I wish I knew who first said, “Obligation is not love,” so I could give them credit. I first heard it from a therapist in a scream therapy process I chose many years ago as a part of my healing journey.
I grew up on a family farm in a community where if someone needed a barn built, everyone came to help. But I also grew up in a family in which it was not okay to say no.
I learned a certain loyalty that I treasure. I can be a good friend. I say “can” because it is with some misgivings that I also embrace the concept that obligation is not love. So I will not be an obliged friend. I don’t have rules for any of my relationships; I only care that they are healthy. But what does “healthy” mean? Only I can answer that question for myself in any moment. And only you can answer it for yourself.
The problem or the gift is that the answer may change from one moment to the next. So it may feel right to be friends or in a sexual relationship with someone in this moment. However, I am always attentive in each moment to when a shift needs to happen in relation to the connections that I value and love. If I think there needs to be a change of any kind, I will try to have a conversation with the person I am in relationship with to sort through what feels right for the relationship in this moment and into the future. I am also attentive to when words of appreciation and love need to be spoken and all the ways my actions speak louder than my words. I consider those words of appreciation and love some of the most meaningful and important actions I can take in my life.
Friendship, relationships and connections to other people are gifts. But none of them is a gift unless it is freely given, not out of guilt, expectation, routine or habit. That does not mean that I am not committed or loyal. But it does mean that I look for a level of choice and intentionality in every moment. And I strive to create connections in which the people I am connected to have the freedom to be authentic and honest.
I don’t want anyone to interact, relate or be in friendship or relationship with me unless they truly desire it. I don’t want conversation, dinner, touch or superficial or deep connection with another person unless intentionally chosen.
Living this value to its fullest means I think twice about just about everything. If I send a card to someone for their birthday, when their next birthday comes around, I ask myself if I want to send a card again and make sure I am not doing it only because I have done it previously. It means that I think twice about how I mark holidays, weddings, funerals and every other occasion that may have expectations interwoven in it.
And it means that I don’t always make the most typical decisions. I did not go to my own mother’s funeral, for example. It was the right decision. I have no doubt that my family knows I loved her very much based on my choices and actions leading up to that event, which were just as intentionally chosen as my decision not to go to her funeral.
I allow each of my friendships and intimate connections to have its uniqueness, and I work hard to not assume that it needs to be the same the next day or the next year.