All Love Is Conditional

Category: Weekly Columns

Our beloved dog, Tache - who died about a year ago - we still miss her terribly!

In my opinion, many sayings and much conventional thinking is just plain wrong. One such example is that all love is unconditional. Could you love the Colorado shooter unconditionally after what he did? I couldn’t, even if he were my son. There are implicit and explicit conditions in all our relationships.

Note: I choose NOT to use the name of the vile killer of the Colorado shootings. His name doesn’t deserve recognition of any sort.

When we marry we exchange vows. Every ceremony, whether secular or religious, involves some sort of vows. Those vows explicitly express conditions expected and hoped for in the forthcoming marriage: fidelity, love whether life is good or bad, etc.

Further, we bring expressed or implicit additional conditions to most marriages. They include who will do what around the house, who will stay at home with the kids or not, whether the couple will have kids or not, who does the yard work, who is mostly in charge of the social life, etc. As already mentioned, there is a strong expectation of fidelity. Will a spouse just unconditionally excuse a lapse or worse, an affair?

When we extend the notion of conditional or unconditional love to our kids, it gets more complicated. I do have conditions with my kids about goodness, though for the most part if they err from those conditions, my love doesn’t wane. BUT, if either of my sons were to hurt another human being for no apparent reason, I doubt I would unconditionally support and/or love them the same.

The love, at the very least, would be severely tarnished. If mental illness were involved, it would probably not diminish but I’d feel mighty responsible for any damage if I’d not done everything in my power to seek help prior to any incident.

Our family therapist has repeatedly expressed to my wife and me that marriage is a business deal. Women, in particular, may not like looking at it that way, but most women – my wife included – have very strong expectations of the deal involved, much of which has been expressed already in this column.

With a second marriage such as mine, the degree of the “business deal” is usually more detailed and even may include a legal document such as a pre-nuptial (which we do not have, btw). Second marriages often bring with them the proverbial “baggage,” including exes, kids, emotional damage, heartbreak, and certainly not the innocence most of us bring to a first marriage.

When I began dating after my divorce, I was a middle-aged man with primary care for two emotionally stunned young boys. My parents were ill and my plate was quite full.

I expected to date only divorced women with kids of their own and similar emotional issues of their own and their own kids, likely in a shared custody arrangement. And, that is mostly what I did. The irony of meeting and marrying my present wife is that she did not fit that expectation (no kids), but it’s worked out very well for our family. Nonetheless, she brought reasonable expectations/conditions to our marriage.

One of them is sort of funny, but I think quite valid. We both share a love of exercise, specifically skiing, and staying in shape. We presented each other an image of fitness and looks, to be frank, which continued into our marriage. I then suffered a bad head injury just six months after we married.

It resulted, for whatever reasons and the reasons are complex, in my gaining a bit of weight that I’d never carried before. My wife said, “You broke the deal.” She never stopped loving me but I actually took to heart her comment. How would I have felt – being a slug of a guy – if she had gained a similar proportion of weight so soon after our marriage? How would I have felt if she were carrying around a small bowling ball in her belly, like I was?

Not happy, for sure. Would I have been as gracious as she was and so honest? She expressed her dissatisfaction with a sense of humor, but she was right. I broke the deal.

Now, I’ve gone vegan in an effort to get back to my fighting weight and stand by the conditions implicitly understood between us. And, after several years of fighting that weight gain, I’m finally heading back in the right direction.

But, let’s go back to the Colorado shooter or any other mass-murderer or perpetrator of a heinous crime. Would you still unconditionally love him or her? Would you spend all your money on hiring the best defense lawyer to either minimize the punishment or get them off? Would you defend OJ Simpson?

I sure as hell wouldn’t. I’d publicly apologize to the victims. I’d set up a memorial fund and/or something – anonymously – to help out the families and survivors. I’d live in shame the rest of my life and want to “do good” as penance.

Final Note: My wife read and approved this column – as I have her do whenever she is referenced – and she said the only unconditional love is with our pets…

We lost Charlotte - my wife's beloved dog - earlier this year.