As kids, we were taught these tenets within our cultural framework: Love unconditionally. Have no expectations from those you love.
For a very long time, I thought that these two things are invariably supposed to go hand in hand. I wove these together and considered them inseparable with regard to personal relationships. And for the major part of my life struggled to conform to these tenets. They defined to a large extent my attitude and consequent behaviour in loving those few that I do love.
Till the time I was compelled to think it through and address my attitudes, I had major problems understanding the statements ‘love unconditionally’ and ‘have no expectations’, both separately and as a set. I wonder how many others also struggle with the same uncomfortable feeling of something being seriously amiss here. That there are those who claim the clauses to hold true in utter honesty is a source of wonderment to me. Not saying they are wrong, just that my understanding is perhaps not deep enough to come to terms with their interpretation.
In discussions and debates the ultimate example given is the ‘unconditional love’ of a mother for her child. It’s used as the trump card that is supposed to end debate. The fact that it mostly does end the debate is beyond my comprehension. For me, such a statement should actually be new ground for probing the idea. My thought has always been that a mother’s love is conditional in the first instance by virtue of her status as the mother of that particular child. So, you love your child because it is yours: You are the mother; that is your child. The nature of the relationship defines the condition for that special love. How then can it be unconditional when its very basis is the condition of ownership?
Can you have no expectations from your child? That sounds impractical in the extreme. The very nature of nurturing and rearing a child is based on achievement of milestones expected to be reached. How do you teach your child anything without setting goals, working towards them one step at a time, guiding them to make course corrections when necessary, and achieve success in the tasks set without having expectations every step of the way? Of course, expectations are not to be hitched to loving. But that still does not make the love unconditional since the premise of ownership remains.
In friendship and love, I find the same earnest declarations of loving unconditionally and having no expectations difficult to grasp. I am struck at these possibilities and struggle to comprehend the thought that someone can say that kind of thing and mean it in all sincerity. I respect the earnestness, even appreciate it, but I cannot claim to understand it.
You choose friends, lovers and people to love. Because they meet certain unique and personal criteria, standards, ideals, and fulfil your expectations in these regards. Can it be denied that these criteria/ideals/standards/benchmarks are indeed conditions? And that the connections formed with these people are consequences of the expectations based on the conditions being met? If you think about it, the conditions are overt, obvious. Perhaps not acknowledged consciously, but they are there staring you in the face nonetheless. The expectations are covert, hidden, unacknowledged. But condition implies expectation. So, how valid are the claims ‘I love you unconditionally’ or ‘I have no expectations from you’?
Perhaps these statements are meant to have meaning once we have already made the selection of friend and lover, or chosen a person to love, based on our overt conditions and covert expectations. In that case, the clauses seem a lot more possible: So, yes, once you fulfil my basic conditions for the selection by meeting the expectations and benchmarking, I have no further expectations from you. At least in terms of reciprocation. I can love you for whatever it is that I chose you for. I can then do without expecting reciprocation since loving you is my decision. It requires some evolution to get to that phase, and it is very difficult, but possible to get there. However, I wonder if giving up expectations is also giving up hope of reciprocation. (That is new material for thought!)
Does conditionality vanish when expectations are taken out of the equation? So, does love become unconditional when expectations cease? Even if it does, it exists in the first place because it was founded on conditions and expectations of those being met.
So, am I wrong in arguing that the claims ‘I love you unconditionally’ and ‘I have no expectations from you’ are valid only when they stand on the foundation of conditionality and expectations?