My eldest daughter and I have started our own mother/daughter book club. She reads a book and sends it to me. I read a new book and send it to her. The choice of book communicates what matters to us, what we are curious about and what conversations we want to have. She chose Plath’s “The Bell Jar. I chose “Unbound”. She chose Ruth Reichl’s “Save me the Plums”. I chose “Bastard out of Carolina”. Usually, we pick the books on our own, but this time, Elly wanted feedback.
“I’m thinking of reading Sally Rooney,” she said.
I groaned. I told her I didn’t love “Normal People,” but blamed it on my age.
“She is the Millennial writer, and she just came out with a new book.”
I knew this, because I’d just listened to the NY Times Book Review podcast, where author Brandon Taylor reviewed Rooney’s new book “Beautiful World, Where are You”. The host, Pamela Paul, like me, had not loved “Normal People”, but after Taylor’s review decided she’d give it a try.
I told Elly I’d give Rooney another try.
And I loved it. Yes, it deals with a demographic different than mine—30-somethings in Ireland. But woven throughout the book are the universal themes of love and friendship. And it got me thinking…
Is love conditional? Unconditional? Does loving really mean never saying sorry? Do we love everyone in the same way? Does loving mean not having boundaries?
Definitions are important and I think some of our most challenging problems in relationships comes from having different definitions of love.
At one point in Rooney’s recent book, one character asks another why she is still friends with this character (I’m not giving any names away…) if the relationship is so problematic. The character asks, “You have to ask yourself, if they wreck with your head so much why bother? There must be some reason on your side why you care.”
I think we all have people in our lives who wreck with our heads. We might share DNA with them. Or work with them. Or be partnered with them. Or maybe they are friends.
I hear the phrase “this just isn’t working for me” a lot now—in social media, from my friends, on the psychology podcasts I listen to. It’s important to honor ourselves and our needs. So, does that mean that if someone “wrecks with your head” you chuck them? If that were true, then no marriage would last beyond the Honeymoon period and parents and children would cease all communication. And we’d all quit our jobs.
There are going to be moments when it is definitely not working. So, love is unconditional?
Loving another doesn’t mean you have no boundaries. It’s not ok to give carte blanche to everyone in our lives. No you can’t talk to me that way. No, cancelling at the last-minute is not kind. No, lying is not ok. So, then love is conditional?
I think love, real love is unconditional. Because, in my opinion, love is love of the soul, of potential. It’s Plato’s theory of forms; it’s what we all are, in our essence. When I say I love, it means I love who you truly are, the pure soul–underneath all the pain and reactivity and withdrawal and self-absorption. But loving myself means that I can love your essence and recognize that my soul may need not to be in relationship with you. If my head is just too wrecked then maybe we need to part ways. But I still love you.
At the end of the day, it’s got to feel right—with those we hold close, and those we let go of. If we ask our hearts for honest answers, and not those fool you to feel good answers, then we’ll know who is wrecking with our heads, why we care, and how best to love ourselves.