Love is a slippery little eel of a concept. The problem with love is
that as soon as you begin to analyze it, it appears to stop being love.
I call this the Humility Effect, after the fact that as soon as you know
that you are humble, you no longer are. With love, for example, if I
buy my wife flowers, it makes her happy, which makes me happy. So
really I bought her flowers not because of some romantic altruistic love
but because I'm just a selfish SOB who really wants to make himself happy.
Unconditional love is even trickier. This is the
I-Love-You-even-if-you-turn-out- to-be-an-axe-murderer kind of love.
My dog has this kind of love. Dioge doesn't love me just because I
feed her. We tested this the night both Rebecca and I thought the
other had fed her and she didn't eat at all. If anything, she
snuggled all that much closer with all that much more affection.
Interestingly, some men and women attempt this strategy of lover abuse
intentionally in the dating scene, with surprising success.
My unconditional love for Rebecca was recently tested when she failed to
show up for dinner one night. My son Skylar can get on my nerves
after a few hours too, and Rebecca, when she left the house that morning,
had the glazed look of a convict seeing freedom for the first time in
years. I decided to act selfishly, buying her favorite fish, fresh
vegetables, and cut flowers because I knew they would make her happy which
would make me happy. I was a little late in getting dinner started,
but apparently not late enough. I pulled the fish out of the oven,
looking out the window every fifteen seconds to see if she had pulled up
Time is elastic. If you're late for a plane, time goes by instantly.
But if you arrive that hour early you're supposed to, time lets you wait
and savor every excruciating and boring detail. I watched the time
stretch like taffy into forty-five minutes. Up to this point, I had
decided that dinner was already cold so I might as well wait. A
half-hour later my stomach didn't care if I ate alone or not. But in
my heart it just seemed wrong to eat without her since I would have never
put together a romantic spread like this for myself. (I haven't yet
figured out how to be selfish enough to make myself happy, which of course
would make me happy.)
Then I got to thinking. If I didn't eat now, then Rebecca would feel
terrible that I hadn't eaten because of her. Despite my best crack
at remaining unconditional, this idea was becoming attractive. But
it didn't really matter; if I ate I was selfish and if I didn't eat I was
selfish. Either way, I was selfish. Such is the mystery of
I didn't want to get into a fight as soon as she walked in, so I left a
note taped to the door, hoping that it would take care of everything:
"Being late is it's own punishment." Then I sat back down
at the table to contemplate my ruined meal. "What should I
do?" I asked Skylar as I bounced him on my knee.
At this, Skylar proceeded to projectile vomit all over me. I held
him securely as he heaved several times, afraid that my reflexes might try
to launch him across the room so I could escape the smell. Finally
he stopped. He shook in my arms. I stripped off my pants with
one hand, not wanting to create a snail trail across the house, then
carried him gently to the bathroom, where we both climbed into the tub.
As I stripped Skylar down and cleaned him off, I realized what
unconditional love really is: it has no conditions. It doesn't whine
about how much trouble it is going through. It doesn't demand that
things be made up for later. And it doesn't demand that the
gift-debt be passed on to someone else. It is a gift, freely given,
no strings attached.
I'm always amazed at what a good puke can do for the soul. One
minute you're praying to God to just take you and end it all and the next
you're feeling as frisky as a cat in a field full of Grade-A catnip.
Skylar laughed and splashed, and soon I was laughing and splashing too.
I knew I still had a frightful mess to take care of, but what the heck.
Forty-five minutes zoomed by in a flash. Then we got out of the tub,
and I laid Skylar down for a nap to recover from his forgotten trauma.
The table cleaned up in no time, and I then remembered to rip my note off
the front door just in time to see Rebecca drive up. Her face was
aglow with the magic of her day of freedom. "Sorry I didn't
call," she said sheepishly, knowing full well that she had no good
excuse. "I brought you a present."
Selfish woman. She knows I love surprises.