Scrolling down an assorted Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter feed will invariably result in the depiction of a message along the lines of “True Love must be unconditional,” or “There is no ‘but’ in ‘I love you.’” Those statements may well warm the anxious heart, especially in folks who have struggled with the attainment of genuine affection on a romantic or spiritual basis. It flourishes within a hope that someday the same will be true for them, despite continuous disappointment. Beautiful as the sentiments may unfurl, they mask a delusional and unrealistic assessment of the beating world, one coupled to dangerous results for the fiercest believers.
Our salvo might begin by examining marriages. Often these unions are predicated on the lofty notion of the unconditional, but of course more relevant factors are involved. Consider the tragic case of Tyler Ziegel, a Marine Corps sergeant who was horribly disfigured by a roadside bomb during the Iraq War. After returning home, Ziegel married Renee Kline, his high school sweetheart and fiancée from a pre-deployment engagement. According to the Hallmark internet image, the couple were a paragon of successful love:
“A day later he is in San Antonio, Texas, at the Brooke Army Medical Center. She leaves her home town for the first time to fly there with his mother so they can be by his side. She is there for him. His injuries are severe. He will have numerous operations and she will stand by him throughout. It will be a year and a half before they all go home. In the meantime, she will move in with his mother. The homecoming is a triumph. He is a hero and she is his heroine. Their commitment to each other is inspiring and rock-solid. They get married. She is now 21 and he is 24. The wedding takes place on October 7, 2006, and that date is declared a state holiday. Renee and Tyler Ziegel Day. Their romance is covered by The Sunday Times Magazine. They plan to have a family. Love conquers all.“
It sounds wonderful. Here is their wedding picture:
As you can see, Renee looks terribly unhappy, despite all the praise and social accoutrements being foisted on their union. In barely a year, they were divorced, both because she could not accept his appearance, and due to the influence of a “flame” she hooked up with while he was deployed. Some years later in 2012, Ziegel died of an alcohol and morphine overdose.
So what happened? Did love not conquer all in this case? Was it built on lies? Perhaps the simplest answer would be to understand that conditions are attached to the passionate concept. Renee probably loved him to some degree, but it was based on his looks, and when he came back disfigured through no fault of his own, that changed. He was no longer the same person, and that was the disqualifying condition.
Similarly, though less extreme, a woman who gains 100 pounds after marriage may find her husband doesn’t look upon her the same way. She could claim he’s superficial and appeal to unconditional love, but let’s remember WHO he fell in love with. Hint: not the heavy-set chica. Had he possessed a photograph of what she would look like in six years, the ring may have gotten lost in a sewer drain.
Children are not exempt from this dynamic either. It is certainly true that a good parent cannot afford to hate or spite their offspring for bad behavior at a young age, because the new soul may not know better. Over time however stark restrictions must be installed, or else you have the kid public berating his parents for not making food correctly or failing to get the perfect gift. Unconditional love in this frame is just another term for spoiled, and the risk grows with age.
If a daughter insults both her parents, or defames them socially due to their dislike of a romantic partner, should the reply be unhindered love and tenderness? Now suppose she becomes pregnant, and her coupling lives up to the normal DoorDash stereotype…are they expected to support her financially because love is unconditional? The sensible response would be no, and yet I can already hear the shrill castigations of the morally outraged, for whom sleep is never honest.
But past all those cries strikes the glorious heart, where past all recriminations and bloviating, they know I’m right.