Mid-conditional love

Link post

People talk about unconditional love and conditional love. Maybe I’m out of the loop regarding the great loves going on around me, but my guess is that love is extremely rarely unconditional. Or at least if it is, then it is either very broadly applied or somewhat confused or strange: if you love me unconditionally, presumably you love everything else as well, since it is only conditions that separate me from the worms.

I do have sympathy for this resolution—loving someone so unconditionally that you’re just crazy about all the worms as well—but since that’s not a way I know of anyone acting for any extended period, the ‘conditional vs. unconditional’ dichotomy here seems a bit miscalibrated for being informative.

Even if we instead assume that by ‘unconditional’, people mean something like ‘resilient to most conditions that might come up for a pair of humans’, my impression is that this is still too rare to warrant being the main point on the love-conditionality scale that we recognize.

People really do have more and less conditional love, and I’d guess this does have important, labeling-worthy consequences. It’s just that all the action seems to be in the mid-conditional range that we don’t distinguish with names. A woman who leaves a man because he grew plump and a woman who leaves a man because he committed treason both possessed ‘conditional love’.

So I wonder if we should distinguish these increments of mid-conditional love better.

What concepts are useful? What lines naturally mark it?

One measure I notice perhaps varying in the mid-conditional affection range is “when I notice this person erring, is my instinct to push them away from me or pull them toward me?” Like, if I see Bob give a bad public speech, do I feel a drive to encourage the narrative that we barely know each other, or an urge to pull him into my arms and talk to him about how to do better?

This presumably depends on things other than the person. For instance, the scale and nature of the error: if someone you casually like throws a frisbee wrong, helping them do better might be appealing. Whereas if that same acquaintance were to kick a cat, your instinct might be to back away fast.

This means perhaps you could construct a rough scale of mid-conditional love in terms of what people can do and still trigger the ‘pull closer’ feeling. For instance, perhaps there are:

  • People who you feel a pull toward when they misspell a word

  • People who you feel a pull toward when they believe something false

  • People who you feel a pull toward when they get cancelled

(You could also do this with what people can do and still be loved, but that’s more expensive to measure than minute urges.)