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?