To love with the expectation of being loved in return is a waste of time. -Paulo Coelho
Have you experienced true unconditional love in your lifetime? You may have, and not recognized it. For humans, love is a complicated endeavor even on the best of days. Rare is the soul who can love without expecting love in return. Sometimes, in the hands of those who have never witnessed what unconditional love looks like, love becomes a constant struggle, tug-of-war, or emotional negotiation. It’s only when we are freed of the burden of expectations are we allowed to experience the deep, abiding love that comes without expecting anything in return.
How do we achieve a true state of selfless love, and does it actually exist between humans?
Even when we enter into a relationship – be it intimate, friendly, or an acquaintanceship – we might believe we’ve entered into it with our eyes wide open and with a desire to love another unconditionally, but the very act of entering into that relationship at whatever level is an expectation. While the presence of the other person might provide a sense of comfort and security, we would have to try to not enjoy that benefit in order for it to be selfless…and therefore, it becomes an expectation. I choose to be with her/him because he/she makes me feel good about myself. We didn’t ask to feel that way, yet we do, so are we truly being selfless?
The answer is no. Relationships are rarely, if ever, selfless. And that’s not a bad thing. The very nature of wanting to be with someone else is as old as humanity itself. Pairing up meant greater security, more food, better protection, and the opportunity to be with someone who might feel or think as we do. Pairing with another is a form of self-validation. The love and affection of another is reason enough to love ourselves. On the darker side of that equation is the person who never achieves that self-validation, but feels they must disrupt the relationship again and again – perhaps in the forms of unrealistic demands, tests, or what have you – in order to find satisfaction. Those repeated attempts eventually become self-defeating, and the relationship falls apart.
On another hand, true unconditional love exists. Just look at the healthy relationship between a parent and child, or human and pet.
Having grown up with dogs, I know from experience that when an animal is treated with respect, kindness, and love, they return those things tenfold. Yesterday, while lying on the bed with my Great Dane watching a movie (well, I was watching, she was enjoying the bit of sunshine coming through the window), she suddenly rolled over and pressed herself against my side as if reminding me that she was there for me. When I reached over to stroke her sleek fur, she grasped my hand by wrapping her forelegs around my arm and pulling my hand in close in a type of doggie hug. Whereas I was acknowledging our connection in the moment, she seemed to be reminding me that it never matters when or where we’re near one another…she always feels close. Other dog companions will know exactly of what I speak, even if it might appear that I’m projecting my own thoughts and ideas onto an animal that, some claim, feel no emotions.
There have been several human relationships in which I have likewise felt that deepest of connections; a connection in which I did not feel compelled to reciprocate a spoken phrase or an action. When they did something for me, it was not to elicit a similar response. They did not say “I love you” in order to extract the same in return. No agenda, no ulterior motive, just…love. When we “go fishing” for responses, what we receive instead are insincere answers or, sometimes, faked emotion. If I don’t say “I love you” in return, they will feel slighted, or gain some sort of power over me.
We deserve to surround ourselves with people who can provide such wonderful, beautiful affection. We cannot demand it, but must stillen our hearts and listen, observe, and be silent in its graceful presence. Only then will we learn how to offer the same to others.