My door flung open, and before her face even peered through it, she was yelling, “Drive the damn speed limit!!!!”
This woman had been tailing my car for half a mile. You’d be lucky if you could fit a meter stick between our bumpers. And she was so mad that when I parked in a shopping center, she stormed up to my car and started screaming at me. As she yelled at me with bold-face anger, I stared back at this madwoman with the my-life-is-flashing-before-my-
“Do you even understand how frustrating it is to drive behind you when you’re going 27 in a 30?!”
At this point, she actually got into my car, sat in the passenger seat, put her back against the car door, and continued yelling at me. And all I could think was, What the hell… I’m almost slack-jawed listening to her. Her face started to get hot. It lowered and furrowed into a fury-stance for the perfect projection of her wrath.
I felt this uncomfortable blend of anger and awkwardness and surprise. I didn’t know what to do. This woman burst into my car, started screaming at me, and I’m just palms-up dumbfounded. What do I do? Politely ask her to exit my vehicle while she’s turning purple? Give her the “shh” sign as I have a calm conversation with the police? Physically reprimand her and remove her from my vehicle?
I wasn’t about to physically extract my fiancé from my car, call the police on her, or ask her to leave. She’s pretty stubborn. And she was really mad. That wasn’t happening. So instead, I buckled up for the wild ride and got my game face on. If she wanted a screaming match about me obeying the law, she was going to get it. Let’s tango, woman.
As we yelled back and forth, I escalated. I got louder and meaner. I strapped it with curse words to make sure my point pricked and stuck to her skin. We took turns lobbing verbal grenades over the center console and pretending like the flak from the explosion didn’t hurt us both. Many times, in anticipation for her explosives, I turned away from her when she talked. I’m not going to look at you, I’m not going to pretend I’m listening to you, I’m not going to pretend I care about what you’re saying because you’re WRONG. And until you realize you’re wrong and I’m right, I’m done!!
And with my arms crossed and my teeth clenched tight, I hunkered in. I’m an impenetrable wall. I’m a tank. I’m going to win this. But while I was thinking all of that, I got this whisper inside of me, “Hold her hand.” My insides lurched at the thought of touching this crazy intruder. I was under a strict No Affection policy at that moment. After all, she has no right to throw a fit about me obeying the law, so I have no reason to pretend like I love her right now.
Again, “Hold her hand.” No! No, no, NO! I’m so pissed right now, it’s not even funny! I can’t see straight! She’s still yelling at me as I think this. I am right. She is wrong. She needs to know that. And that’s that.
“Hold her hand.”
Many of us have had a blowout fight with a significant other. And if you haven’t yet, you’re in for a real treat when you do. It gets hot and ugly and messy. It’s easy to hurt the person you know the best because you know where they’re weak. You know the pressure points and the soft spots. You know the things no one else knows about them, and you have the opportunity to leverage those vulnerabilities to win.
If you’re loud, you can outshout them. If you’re big, you can flare up and intimidate them. If you’re gifted in facial expression, you can practically melt them with your eyes. If you’re intelligent, you can outwit them. If you’re fast, you can just spit out so many words they have no idea what to do. You can use whatever tactic you want that works best for you to get out of the argument whatever you’re seeking.
But if you love them conditionally, you’re tossing anthrax into the living water of your relationship. And it will slowly and surely murder you both.
It’s a subtle separater. It’s small decisions of unlove or disapproval. It’s being sad until they give you what you want. It’s doing something for them only when they’ve completed something for you. It’s even in the words you say: “I love you, but…when you do that, you embarrass me.”
What you’re really communicating in any conditional love moment is that I will love you when you shape up. I will love you when you deserve my love. I will love you if you love me. I will love you if you do what I want you to do. I will love you when you make me happy. I will love you when it’s convenient for me. I will love you when it’s easy. I will love you if you love me. This kind of conditional love slowly unravels the foundational trust necessary in a relationship. Although there’s no contract, the trust that “you will love me, and I will love you even when we suck” is at the core of every relationship. And conditional love picks that apart stitch by stitch, leaving them uneasy and anxious that it all might fall apart at any moment. As that festers, they will naturally begin to guard themselves and brace for impact. Slowly, imperceptibly at first, the space between you will grow until you’re so far away that it just makes sense to separate.
And the scary part about this is that most of the time it’s not something we’re consciously doing. It’s in a disapproving look when they do that quirky thing in public. It’s in an attitude when you begrudgingly clean up after them when they didn’t make you feel appreciated. It’s in a thought when you tally score and bubble with resentment as they continue to underperform. It’s in a non-action when you choose to withhold affection because you’re mad or sad or unfulfilled. And even though most of the time you might not be verbally saying it, your message is being clearly communicated in your demeanor or your nonverbals. And if you let it build and collect, it will poison your relationship.
It’s not easy to love unconditionally. Or to apologize when you’re wrong and sacrifice your pride. Or to continue to serve when you don’t feel you’re being appreciated. It’s not easy to accept them as they are when it prods at your insecurities when they act that way. And because it’s not easy, you won’t do it right all the time. You’re not expected to be perfect. Ever. But unconditional love isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be hard. Because when you reach over and you grab your fiancé’s hand in the middle of a blowout argument, it tells her something no act of easy love ever could. It tells her with certainty, “I’m here with you. You may have hurt me and frustrated me, but you are not my enemy. Even when you go batshit crazy, I still choose you. On your worst days, I will still love you, and I will still want to be with you. And no matter what you do to me, I will love you. I am yours, and I always will be. You have me. Unconditionally.”
So let this be the whisper to you: Hold her hand. Hold his hand back. Love unconditionally.