Lately the radio stations I listen to on my commute have taken to playing Katy Perry’s “Unconditionally.” And I have no idea why. The song itself doesn’t flow particularly well. The word “unconditionally” isn’t romantic or poetic. And there’s a reason for that: Romantic love shouldn’t be unconditional. You’re allowed to love your children unconditionally. You probably love your parents unconditionally, although whether you should or not is a different story. But your significant other? Set some damn conditions!
Here’s the test: would you still love this person if you found out they were a serial killer or active pedophile? If it’s your child, yes. If it’s your parent, probably but you’d need a LOT of therapy. If it’s your partner? Get mad and get the hell out. It may take a little time for the love to fade, but it would. And you’d need to let it happen.
But of course you do love your partner, because you know your partner isn’t a terrible person. Which isn’t exactly true. Fictional as it is, Skyler White knew Walt wasn’t a terrible person, until she found out he changed. What you do is trust that your partner isn’t a terrible person. And that’s fine. It’s good. But it’s a condition. Your love is conditional on your partner being worthy of this trust.
This bothers me because Katy Perry’s music targets teenage girls, and tells them this is what love should be like. And teenage boys are, many of them, terrible people. (Teenage girls are not much better.) So instead we should be asking teenagers to sing:
I love you because you respect me
And encourage me to respect myself
I love you because I trust you
And you earn that trust every day
I love you because you’re a decent person
And you don’t make me feel bad about myself
You ask me to be my best me
I ask you to stay
But if you violate any of these conditions
I will dump you so fast your head will spin
Okay, it doesn’t quite “flow.” But it’s still better than “Unconditionally.”