Response to, “Spirituality in a Love Relationship” Philosopher’s Cafe at Or Shalom
When I was a kid, I once tried to express to my best friend that I loved her unconditionally. I told her that she was a wonderful person, that she had a strong intellect, a beautiful mind. She shot back at me, “What would you do if I lost my mind?” Initially I was stumped, but after I saw, “What Dreams May Come?” with her, I had an answer: “I’d do whatever it took to help you regain it.”
That conversation turned out to be prophetic. In high school she developed both anorexia nervosa and bulimia (she was indiscriminate – if it was easier to not eat, she wouldn’t eat. If it was easier to pretend to eat, and throw up afterwards, she’d do that.). For several years I watched the disease take over, degrade and defile her body, suppress her intellect, disguise her wit, bury her beautiful mind. I watched the disease lie to me about the progress she was making, about when she had and hadn’t eaten. I watched her hoard and consume food, and caught her throwing it up afterwards. I watched her, somehow, miraculously, come back from three suicide attempts – none of which she told me about until after the fact. I gave her all the help I knew how to give – I bought her food, I enrolled her in welfare, I helped her find jobs she never stayed in for long.
Gradually, I came to realize that I couldn’t help her, that I needed to let her find her own way back. I began to see that my childhood pledge to help her regain her own mind was naive. That unconditional love is as much about self-care as it is about caring for the other. To preserve my own mind, to heal and nurture my own strength and soul, I had to let her go.
She met a boy. He has his own troubles and is sick a lot, but they depend on each other. They live together now, and they’re both slowly finishing their education and getting back into the job market while living on disability.
Unconditional love doesn’t have much to do with the blind adoration of puppies, “We’re going for a walk – my favourite thing!” “You gave me kibbles – my favourite thing!” “I’m going to eat your slipper now – my favourite thing!” It has the same problems as the word, ‘equality’. Equality doesn’t mean treating everyone equally, it means ensuring each person has their needs addressed and supported. Unconditional love means knowing when to step in, and when to let go. When to give of your own resources, and when to take time for yourself. That goes for every love relationship as well – sometimes the people we love the most, are the people we’re least suited to live with. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we find the ones we can live with, and with them create a family and a home.