A Reflection on Unconditional Love Inspired by Taylor Swift
by Irwin Kula
Taylor Swift, the 25 year-old pop superstar, was quoted in the September issue of Vanity Fair about the one thing she demands in a mate. “If I found someone who would never try to change me, that would be the only person I could fall in love with,” Swift said. “Because, you know I was in love with my life.”
At the risk of challenging celebrity wisdom and the ire of Ms. Swift’s millions of followers, I want to tweak Ms. Swift’s requirements for a mate. I imagine what she meant in saying she wanted “someone who would never try to change her” was she wants a guy who will love her unconditionally and not try to shape her in his image. (An understandable if not ironic desire from someone who everyday since she was a teenage “innocent country singer” has had her image carefully shaped by others – from the way she looks and dresses to where she lives, to the genre of music she performs.) Of course, to be loved (and to love) unconditionally is a worthy universal yearning but I think Ms. Swift misses the paradox of such love and being changed.
In a couple of weeks I will have been married for 33 years. I only wish I understood earlier how much the person I fell in love with decades ago, who has loved me more than any other person in my life knew so much before I did how I have needed to change over the course of our life together.
It turns out no love changes us more than unconditional love. It is precisely the love Ms. Swift desires that interrupts and interferes, and changes us the most – and most of the time with little warning. In fact, intimacy is a wildly complicated, magically painful journey of learning how much we need to change. The paradox of our relationship with the person with whom we really fall in love is that the very security of that love we so craved is the ground that enables us to be increasingly vulnerable and unmask who we are – even to ourselves. Inevitably we reveal our flaws, our distortions of character, our dark sides – too often disappointing and hurting each other – and in the process we are called to change.
Given that we always put our life together at least in part to avoid growing, to resist confronting our inadequacies and faults and to deflect our painful pasts, real love (what wisdom traditions call covenantal love) brings us out of hiding and destabilizes, disrupts and demands that we change if we are going to flourish. To really love someone is to love them just the way they are and to love them as they can be – which is even more than they themselves can imagine. While we may think that in order to love someone we need to understand them, it is actually just the opposite: in order to understand someone we need to love them. And the more we love each other the more we actually help each other seek the truth about ourselves and the truth always requires us to change.
In a couple of weeks I will have been married for 33 years. I only wish I understood earlier how much the person I fell in love with decades ago, who has loved me more than any other person in my life (including my parents as they had five other kids and no choice) knew so much before I did how I have needed to change over the course of our life together. I have slowly learned that marrying someone who loves me unconditionally – yes who loves me just the way I am – is to have found a person who actually has the most expectations of me. It is to be with someone who knows me in ways I don’t know myself and who fortunately has indeed corrected and shaped and improved my very way of being in the world. Thank God I found someone who wanted to change me. May I listen to her more carefully and quickly in the years to come.
Ms. Swift, it is wonderful that you are “in love with your life” and you don’t want anyone to change you. This is a great time in your life. But life is a dance between liking yourself just the way you are and discovering the ways you can be better and your greatest partner in that dance is that mate you want to fall in love with. So Ms. Swift, if you find someone who never wants to change you or someone you never want to change, Shake It Off.
March 31, 2020
March 30, 2020