Have you ever put a friendship that you really value to the test? Not necessarily on purpose, but as part of life, you mess up and they are hurt, and you both have to find a way to heal?
Unconditional love is something I heard a lot about growing up Christian. God loves us unconditionally, Jesus loves us unconditionally, our parents, and sometimes extended family love us unconditionally. Typically that is where the expectation of unconditional love ends, and the acceptance of conditional love begins.
Sometimes unconditional love is examined in terms of romantic partnership — especially when people share years of their lives together. The thinking seems to be that when you partner with someone on a permanent basis, especially if you are married, then you are transcending the realm of conditional love and entering into something more divine… something that summons unconditional love.
An interesting thing happens when you leave home at 17 and live over 1100 miles away for young adulthood. You create a family for yourself — usually before you are ready to have the type of romantic bond that leads to that transcendent, unconditional love. Until that point, you move through life gathering a collection of people who grow with you in the context of the reality of your new world away from home. The friends you chose at the beginning of your journey become the family you lean on.
Family is a funny thing when you’re in your 20’s. Sometimes interest in your blood relatives plays second-fiddle to the life you are trying to create for yourself. This is where the family you create comes in — they understand you intimately, which is not necessarily something people always say about blood relatives. That said, our 20’s are not particularly well-known for financial stability, and most of us know there is a certain unpleasant necessity to looking out for number one. It’s one thing to be generous on your own terms, but when you’re asked to be generous on family-level terms, in an unconditionally loving way, that is when the boundaries between conditional and unconditional love become blurred.
I don’t know the answer to the question in the title of this piece. I don’t know where the boundary is for who you do or do not give unconditional love to. But the thing about unconditional love that I always forget is that if it truly is unconditional, it’s not about making the choice to love someone in hard situations, it is about knowing that there is nothing that person could do that would make you walk away. Your parents may not have been happy when you wrecked their new car, but there was never a question of whether they would continue to love you. If you wreck a friend’s new car there is a chance, even within the best of friendships, that your relationship will be rocked to the core. It is in those moments, when you mess up at the expense of a friend you care deeply about, that you find out who you’ve given your unconditional love to, and who is giving you unconditional love in return.