Dear Meg

Dear Meg, does unconditional love exist?

Is it transactional love when I expect to receive something? Or is it inevitable that in love, there is an expectation of giving and taking?

Dear Meg

Dear Meg,

I had a rough breakup last November, and until now it still hurts me. In that relationship, I think I gave a lot, such as my time, assurance, and appreciation for that person, and at least for me, I genuinely think I did it out of love. After several months in that relationship, I felt that I was the one giving more. I hate that I felt that way and I hate the word “more” because it implies keeping score, but on my end, I didn’t feel the effort from him to make me feel appreciated. There were times he expressed his love, but they felt forced and very scarce, and I felt like he did it because he felt that I wanted him to, and not because he genuinely wanted to. I came to the point that no matter how badly I wanted to stay, to do so would mean that I would have to obliterate my sense of self. So I ended it.

But it makes me wonder if unconditional love truly exists. I have read a lot of tweets and posts after that breakup that viewing relationships as transactional is bound to fail, and is a manifestation of how capitalism impacts the connections we build with people. I grapple with this still because, on one hand I agree that we should do things out of love and not to receive things, but on the other, I wonder “is it necessarily bad to connect with people with certain expectations that this relationship will benefit you?”

Is it transactional love when I expect to receive something? Or is it inevitable that in love, there is an expectation of giving and taking?


Dear J,

Thank you so much for writing, especially for your openness and vulnerability. I always thought people are at their most beautiful when they are honest; there’s a tenderness in their eyes (or words), and for a moment we get a glimpse of their soul. That glimpse was a gift, I wanted you to know.

What I saw, in your letter, was someone who loved as they knew how, and who wished to be loved the same way. Alas, people fall short, and you were unhappy. I am sorry you had to say goodbye, but glad you found the courage and pride. I also want you to know: taking a step to end your unhappiness* is always the right thing to do.

As you might have been learning, the heart mends. It can be quick or take time, but healing does come. One day, you’ll find yourself, at sundown, having successfully evaded any thought of your lover. The future looks just a little bit more hopeful, a little bit brighter.

In the meantime, you asked some very good questions, driven by a desire to love, and to do it well. It is a most noble endeavor. As Satine croons in Moulin Rouge, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return.”

I believe that. I believe that love, if we allow it to, can transform our being beyond ways we can imagine. The best kind of love turns us into our most extraordinary selves, inspired to keep growing, to be desirable in the eyes of our beloved. In love we learn to care for others as much as we care for ourselves. We experience the miracle of human existence that is witnessing their happiness become our own.

This journey, however, looks different for everyone. Because of this, what matters more is that we know where we are, and we know where we’re going.

I think you got that part down. You want to love unconditionally, while keeping certain expectations. These need not be at odds with each other.

It is true that love does not expect anything in return. Love is the most generous, wonderful thing! It gives, and keeps on giving, without thought to whether its object is deserving.* We do not love someone because they are beautiful, they are made beautiful by our love.

But loving and being in a relationship are not the same thing. When we enter a relationship, we bring with us all manner of expectations, which do not come from nothing. Our expectations are honed through years of upbringing, and the loves we come to know in our lifetime. The challenge, then, is to ground them on our present reality, and of the person we commit to love. We’ll have to agree, as equals, which ones we’d like to keep.

It would greatly help, I think, to consider them less as obstacles than as signposts towards growing together. Reasonable or not, our expectations are useful guides to knowing each other. They can inform our conscious effort to nurture our love and to create the conditions for it to grow. They can be the anchor for our sustained and deliberate acts of affection.

There are, certainly, things to unlearn: a dynamic premised on possession, an urge to own the other person. A tendency to treat the Other as the sole source of our support and affirmation. How do we avoid these?

I think it starts with getting to know ourselves and appreciating our absolute, unassailable value as a human being. This way, whatever our partner does will fail to diminish our self-esteem, and we will not look at their affection as a measure of our worth.

What we should look for, and create, in a relationship, is a safe place to be who we want to be, and at the same time, the motivation to pursue our best selves. It must allow us to be at our most free. A great relationship makes us delight in our being – anything is just a bonus.

Another aspect of creating such a place is pursuing our interests and building our own communities, so that we don’t depend on our significant other for all of our needs. As a piece shared by my friend Sheena goes, the modern times come with such pressure on romantic partners to be someone’s *everything.* It was not always like this, and this would, in my opinion, be a good starting point for a conversation on how Capitalism ruins our social and romantic lives.

In a better society, we don’t need to go through grueling 8-hour workdays, and expect to be comforted by our equally exhausted friends and loved ones. We have time for rest, and for our hobbies and dreams! We will no longer argue over bills and rent and tuition, and who should stay at home with the children. Women need not forego their careers, and take on the unpaid role of homemakers. Men need not fancy themselves The Decision-makers, just because society accords them the most socio-economic privilege.

When we dismantle the System that breeds these labels and structures, it will be so much easier to give and receive unconditional love. At the same time, I’ll have you know that I believe it exists, if only because I have felt myself embraced by it in many moments of my life. Which tells us that some things are possible, even in today’s society. I think we must look for it, and be intimately familiar with it, because we will build our new world upon it.

I hope you keep the faith that it will, one day, find you too. And if it doesn’t, then you still have you to be its fount. You can know unconditional love by giving it to yourself, and once you’ve had enough practice, you can try showering others with it. Whatever happened in that relationship, I’d like to reassure you that you remain a beautiful soul, with a heart made for loving.

Thank you again, J and know that in time, everything will be alright.


*Please call the National Mental Health Crisis Hotline 0966-351-4518 if you are in distress.