In the last few posts, I have written about things I think I “know”, like my love for Suzanne and how the life we (especially as widowers) live after the death of our spouse is hard. In my healing process, and especially the learnings I have gained since the failure of my first post loss relationship, I have discovered everything is about love and being kind—whatever happens in our lives, whatever choices we make, it usually comes down to love and kindness for self and/or for others.
But looking back, and for the longest time, I’m not sure I truly understood what it means to say, “I have unconditional love” for someone (or something). That doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced it, just that the concept has always seemed alien; yet so many people say it’s not only possible to give it, but also receive it.
So, what does it truly mean? Is it subjective? Is there a dictionary definition? I decided to google the question, “what does unconditional love mean?” And, this was the answer:
“To define unconditional love is to say that a person loves someone unselfishly, that he or she cares about the happiness of the other person and will do anything to help that person feel happiness without expecting anything in return.
In other words, the definition of unconditional love is ‘love without conditions’.”Dr. Google
So, if this means we can love without any conditions, then why does it almost always feel that—after the experience of a loss—we move into new relationships with the condition that we have to keep the love we had for our dead spouse alive in our hearts? In my first post loss relationship, I found that the person I was with not only wanted me to be able to give 100% of my heart to her, but also wanted me to consider carefully how I chose to both honor and describe the love I had for Suzanne.
When I look back through rose colored glasses, and sometimes see the love Suzanne and I had as one that was pretty much unconditional, I start to wonder if she would have felt the same as my new person had (if the situation had been reversed). It’s hard to imagine her feeling like I couldn’t have honored or kept that love alive because she wasn’t a jealous person, but then I have to think about whether it was it jealousy that was causing my new person to feel the way she did? Or, was it simply a desire to be loved unconditionally?
As I pondered that question, I also began to question how my daughters must have felt about all this. At one stage prior to dating, I stopped wearing my wedding ring. Then, after learning that wearing the rings around my neck when I was with my new person made her uncomfortable, I stopped wearing the chain which I had started to wear just two days after Suzi died (see my earlier post). Later, I started to put things away that reminded me of Suzanne. I removed her picture from the lock screen of my phone and also from my Facebook profile. I put away the photos that were on my desk and on my nightstand. Was I choosing to remove her and the memories because painful reminders of the past? Was it because I had her unconditional love in my heart forever? What was I feeling? What was I doing? How was it affecting both the relationship I had with my children and with my new person?
After the end of that first relationship, I questioned what had motivated me to do all this? Was it the right thing to do (judging myself)? Was the love I had for Suzanne being put away so that I could fit the desire of my new love to make her feel comfortable? Was I trying to prove that I was able to love her more? Were these conditions I was artificially attaching to each relationship? Was there truly a way to remove conditions from both relationships, so that I could honor Suzi’s love for me and mine for her, while simultaneously offering unconditional love to my new person? How would trying to do this affect my children and my relationship with them?
In the moments since the end of my relationship, I have thought about all these questions and more. Since that time, I have truly felt that they were things I didn’t want to think about, so instead of tackling them and addressing them and the feelings associated with it all, I cast them aside for sake of an easy existence. But, as all things left unresolved tend to do, this all came back to bite me in the ass…
Now, I have reached many different conclusions and have decided that I was being both unfair to my self and to my new person when I put those things away. I was hurting inside because I was forcing myself to cast aside that love and try to shoehorn my feelings into a new relationship without healthily honoring the old love. That is not unconditional love. That’s love that is fraught with pitfalls and comparisons. It is love that conflates an old relationship and impinged on my capacity to really connect at the deepest level because the guilt and shame I felt inside me for hiding my true feelings was impacting everything I did. While I don’t like to judge anything, I look back and realize that I was not in the right space, either with my feelings for Suzanne or for my new partner. It undermined and doomed that relationship. I placed too many conditions on my love. I placed too many conditions on the person receiving my love.
I read this morning what another writer wrote, “And yet, great love challenges us in relevant and necessary ways. In witnessing the awesome aspects of your coupledom in tandem with your human struggles and differences, legitimate love invites and prompts personal growth. The becoming of their best possible self, while adoring exactly who they are at this very moment.” I could not achieve this in that relationship. To her, and for that, I am profoundly sorry. But now, I have been able to see that we were both hurting. And I was, though unaware, making that even more difficult by placing conditions on the love I gave and received.