Woman looking into the camera smiling on a beautiful autumn day, with a slight sense of hesitation.
Communication

No One Has Ever Loved Anyone

I love potent little phrases (it’s why I run a quotation-browsing website), and I recently came across a great one. It seems that Mignon McLaughlin once quipped:

No one has ever loved anyone the way everyone wants to be loved.

It bowled me over. Because it immediately struck me as both true and useful.

First, lets play with its truthiness. If we were to make the quotation into some sort of logical proof, that proof would postulate, first, that there is a “way everyone wants to be loved.” And then it says that no one has ever loved another in that way.

It feels reasonable to sign up to the postulate that there is a way that everyone wants to be loved. What kind of love is that? Well, it’s fond and appreciative and fun, of course, but it’s also unconditional. I don’t think anyone wants to believe that whatever fondness and mutual support and whatever else they think comes with love is accompanied by any sort of precondition.

And this is the rub of the whole line: humans are, generally, unable to love in a precondition-less way. We’ll love our romantic partner, but only if they’re able to continue to provide for the family, or to be attractive to us physically, or to be available to us emotionally. Whichever of those or some other is the real friction point in the relationship, there almost certainly is one.

And there are good reasons for this: our survival is helped by mutually beneficial relationships. Unconditionality requires that we stop assuring that we get some benefit from a relationship. To move in relationship without precondition means that we can only score whether or not we’re having a positive impact on the partner to that relationship. Watching and counting what they do (or do not) for us would be a part of the calculus of rationally justifiable conditionality.

Almost all relationships between humans contain at least one regular point of friction. Even if it is as small as sometimes quibbling about what seasoning is best for the Sunday sauce, there is always some part of a relationship that doesn’t work seamlessly. Somewhere where there’s anger, or fear, or just plain old apathy to be found.

And that’s why “no one has ever loved anyone the way everyone wants to be loved.” Now, why did I say it’s instructive? Because it points our way to a better love. We can love people intensely, but we probably aren’t giving them as perfect a love as they’d like. But so frequently, because we’re lazy or blind, we deny that. We don’t accept that we may own some part of the strain that we’re both subconsciously aware has started to show in our relationship.

If we’re able to take it as a starting point that “no one has ever loved anyone” so well that there was no friction, no conditionality, no difficulty, we can use it as a place to begin to work to make our loves and relationships stronger. It can be hard to accept, especially if you’re blinded by either your romanticism or your rational self-defense. But you can love better, in a way more like the target of your love would like. And if you work on it with seriousness, you will.

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Communication

“I’m Not Afraid of the Dark”

Dark has an interesting place in human experience. Many children’s first and most enduring fear is of darkness. I, to this day, get a little spooked in completely or unexpectedly dark places.

Mythically and metaphorically, though, darkness is a lot more than just the absence of light. Darkness is a synonym for the unknown. For the things that we’d rather hide away in places where no one can see them. For the things we’re ashamed of and scared of and feel bad for and wish were different.

In Josh Ritter’s song “Long Shadows”, you’ll find the lyrics:

Every time that they start
I’ll be right here with you
I’m not afraid of the dark

One of the big blockers in communication and understanding is that we are scared to talk honestly and openly. We’re scared that other people in our life will be scared off by our darkness — be it a past action we regret, a thought we have a lot but never act upon, whatever — that we close down and cut off the conversation and journey of mutual understanding.

Unconditional love is not easy, but when really achieved I think it contains one really important trait that most lesser kinds of love do not: a cofindence in the loved person that the lover will “be right here with you, … not afraid of the dark.”

Communicating that kind of love is not something you can do in sentence, or a day, or even probably a year. It’s the kind of thing that takes a lot of time. People are aware of the gaps between what people say and what they really mean. And so we have to, to communicate something as big and monumental as a fearless steadfastness in our love, demonstrate it regularly and repeatedly. Then, and only then, is the receiver likely to slowly warm to its truth. That “I’ll be right here with you, I’m not afraid of the dark.”

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