In my early 20s I fell in love with a delightful Australian man whilst romantically sailing around Croatia with a bunch of drunk, sunburnt Aussies.
It was a whirlwind romance that started with hand-holding in a cave bar, and lasted 13 days before we declared our love for each other and embarked on a long distance relationship between Sydney and Dublin.
But back to that story in a minute…
As far as I can tell, there are two types of romantic love.
One is needing, clinging, expecting, demanding, and conditional.
The other is unconditional, freely given, never reneged, and given with no strings – with complete freedom and lack of expectations.
The first type of “love” doesn’t really seem like love at all.
Our two minds come together to create an elaborate a story about how we look good together. We play out our future together in our heads. We’re stoked that we get to walk smugly down the street showing our non-singleness off to the world.
We feel extra special, knowing that this hot biscuit has chosen us over everyone else on Bumble.
In attachment-love, we use our partner to enhance our sense of identity.
They add new depth to “the story of me.”
Attachment-love comes with a set of conditions:
I love you so long as you love me back. I love you so long as you buy me flowers. I love you so long as you take out the rubbish bins. I love you so long as you don’t look at other women. I love you so long as you’re not grumpy. I love you so long as you excite me/ don’t bore me.I love you so long as you make me happy.
We enter into this push pull of conditional love – I love you – I withhold love from you – I love you – I stonewall you – I love you – I hate you.
If you do anything to hurt or piss me off, I remove my love from you because you’ve broken our unspoken set of expectations.
We can even become resentful and punish our partners with the silent treatment when they don’t meet our expectations.
Falling in love almost always seems to fall into this category of attachment-based love.
To begin with, everything was magical with my new Aussie bloke.
We decided we had found the “one”, and had a ridiculous amount of excellent sex, and when we had to part ways after our 13 Croatian days, we both felt physically sick.
That was the first sign we were in “attachment-love.” We couldn’t let each other go.
Before I met him, I felt like there was something missing in my life.
Together we felt “whole”, he filled a void in me that I didn’t know how to fill myself.
All my problems seemed to disappear.
We became obsessed, we clung to each other mentally and physically, missing each other all the time, obsessing about the “story of us” in our minds,
and not wanting to spend any time apart (despite the obvious issue of being on opposite sides of the world while I studied in Dublin).
This is attachment.
And it makes us crazy.
“Try not to confuse attachment with love. Attachment is about fear and dependency and has more to do with love of self than love of another.” – Yasmin Mogahed
A year into our relationship and finally living together in Sydney, it was bliss for at least 2.5 seconds. Before long, my brain quickly became accustomed to the presence of him in my life, this man I’d been craving for almost a year, and before I knew it, the drug-like high of attachment-love had started to wear off.
When it did, my restless unhappiness began to resurface.
At which time I promptly blamed him.
I caused fights, got upset a lot, broke up with him periodically, and caused a lot of mayhem for the poor guy.
When we fall into “attachment love”, there eventually comes a time when the hormone fireworks begin to fade, and we become angry or disappointed at our partner for not being able to make us happy anymore.
We demand that they tell us they love us more, give us more attention, buy us more flowers.
We start to wonder if maybe they’re not the one after all.
Because nothing they do will ever fill the void.
The longer we try to fill it with someone else, the more resentful we become of them. And the less likely we are to get what we want from them.
Attachment love is always WANTING something from someone else.
The perpetual question is “What can I get from you?”.
Then we have the other kind of love – unconditional love.
Unconditional love always asks “what can I give you?”
This kind of love is (in my opinion), the only type of love that is actually worth pursuing.
Not that we need to pursue it – it’s in us all the time – we just can’t access it a lot of the time.
When I feel happy, I automatically love Bloody Good Chap extra, both in my head when he’s not around, (I’m more likely to text him something lovely), and in person (extra hugs and Love-Actually style flying leaps into his arms just when he least expects it).
When I’m on fire and loving life, I can love almost anyone (except people that stand on the right of the escalator).
When I’m in this state, I can see the good in everyone and everything around me much more readily.
Yet when I’m feeling dull and faded, I find it harder to feel love towards others – even people that I “know” logically that I love.
On those days I love with my IQ, but I can’t feel anything much in my body – no warmth, no ballooning expansive feeling in my chest, no crinkles in my eyes.
Unconditional love has nothing to do with the other person we “love”. It’s a state of being.
It’s a bit like the sun. The sun radiates light, it doesn’t discriminate.
It doesn’t say “Hey, you, asshole down there, you didn’t take out the rubbish bins. No light for you today!”
It’s just there, doing sun stuff, beaming light all over the place like it’s no big deal.
If you put up an umbrella to protect yourself, it doesn’t get pissed that you’re being defensive, it just keeps on shining at you.
If you turn on another sexy source of mood lighting, the sun doesn’t get jealous. It just keeps on doing shiny sun stuff.
If you think about the light beaming from the sun as the love that is in all humans and animals, we’re getting closer to the truth of unconditional love.
Dogs seem to find it pretty easy to radiate unconditional love all over you, a bit like the sun. You step on their paw, they love you. You leave them at home all day, they love you. You forget to feed them, they love you.
Because they don’t have a voice in their head that says
“A-ha!! I KNEW that she’d forget about my dinner. I’ve had it with this shit, I’m going to passive aggressively avoid her.”*
(*Occasionally dogs actually kind of do this – some dogs and cats seem to be able to learn these bad behaviours off humans – but not always).
Humans are capable of radiating unconditional love all over everyone else too.
It just takes a fair bit more work, because humans have a lot of conditioning and barriers that block us off from our own source of love – our attention.
We’re basically each like a mini sun. When you shine your conscious attention on people with non-judgemental presence and curiosity – just watch them light up.
Yet instead of shining our loving awareness on everyone we meet, we prefer to wear a huge-ass Harry Potter cloak and hide our shiny sun-ness.
The cloak says “I can’t love you too much, you might hurt me. I can’t let you know how I feel, it’s not safe. I can’t love you, you don’t deserve my love. You haven’t earned it.”
The cloak is made up of layers and layers of fears, insecurities, and stories in the mind about all the past hurts and disappointments we’ve known.
To love unconditionally, we only have to find the place in us where our mind doesn’t obscure our attention.
This is presence.
Pure presence is unconditional love.
From this place you can love anyone – whether they hurt you or not, whether they meet your expectations or not. You can fully see them and all their flaws, and not take anything personally.
You love them INCLUDING their insecurities and fears and annoying habits – not in spite of them.
Which is why when I’m at my most present, I love Bloody Good Chap extra – simply because I can more fully feel that I am a mini sun, giving off energy and love, and I can see that he is just the same as me – also a mini sun, whether he hurts me or not, whether he does what I wish he’d do or not – and he projects the light right back at me.
If you want someone to love you more – try unconditionally loving them first.
Ask not “what can I get from them?”, but “what can I give them?”
No expectations, no judgements, no strings.
Just watch them light up and love you back.