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What Does Unconditional Love Really Mean?

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We all want to be loved. If the truth be told, we long for love and will go to great lengths to have it in our lives. We also hold some pretty grandiose ideas of how it should show up and what it should feel like. Notice the word “should” here. It tells us a great deal about how we really feel about love.


Case in point. Just last week while sitting in a local coffee shop, I overheard a thirty-something woman reveal to her friend that she was finally ready for love. “I know exactly what I want now,” she said. “I know the kind of person I want to be in relationship with and what qualities he should have. I just need to know how to find him!”


It seems this eager-for-love woman had her partner “wish list” all ready to be checked off. She had created pictures in her mind of what he would look like, be interested in, even possible occupations. I bet she even had another sub-list of how he would demonstrate his love for her. Good luck, I wished her silently, knowing that as far as pictures of love are concerned, it does no good to harbor them. In fact, they ultimately prevent us from experiencing the unconditional love we seek.


Unconditional love, the glorious, forever after kind of love of dreams and fairy tales, can only become real when we set it free from expectations, from all those limiting “shoulds.” Unconditional love is love without conditions—love without rules and lists, even thinly veiled hopes. Simply put, if love is tied to any of these, it will surely disappoint. Our expectations of love limit it. The conditions we place upon it stop its flow.


Pitch the List
If you really want to experience great love, “Big Love,” as some like to call it, get rid of any notions you might hold about how love should be. Allow love to show up on its own terms, in its own way. Remain open and flexible. Holding someone to a roster of expectations will dampen their ardor faster than a bucket of cold water.


I recall another young woman with whom I had a recent conversation complaining about the new beau in her life. They hadn’t even had a formal first date before she began fuming that he wasn’t affectionate or playful enough. “He’s so serious!” she exclaimed. “Maybe, “I suggested, “he’s just a little shy or reserved. Maybe he isn’t comfortable with public displays of affection.” Her response was that she was pretty sure something was wrong with him because she was being playful and affectionate and wanted him to be, too. Needless to say, their relationship was doomed to fail because she began measuring him up against her ideals—her expectations of how she wanted him to be.


Embrace the Differences
Unconditional love seeks to understand rather than categorize or label. It embraces our differences and appreciates the unique way we each step to the plate of love. Not every person feels or demonstrates love in the same way. For example, some of us are huggers and kissers, showing our affection in outright ways. Others are more stoic in nature, but that doesn’t mean their love is any less potent. As we attune ourselves to unconditional love, we find ourselves accepting, and even appreciating the unique way that love lives within each individual.


I remember early on in my relationship with my husband, I discovered that we each had very different ways of showing our love to one another. I was a gift giver and a card sender. He was not. I so enjoyed surprising him with little tokens of my affection and love notes. After a few months, my resentment began to build. I perceived myself to be very amorous and him not to be. One day, I tearfully asked him why he didn’t reciprocate. He said that to express himself in this way was not true to his nature. He wasn’t much of a card or gift giver. He helped me see that my expectations of him to express his affection in the same way I did was not a good thing. It didn’t honor his uniqueness. Then I began to look at all the other ways he demonstrated his affection throughout the day. There were so many I nearly lost count! Holding my hand whenever we walked anywhere, sitting close to me on the couch while watching television, intimate talks late into the night, back rubs when I wasn’t feeling well, are a few of them. Thankfully, I began to appreciate our differences as love’s kaleidoscope rather than love’s conditions.


My friend and mentor, Daphne Rose Kingma, author of over a dozen books about love, said it best. “Let go of love as you want it so that, finally, you can take hold of love as it is.” To me, this is what unconditional love really means—to release it from expectations so it can surprise and delight us again and again. Love blooms in an atmosphere of liberty, not shoulds, and when we allow our love to be free, especially free from expectations and conditions, so are we. Then, and only then, will we experience the love we have been longing for forever.

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