This evening, as I've been faffing online, desultorily chatting with friends, Q popped up with this:
Q: I love you!
Me [touched and taken aback, as Q is not given to such declarations]: ? I love you too!
Q: Just having a lousy day and saw you pop on, and it was, like a fresh breeze. "Oh look! Someone who's not a big ball of drama! I'm so glad she's my friend."
Me [currently in puddle of 'awwww!']: HUGS
Q: So, I thought I should tell you so.
Me: I've felt that way about you so much, I can't tell you. The feeling is SO mutual. Added to that was, 'Oh look, it's someone who loves me no matter what!'
Q: Yeah, that too. Even when I'm grumpy, I still love you.
Blinking back tears, I tried to work out, aside from the obvious, what had really hit me. I find it hard to hear that I'm loved; feeling loved is even harder. But this exchange hit me differently, and I pondered it for a few minutes.
Then it struck me - this: Even when I'm grumpy, I still love you.
Even when I'm grumpy. That was it. Not Even when you're grumpy, which essentially reads, 'Even when you're a crappy pain in the ass, I love you. Aren't you grateful? Aren't I wonderful?' but 'Even when I'm in a shitty, crappy, horrible inhuman mood, even when I'm not perfect or feeling loving, I LOVE YOU.'
Why not the first? Because unconditional love assumes the first. Unconditional love is just that - 'No matter what, I love you.' It rarely, if ever, needs saying, because it's a premise, a foundation, of love. Anything else is just approval.
[ETA] Also, as Ari just pointed out, when you love someone, you're not thinking, 'They're at their crappiest. Ugh. I want to be elsewhere.' You're thinking, 'How do I make them feel better? Have I made it worse? What can I do?' You are just loving them - you want their suffering to stop; you want them to be happy.
That doesn't mean that it's always feeling sweetness and light, far from it. Real love has darkness, depth and edges as well as light and curves, encompassing the entire spectrum of emotions - or lack thereof. We don't always FEEL love.
As I said to another friend as I was trying to tease it out:
It's the knowing when you can't FEEL it that matters. E.g., it's a given that I love you no matter what. That I loved you in October 2010 when we had that massive fight. I knew that; there was no question that no matter what happened - I loved you. It was knowing it through my absolute rage that was the test.
Not through HER rage or HER actions, thinking, 'Oh, you're acting like this, I still love you.' NO. Love cannot be withdrawn; approval can. Love simply is, and no matter how we act out our humanity, unconditional love is there, so much bigger than we imagine, holding the space for us to be ourselves as we unfold through the storm, whether we are imploding or battering at those around us.
What matters is knowing through MY rage, my imperfection, my inability to feel it at the time, that the love is there - like the stars during the day or the blue sky behind the darkest storm.
THAT is the test. THAT is what is real.
No matter what, I love you. Even when I'm grumpy.