Stop Romanticizing Unconditional Love

When I was in high school, my girlfriends and I spent every lunch period gossiping about our boyfriends. Hopelessly lovestruck, engulfed by the rapture of our first “serious” relationships, we half-jokingly competed for who loved her partner most. And so the game commenced:

“Would you still love him even if he could never touch you again?”

“Would you still love him even if he cheated?”

“Would you still love him even if he was a serial killer?”

The cruder the scenarios, the louder our howls filled the crowded cafeteria. We wore our adamant YES!s like badges of pride. When the questions became too gruesome, we buried our faces in our hands and moaned our defeat, feeling guilty as we reached the limits of our love.

That game was only a joke — wasn’t it? As I reflect on it now, I’m not so sure. In this culture, we — young girls, especially — are taught that love, if strong enough, can withstand all misfortune, strife, and conflict. We’re taught to seek and to offer unconditional love: love that will be there no matter what.

As we get older, we watch our friends stay in abusive relationships in the name of unconditional love. All around us, our friends and family members endure lifeless, barren marriages in the name of unconditional love. We find something very “romantic” about the woman who marries a total dud, but shrugs her shoulders with a resigned smile and says, “I don’t know what it is about Bob, but I just love him, even when he’s totally an asshole 90% of the time!” (Be honest: we all know that person.)

As I got older, I began searching for unconditional love in earnest. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t find it.) Nose-to-nose with partners in the darkness, I would trace their cheek with the tip of my finger and whisper proudly, “I will love you, no matter what.” It was a scene copied verbatim from every tear-jerker I’d ever seen.

Now, I don’t want unconditional love. Here’s why:

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