Think about every relationship you maintain right now. Is there one relationship that is truly unconditional? The idea of unconditional love is one that seems so elusive to so many of us that we romanticize the idea of finding our soulmate in movies and fairy tales to our children at the earliest age. A soul-to-soul relationship, being one that transcends the physical circumstance of matter, space and time could be possible (to exist) but impossible to realize, acknowledge or prove given that all ways of doing so require some worldly manifestation, which by definition does not exist. That means that every relationship you or I hold is based on some action or exchange that can be measured by some action. Since thoughts are intangible, they do not count.
Before we just blow up the entire idea of unconditional love, let’s start with the most transactional of relationships and work our way up. Your boss signs your check; you use your check to pay your bills. That’s about it, you don’t have to like your boss, in some cases you could even hate your boss, but it doesn’t matter as long as the check arrives when it is supposed to. The same could be said for your doctor, or the guy at the computer repair store or the lady standing in front of you at the DMV. Some of our relationships are so clean cut that it could be a computer, or a dog, or a unicorn providing the same service and we would be just as satisfied. This is this is the epitome of a transactional relationship. It’s black and white.
Some people live here, they rarely manage relationships of any other kind. This person may or may not ask you how you are doing in the morning before they get straight to the business at hand. Pleasantries are often overlooked because they seem impractical and even inefficient. For some types of interaction this can even be what we desire. Especially where service and time are involved. Sometimes you just want to go in and out to get your dry cleaning because you are running late and don’t have time to talk about your personal life.
We don’t all live in the purely practical space though, and this is where complexity arises Even though the relationship is not based on measurable results, that doesn’t mean it is not transactional. It simply means the currency exchanged may not be the one you are measuring. So let’s outline that currency.
We engage with each other on several levels, psycho-emotional, spiritual, intellectual, personal, professional, social and more. The point is that at any time you are interacting with someone you could be making exchanges simultaneously on more than one plain without even realizing it. This is essentially the defining characteristic of engagement between living beings.
If you wanted singular engagement that was purely transactional, you would most often just go to an ATM. But if your transaction is more complex and/or occurs on more than one plain you would need to see the teller, because instead of making a withdrawal you want to apply for a loan. The same goes for every relationship and they get even more complicated than that.
Each level has its own conditions. You might go see a friend’s band play over and over again even though you don’t enjoy their music you continue to show support because you enjoy them socially or emotionally. That overrides the fact that you wouldn’t be at the show if it was only about the music. The confusion this adds to an interaction is clear when a person you like, but makes music that you don’t like, asks you for your opinion of the music. We humans get caught up between answering honestly and hurting our friend. We all know of dozens of scenarios like this. This is how all of our relationships work.
The person you like is contributing positively to your life, socially or emotionally, and that allows you to forgive them for their lack of contribution to your entertainment. This can last forever or only for a little while depending on how strong the contribution is in the other area(s).
When we say that we want unconditional love, we are asking that person to disregard all other levels we might engage on, and accept us even if we default on another level of interaction. It is why marriage vows often say, “For better or for worse . . . in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part.” This agreement is completely illogical, and embodies why it is so hard for us to keep.
How difficult it must be to pursue a particular course of action when every signal pertaining to the action is negative. When you continue on simply out of sheer will, that alone is unconditional love. The question is that if it is a love beyond logic, or condition, why is it not a bond that can be shared between ANY two people. That is to say that if marriage is between a man and a woman, the bond is not unconditional because one of the conditions is that they are not of the same sex.
This is a transaction between the two people, one of which provides the sperm, and the other provides the egg to fertilize and make a child to further our species. Then if the arrangement is between two people of the same sex the conditions for marriage must then be different, but that does not mean they are non-existent. Another reason could be companionship, or understanding, loyalty and support.
It is not that our strongest relationships are without conditions but instead that they stand up under many conditions at once. We can have unconditional love in our hearts and minds, but relationships are inherently conditional because they live in the world.
This is where we fall into traps with monogamy, intellectual property and management of all other physical resources. Relationship is where our connections are shown, and without proof of transaction like spending time together, there is no way to prove the relationship is ongoing, even if the connection may be everlasting.
Unconditional love cannot exist in the physical world because something needs to be shared between two parties in order to be realized, even if that means they only share time. If two people sit in the dark and think they love each other without ever communicating it through interaction, the love never lands anywhere. The belief in something that cannot be seen or proven then lies in the mind of the believer alone.
An unconditional-love relationship is that with an ATM because you can beat it, spit at it, ignore it and when you’re ready it will still give you cash, fulfilling its purpose regardless of whom it is requesting it. Human to human relationship is much more intricate than that: It requires a complex balance of several layers all at once to be sustained and this allows it to be special. If you want an unconditional relationship, then it comes with the understanding that any condition isolating a specific person cancels out the unconditional part, which means that it cannot be reasonably expected to be unique. The ATM doesn’t give you cash because it loves you, it gives you cash because it is an ATM and that’s what they do.