What does true love mean to you?
Unfortunately for a lot (most?) of us, there is a very warped idea at work here—something that stands outside of windows with a boom box over its head or “forsakes all others” and fixates. The true love of fiction is more often than not a very isolating and sometimes dangerous paradigm; the fact that one (or both) or the lovers might end up DEAD in the end should tell us all we need to know about the mythology of love.
So let’s rewind a bit: for starters, every generation born before 1980 (and some folks born after) most likely experienced “conditional love” as a parenting style. I approve of you IF you eat all of your vegetables, clean your room, get good grades, don’t talk back, follow my lead, embrace my beliefs, typify heteronormative development, etc etc etc. This was not cruelty or neglect; it was actually considered GOOD PARENTING.
Our parents were there to “keep us straight” (literally and figuratively) and when we strayed off the path, approval was withdrawn until we “righted” our course.
Okay, so those of us who are “good” conformed to the standards and rules and therefore gained our parents’ love conditional approval. Those of us who were “bad” didn’t get either. In either case, we grew up and tried to form healthy relationships with members of our gender preferred sex and guess what happened?
I am not writing this to vilify parents or even the “way things were” but rather to point out an obvious stumbling block that many of us may have when it comes to seeking healthy love…we don’t know what it looks like. So we watch movies or TV or listen to “love” songs or read books and boy, guess what? They lead us even farther away from what “true love” really can be.
Then we enter into relationships as adults and we hear terms like “toxic” and “codependent” and “abusive” but how can our relationship be a bad thing when we “love” each other SO much? So much that we throw jealous hissy fits when our partner interacts with a member of their gender preferred sex? So much that we monitor their every move on social media and elsewhere?
So much that we would just DIE without the other? Isn’t that just like “Romeo and Juliet”? Isn’t that TRUE love?
Honestly, the older I get, the more I realize the aversion most people have to truly being loved; because if someone TRULY loves, trusts and respects you? First off, that must mean that they are too stupid to see your flaws, right? And secondly, that means they won’t be clinging to you and breathing down your neck and they will actually encourage you to be yourself and go your own way and follow your bliss and BOY is THAT a LOT of PRESSURE and RESPONSIBILITY.
Much easier to jump through hoops to prove to my insecure and clingy lover that I would, in fact, DIE 4 U.
So how can you tell if you are “in love” or simply “addicted to conditional approval”?
Here’s an easy litmus test—your beloved is offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pursue their dream (whatever it may be), all expenses paid and whatever fiscal needs you might have in their absence are also covered. But here’s the catch—they will be away from you for one calendar year.
Do you cheer this unbelievable opportunity and throw them the bon voyage party of all time? Or do you undermine this one time chance in order to keep them under your thumb?
And now vice versa it for your partner: Would they cheer you on or try to undermine you?
This is relationships 101; ANYONE who deliberately tries to UNDERMINE YOU does NOT LOVE YOU.
And whether that undermining is insisting you have no relationships with members of your gender preferred sex or giving up on your dreams or gaslighting or belittling, it is all ultimately the same…this person does not love YOU; they approve of your behavior when you are complying with their wishes (clean your room, get good grades, have friends I like, etc).
Don’t get me wrong—I am not suggesting some kind of free-for-all for the beloved. I am suggesting that you choose a beloved who would never consider disrespecting or undermining you with their behaviors. You cannot really feel jealous or threatened in a relationship where this is true.
True love is a radical acceptance of the other, strengths and weaknesses alike. We like to think of the heroic ideal, riding in on a white steed to “save” us, but where do you go from there? In a healthy partnership, there is give and take and plenty of room for both parties to grow.
It may sound like a cliche to say to truly love another person you must first love yourself, but it is the hardcore truth. If you don’t love yourself you live in a constant state of approval seeking and therefore attract those who are only able to furnish you with conditional approval. Conversely, if you enter into relationship focused on how you need to change the other, you are not in love, either.
True love takes a long hard look in the mirror and generally likes what it sees; it then attracts people who agree with this estimation. As long as you are out there looking for conditional approval, it is guaranteed you will find it because it’s the only thing a lot of people know how to offer. Raise the bar; you deserve true love and when you fully accept this, it will find you.