Friday, June 17, 2011

When Love is “Unconditional”

I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality

When my mother was alive, she always told me that her love was unconditional. That no matter what I did, she would still be there for me, still accept me as her child, and still love me fiercely. I would sometimes test her.... Asking her things like “Would you still love me if I was a drug addict?” or (as a young teen) “Would you still love me if I got pregnant?”, and the biggie “Would you still love me if I killed someone?” To each question she would tell me that , yes, she would still love me. That “unconditional” love meant just that - no matter what I did, she would still love me. No matter how far I travelled from her, no matter how many times I told her I did not want or need her love, that she would still love me. She told me that if even if I disappeared from her life, she would still love me with all of her heart. And believe me, I spent many years testing the limits of my mother’s love.
I was watching “The View” today and the ladies were talking about the Casey Anthony trial. They were discussing what an awful feeling it must be to be the mother of Casey Anthony, and have to testify in a trial for your daughter’s life. Joy Behar said that if it were her child, she would lie on the stand for her child. The other women were not so sure. They said that they would be by their child’s side, that they would stand beside their child, but that they would recognize that their child had to face the consequences of their destructive act.

It must be tearing the mother of Casey Anthony apart to reconcile the love she has for her daughter with the loss of her grandchild. When people point out that Casey Anthony stole her mother’s grandchild away from her, and that she must be suffering terribly to have lost her granddaughter, I have to wonder how many people have that sort of unconditional love in their hearts to stand up for a child that stole so much from them. But, as Joy said, if the mother of Casey Anthony turns her back on her daughter she will not have lost only her grandchild but her daughter as well, as Casey Anthony is facing the death penalty.
Everyone says that they have unconditional love for their child. But, how we define the term varies. Some people consider their love unconditional if they still have some feeling in their heart for their child, even though they no longer speak with them or see them because of some misdeed they committed. Others stand by their child’s side, but still want to see them face the consequences of their bad behavior. And some are willing to stand up in court and lie for their child, despite the repercussions. And, sadly, their are some who claim to have unconditional love for their child, but turn their back on them the second there is the first sign of trouble or rebelliousness.
Unconditional love is even more complicated when discussing a lover or spouse. I think it is almost impossible to unconditionally love a spouse or lover. I mean, if you love your child, and your spouse causes great harm to your child, wouldn’t you choose to side with your child? I know I would. I know some people would not, but to me that is not because of unconditional love for your partner, but rather because of a lack of regard for your child. Or maybe it is simply a sign of your desperation to be close to someone.
I once told someone I loved him unconditionally. He told me I was lying. I said that no, it was true, I did love him unconditionally. I told him I would stand by his side no  matter what. That I would lie for him if I had to. That if it came to a choice between my own life and his, I would sacrifice myself for him. Then he asked me what I would do if I had a child some time in the future, and he abused my child. I said that that would be an exception. He then pointed out that unconditional means there ARE no exceptions. This was his way of “proving” how difficult it is to truly claim to unconditionally love someone. I had to agree, the term unconditional love is often tossed around with no meaning behind it. I think that any sort of romantic love, or a platonic love for a dear friend cannot really be unconditional. I think love between a parent and child (or a caretaker and a child) is really the only form of unconditional love that exists in reality. It is surely the purest form of love, in my opinion.
When I spoke to my friend, I told him that since I do not have a child and possibly never would, that my love for him WAS, in fact, unconditional. But, he pointed out that just because the condition under which I would stop loving him may never happen does not mean that the love is unconditional. Unconditional love is not supposed to change, no matter what the circumstances. If there ARE conditions under which you would stop loving the person, EVEN IF those conditions never rise, you can still not claim unconditional love.
I guess he is right.
So, is unconditional love really possible? Who can/do you love unconditionally? Why do we toss around terms like unconditional love so easily? And, what do you think of the mother of Casey Anthony? If she an example of unconditional love for her daughter, or is she wrong for supporting the woman who most likely murdered her grandchild?