stuff. So I laid it all on the table, there in the bar.
When I told him I didn’t finish school, he could have frowned and said “Well, you could always go back” (unconditional). But instead he smiled and said “So? I like that you’re forging your own path” (intentional). After finding out I worked in a swimming pool he could have said “That’s alright, you’re more than what you do for work” (unconditional). Instead he said “I’m jealous you get to work in swimming trunks. I like that you’re doing something you love” (intentional).
I could go on, but suffice it to say my heart was exploding! Here was someone that liked me because of who I was, not in spite of it. We ended the night agreeing to see each other at least eight more times, but after the third date we stopped counting. A year later we were engaged, and three and a half years after that we married.
And it continues to this day. We have our conflicts, sure; I’m too messy, he’s too clean; I snore and could sleep through a blitzkrieg, he’s a light sleeper; I hate when the curtains are closed, he doesn’t like them open after dark; I like fourteen toppings on a pizza, he’d be okay with just pepperoni; I’m way too relaxed about everything, he’s too easily stressed; he is an absolute machine and I get cranky when I can’t sit around all morning sipping coffee; he’s great at interior design, I’d paint our whole house with garish paint colors straight out of a Crayola box. Now, I could take this list and spin it in two ways:
I love him more than anything. I could love him even though he won’t let me paint the bathroom grape-candy purple. I could love him even though he sometimes drives me crazy over things I don’t think are all that important. I could shrug it all off and say, “That’s just him. I love him anyways.”
I don’t though—I love him because that’s him.
Okay, we’ve earned each other’s love, and we’re going to be together forever, but there are still expectations. I’ve got conditions, and so does he. We expect to meet each other in the middle. I need to be less of a slob, and he needs to take a chill pill. I need to care more about little things, and he needs to stop sweating the small stuff. Now, a failure to meet expectations from time to time doesn’t mean we should get divorced. Intentional love is not the same as conditional love. It’s the grey space—the sweet spot—between conditional and unconditional.
Furthermore, it’s alright to carry more of the burden sometimes. I stumbled across this amazing Tweet yesterday that I think is case in point (thanks Alejandra):
You might argue that this is a perfect example of unconditional love; being willing to stand beside someone even in the face of mental health challenges. But read the wording! I intend! Intention implies action and desire. Unconditional love is passive, but intentional love is active. It’s dynamic. It’s what I want in my life, in my relationship, and it’s what I intend to continue practicing every day.
So, to my dear husband when you read this:
I intend to love you every day for the rest of our lives. These have been my best seven years because of you. I celebrate our differences alongside our similarities, and I love you because of the ways you challenge me to always be a better version of myself. Don’t ever love me unconditionally, because I want to be accountable to you, myself, and our life together. I want you to want the same from me, and I know that you do. Love you >>++
And to you, dear reader? I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you agree, or disagree that intentional love is better than unconditional love? Your comments are both welcomed and encouraged below.
Thanks as always for reading!