It’s one of the reasons that teenagers are difficult to deal with. Before they take the leap out into the adult world, they want the security that comes from knowing that you love them unconditionally. Your words and prior actions are often not sufficient for these temperamental creatures. They want reassurances. They want proof.
Operating below the level of full consciousness, they engage in behaviors and make decisions that they know you disapprove of. They often fail to hide these choices and they may even flaunt them. Of course, some of this is fueled by the teenager’s desire for exploration and their lack of a developed prefrontal cortex.
But that’s not the only motivator.
These undesirable actions are often driven by the teenager’s search for the answer to this question –
“Will you still love even if …”
And teenagers aren’t the only ones that engage in love testing. Adults, especially those that have been betrayed or abandoned, can utilize this strategy as well in romantic partnerships. Like the teenagers, these adults are seeking reassurances that the past will not repeated. They are testing the strength of the commitment by weighing it down with ever-increasing challenges. They want security. Promises. Certainty.
And so they test. Maybe treating their partner with disrespect. Or flirting openly with another person. Or letting the weight begin to comfortably settle around the waist. Or continually breaking up only to pick back up again. Or spending just a little more than was agreed upon. Boundaries are nudged and the reactions observed.
Will you still love if…
There are problems with this approach. Partners are not parents. Their love does have its limits. At some point, the weight tied to the commitment will be too much to bear and their acceptance will be be withdrawn. And that point will inevitably be reached because no matter how many love tests they’ve passed, until you trust in yourself and your ability to handle whatever may comes, it will never be enough to assuage your insecurity. And regardless of how many transgressions the love survives, there is no such thing as certainty in love.
That’s not to say that love should be welcomed without confirmation. The tests will come naturally over time as life presents you with challenges and obstacles. Take this opportunity to observe how they respond – Do they shut down or shut you out? Do they find refuge in the guise of victimhood and point fingers? Or do they see you as a team and work cooperatively towards resolution or acceptance?
Once we’ve been hurt, we will do anything to avoid being hurt again. But love doesn’t work that way.
Love is all or none.
If you try to hold it at a distance, you end up pushing it away.
If you attempt to control it, you will inevitably strangle it.
If you build walls and hang back out of a fear of being hurt, you are avoiding the very intimacy that is the foundation of a relationship.
If you punish your new partner for the sins of the old, you are wrapping the new in the cloak of the past.
If you assume that this partner will also hurt you, you are more likely to be hurt again. After all, the dog that you expect to bite often does.
Love is always a risk. Whether you’ve been hurt before or not.
It’s just that those of us who have felt the anguish of an end know exactly what it is we are risking.
And you may decide that it’s not for you. That you’re happier alone and don’t want the risk or the compromises again.
That’s okay. Life is not one size fits all. Tailor your life to your specifications.
But if you do decide you want to let love in, you have to be ready to embrace it. Risks and all.
That ten-foot pole may make you feel safer, but all it’s really doing is keeping love at arm’s length.
Love is all or none.