I Love You Because You Love Me

I Love You Because You Love Me

My children have taught me a lot about the nature of love.

I have four sons who are all amazingly loving people. Their love is very simple. Uncomplicated. They both expect love to be given to them without question, and they give it freely. My sons taught me – really for the first time in my life – about unconditional love. I have feared losing the love of many people in my life, but I’ve never doubted in my sons’ love. I never had to earn it and I never felt I had to do anything other than show up and be Mom to prove my love to them.

Then I had a daughter. Much to my surprise, she seems to experience love differently. There’s an undercurrent of anxiety in the way that she both gives and receives love. She asks me if I love her several times a day – and sometimes it feels like she’s not terribly certain that the answer will always be yes. My daughter appears to believe that love is something that is never guaranteed so she likes frequent assurance that it’s still present.

This is despite being showered with the unconditional affection…even adoration…of a great many people since the moment of her birth.  If ever a child had no reason to doubt that she was wanted and loved, my daughter is that child. I wanted her desperately, I love her to the brink of insanity. We all do. My husband speculates that maybe if you’re loved that much by everyone who encounters you, the idea of losing love could terrify you. Like a very beautiful woman who worries about her looks fading even the slightest amount or a wealthy king fretting over the whereabouts of every last coin in his treasury, my daughter worries most about that which she’s richest in.

I don’t know if this is a gender thing, or a Suzy thing, but it is an interesting thing.

Once my daughter learned to write, she started to bring me little love notes. My sons did this too – it’s a wonderful stage that most children go through. And one of the notes that she brought me again and again said this: “I love you because you love me.”  

This seemed a worrying sentiment. Did she really think that love had to be an entirely reciprocal relationship? Tit for tat, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine? Could she believe that the only reason why love is given is because it is received in return?? That didn’t seem right.  I wanted her to know that I would love her no matter what. Even if she didn’t love me. Even if she felt like she hated me sometimes. I would always love her because she was wonderful and special. I would always love her just because she was her.

I started to tell her that I loved her because reasons. Not because she loved me, but because of all the amazing and fantabulous things about her.  Much to my surprise, she was not at all reassured – in fact, she seemed more worried than ever.  It was obvious that she thought “I love you because you love me” was a darn fine reason for people to love each other.  And it seemed to only increase her anxiety to hear that there were actual, tangible reasons why I loved her.

It dawned on me then that what I was telling her was actually kind of toxic. If I love her because she’s smart and funny and cute and sweet, what happens if she wasn’t those things?  Would I not love her any more?  If she woke up one morning and wasn’t in the mood to be sweet, would I love her less? Wasn’t I really telling her that she had to earn my love by being awesome every hour of every day?

Mom fail of epic proportions.

I realized then that “I love you because you love me” isn’t a troubling sentiment. It’s a beautiful one. It isn’t about earning love, it’s about sharing love. It’s about two people entering into a loving relationship and defining that relationship through their love. It is really the truest definition of unconditional love that there is. I don’t love you because of who you are or what you believe or the goals that you’ve reached. I love you because we entered into a relationship – by choice or by circumstance – in which we vowed to love each other and that’s forever because neither of us will ever, ever stop loving the other.  As long as you love me, I’ll love you. It’s a choice my daughter and I continue to make every day, from the moment the nurse brought me a little blanket-wrapped bundle right up till the bitter end (hopefully mine). Love is not a state of grace that was bestowed upon us and thus could be revoked at any time.

I love you because you love me.

Isn’t that what we’re all looking for?   

I Love You Because You Love Me

   

 


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Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

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6 thoughts on “I Love You Because You Love Me

  1. I used to discreetly roll my eyes at talk of “unconditional love.” Then I had kids. Biological imperatives are amazing things.

    It even affected my understanding of theology. God as parent is not the only metaphor used in the Bible to explain our relationship, but it is the most common one. Having kids pushed me on the road to universalism. We hear talk of God as our loving parent and talk of God condemning us to eternal damnation for any of an endless list of offenses. These two strains of thought are mutually incompatible. Pick one. Keep in mind the aforementioned frequent Biblical discussions of the parent-child relationship between God and mankind.

    As for “I love you because you love me,” if that helps your daughter then by all means go with it. But we love our children between their synapses have developed such that they can love.

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    • I try not to focus on the biological imperative angle. I remember nursing my third baby as a newborn and while it was probably just a touch of PPD I kept thinking “You only love this baby because of the influence of oxytocin on your brain that your ancestors evolved over countless generations.”

      Science is at times a harsh mistress.

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  2. I wonder if it’s a brain-wiring thing. I am also very anxious about “losing” the love of people I care about, to the point where I caught myself feeling sad that I had been “replaced” in my parents’ affections by their granddaughter (my niece).

    I mean, that’s silly and stupid, but, lots of emotional things are. I think also growing up I feared “disappointing” my parents in some way, because I was afraid they’d withdraw their love. Not that I had any evidence they would, so I again I wonder if it’s a brain-wiring thing.

    (I also wonder if it was early training from my peers; many of my friendships turned very “conditional” when some of my friends learned I would do stuff – like, give them part of my lunch at school – if they threatened to “stop being my friend.” Or I would change how I dressed and acted. I guess I was lucky I never had an early boyfriend who did the “If you loved me, you would…” thing)

    Though I don’t know that I have ever experienced unconditional love from another mortal being, and that’s sad.

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    • I wonder that too. Over time I’ve come around to a way of thinking where I now wonder if many things we perceive as being caused by some sort of trauma, are actually just brain wiring.

      As it was for me I did have quite a bit of hot/cold running parenting so I always assumed that my fear of losing affection was caused by that. But now seeing my daughter manifest the same sort of fear makes me wonder if it’s more hardwired into us.

      Recently I’ve had to face a notion exactly like what you describe with the school lunch thing. I feel like I’ve been surrounded by people who take advantage of me pretty much my whole life and I wondered what it was about me that attracted bad people. I’ve started to wonder “maybe these aren’t bad people, they’re just regular people who take advantage because I let them” and since IRL I loathe conflict I suspect there is a little something to that. People will eat you alive if you let them.

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