It was sometime in the first few months of our relationship, we were spooning in sublime sweetness when the following words flowed from my heart...
“I promise to love you unconditionally, but I won’t promise to be unconditionally available.”
4 + years of epic loving later, I still come back to this heart commitment over and over again. It has served us well. While I have not always perfectly executed this two part promise, I know that this vow has been foundational to some profoundly good, grounded loving.
You might be wondering what I meant by those words.
Unconditional Love vs Unconditional Availability
I’m sure the phrase “unconditional love” is very familiar to you. We all want it. Many spiritually inclined folks seek to offer it. We all know the pain of it’s opposite-- conditional love. "If you do this I’ll love you, you do that I won’t.” It sucks. Who really wants to give or receive love like that?
When it comes to things that don’t have any inherent limits to them, I feel my best when I offer them unconditionally. Positive regard, respect, appreciation, understanding, acceptance... These aspects of Love have no boundaries-- none other than the ones I place on them. It feels really good when I can intentionally dissolve my inner boundaries and offer these qualities of Love freely; unconditionally.
But what about that part about not being unconditionally available? I needed that part for my health and sanity-- it was a expression of self-love. In the past I’ve made the mistake of not honoring the conditions I need to thrive in a relationship. With those words, I was acknowledging the fact that my time, energy, resources, body, bank account and attention has some inherent limitations. And things with limitations comes with conditions.
What Relationship Conditions Do You Need to Thrive?
Much like plants have certain conditions in which they can survive, we humans all have certain conditions in which we thrive.
What conditions do you need to make your weekends available to another? Your holidays? What sort of behaviors, commitments or qualities do you need before you are willing to give someone access to your body? Do you do best with seeing an intimate twice a week? Daily? What track record does someone need to display before you will happily invest your financial resources to help grow a relationship?
These are important particulars to ask yourself, as every person is different. Much like plants differ in their ideal conditions, humans also have different conditions in which they are most vibrant and fulfilled.
Full Moon Reflection
On today’s Full Moon, with the Sun in Pisces (the sign of unconditional love and all boundaryless things) and the Moon in Virgo (the sign of health and particulars), it feels like a good time to reflect on this two part heart contract. To me, this heart proclamation seems like an answer to the koan of loving as a limitless spirit in a limited human body.
As a spirit, I love to love. My heart is designed to love. Shutting down the flow of love hurts.
In the past, I’ve made the mistake of trying to back my love with nearly unlimited access to my limited resources. I have poured money into boyfriends-- more money than I had. I have given most all of my free time to significant others-- so much so that my other relationships and interests suffered. And I have given men access to sacred parts of my body, before the conditions were right for me. It hurt.
As a result of conflating my spirit’s impulse to share boundaryless love with giving unconditional access to my finite resources I depleted myself-- emotionally, energetically and financially.
I’ve learned from my mistakes. That heart vow 4 + years ago was a testimony to lessons learned.
Balanced Love in Transitions
I find this way of loving (differentiating between what to give freely and what to give under certain conditions) to be most obviously helpful when it comes to navigating relationship transitions.
For example, I was counseling a friend who was having a hard time with a relationship in transition. He was in pain and preoccupied; having difficulty showing up for his work and music making projects. He wanted to be in a committed relationship with this women he had been dating. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to be with him or another guy. For him, being in a non-monogamous relationship wasn’t an option. It was not a condition in which he could thrive.
His instinct was to get angry, shut down, say “screw her” and try and focus on his life. But he wasn’t doing it very well. He was bouncing back and forth between wanting to love her and be with her and trying to shut down the love and physically distance himself from her. It was painful and tumultuous.
When I heard about his situation I asked, “What would it be like to love her the way she is and still choose to take space? Could you not say “screw you” rather “bless you” and still pull your energies inward?”
Something clicked. The next day he was doing much better. He was so much more present and excited about spending the coming weekend camping by himself (a trip they were going to take together.) He was learning to let go of his desire to spend time with her without shutting down his love for her. The result was peace and an open heart.
How could this way of loving serve you?
How can you love without limits and still honor the conditions that you need to thrive?