Underneath my yellow skin

Unconditional love vs. reasonable boundaries

While I was doing my Taiji routine this morning, I had music on as I was doing the forms as was my wont these days. It’s funny how the playlists that YouTube makes for me just includes all the songs I like with no context. So Rihanna is followed by Vienna Teng, who is then followed by a showtune. I’m fine with that because it shakes things up, but still keeps it in my comfort zone.

The song, Locked Away by R. City, ft. Adam Levine, came on. I want to stress that I like the song and think it’s a banger. However, I reject the entire premise of the song as being ridiculous, and it irritates me every time I hear the song. The song starts out:

If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly
Would you still love me the same?

To which I always say, “No! No I would not!” In the context of the song, it’s easy to realize that the singer is basically asking for unconditional love and framing it as if his partner was unreasonable. In the video, she’s streessing about bills and he’s like, “You gotta trust me.” It’s clear that we’re supposed to think she unreasonable for nagging him about those pesky bills and should just assume they will get taken care of by magic.

Or by him robbing someone–which is how he ends up in jail. Look. It’s a song/video. It’s allowed to take whatever creative licenses it wants. But the bottom line is that she was reasonable to question him because bills need to be paid, and some vague dream isn’t going to do it. There are other examples in the video, but this is the one tha really irritated me.

It’s because I was raised by narcissistic parents who believed that unconditional love came with strings heavily attached. Or rather, their kids should have unconditional love for them, but not vice-versa. They added culture to it as in, “In Taiwanese culture, you’re supposed to respect your elders.” Which I don’t have a problem with, but there should be at least a baseline of respect for your children as welll, I would think. And if that’s too American, well, I am an American. I was born and raised in this country and do believe that every human being is worthy of a baseline level of respect just for benig a human being.

My last therapist worked with me on setting boundaries within my family. My mom didn’t like that therapist because as my mother said, “She doesn’t understand that in Taiwanese culture, family is everything.” My mother also said, “You and I used to be so close, but now that has changed” with the implication that it was my therapist’s fault.

This is incorrect. We have never been close. She doesn’t know the first thing about me. What she means by close is that she can dump all her emotions on me, and I will jsut take it. That is her definition of unconditional love, even if she wouldn’t admit it. She may not even realize it herself, but it’s true.

That’s why I am immediately suspicious when someone mentions unconditional love. First, there is no such thing. Everyone has limits to their love or conditions under which they will show love. I may be overly nitpicky and they mean that the feeling of love for someone is unconditional, but I don’t think even that is ture.

And more to the point, love as a feeling is irrelevant. My mother says she loves my brother and me the most all the time, but her actuions don’t reflect that. Her actions say that my father is the center of her universe and the only tihng in said universe. The former has always been true, and the latter has become true since my father’s dementia has worsened.

This is why I have no tolerance for being told I’m loved repeatedly if it’s not backed up with actions. I did have a (now ex) boyfriend who refused to say he loved me because he was saving it for his future wife, and that felt bad as well, but he didn’t show he loved me, really, either. He was very militant about not showing PDA to the point of not wanting to seem like we’re a couple. That didn’t do much for my self-esteem, either.

I found out later that he was still in a relationship with his last girlfriend who was abroad for a semester. He demanded they open their relationship and then asked me out. We were ‘best friends’ at that point. I put that in quotes because obviously, he had an ulterior motive. This told me a lot about unconditional love/unhealthy boundaries/trusting a partner, etc. The lesson I learned wasn’t good, but it did open my eyes to the fact that I had been way too trusting.

I have difficulties with people who blatantly lie to me because I tell the truth. I may not tell all of the truth, but I don’t lie about things, either. Well, for the most part. Or rather, I don’t lie about important things. Things like how am I doing ? Lie cheerfully and easily. Things like what is the meaning of life according to me? I’m a lot more circumspect.

It never occured to me that my ex would lie like that. To be fair to me, why would it? He was doing unethical nonmonagamy and apparently had no qualms about it. Another ex wanted to be nonmonogamous, and I reluctantly agreed. When I wanted to accept a date with someone else, though, he flipped out. He had a feeble excuse for it, but the bottom line was that he wanted me at home twiddling my thumbs while he hooked up with other women.

It took me a long time to come to the conclusion that unconditional love is often code for ‘let me abuse you’. Not always, but more often than not. In the first stanza of the song I quoted above, of course you’re going to feel differently about someone based on what they do. If your partner robs someone, gets caught, and goes to jail, that’s going to affect how you feel about them. Just as if they win an award, get a promotion at work, and a 30% raise, it’ll change how you feel.

Maybe not the amorphous love you feel for them, but definitiely the warm fuzzies. Some people might think that’s transactional, but relationships are transactional. I don’t necessarily mean in a bad way, but there is an exchange going on. And just as if you keep taking money out of a bank you’ll be broke, if you keep doing negative things to a person (or negative things that affect a person), they won’t feel as warmly about you.

Not only would I argue that this isn’t a bad thing, I would further say that it’s actually a good thing. You *should* feel differently about someone if they do things that hurt or help you. Otherwise, if it’s the former, it’s just abuse. If it’s the latter, it’s being unappreciative. And I’m not saying it’s a direct line from action to love, but it’s not NOT connected, either.

People like to cite Mother Teresa as the epitome of unconditional love, but she wasn’t. She was the epitome of something, but that something was racist white woman colonist exacrebating the pain and suffering of poor brown people. She was no saint, and the fact that people revere her so much is grotesque.

I believe in love. I believe it’s beautiful and amazing and uplifting. But I don’t believe in unconditional love because there are always limits to it. We are human beings with flaws. We are not capable of limitless love. Close to it, maybe, but not in actuality. We like to think parents are the closest when it comes to it, and maybe that’s true. But parents are human beings, too, which means they are just as fucked up as the rest of us.

I believe that you should love people to the best of your ability and accept their love in return. You should know that everyone has their limitations and know what you will and won’t accept. That’s good boundaries, and that’s more important than unconditional love.

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