I think that there’s a counterintuitive air about how the current climate teaches that love (in all forms, not just romantic) should solely be based on reciprocity, on giving as you get and only that. I call it counterintuitive because when you really think about… or at least when I think about it, I do not think that what we all wish for is people who will give to us as we, ourselves, give to them at any given moment (albeit in unique ways). See, we, humans, are inherently selfish. We hardly ever give unless we are getting. Thus, it is relatively easier to give out as long as you are getting something in return than it is to do so when you aren’t. And that’s just the thing about it: not only are we sometimes incapable of offering other people anything in return even though we wish to receive from them, we sometimes do not wish to be treated the way we treat others because what we dish out isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes, we need to receive even though we cannot give. If you ask me, reciprocity fails there.
So beyond reciprocity, what we really wish for , I think, is to find people who will give to us even we are sometimes incapable of offering, people who will go beyond the mere give and get; people who will still love us at our unlovable worst, who will see the beauty in us when we are the ugliest; people who will not stop looking for the stars in our eyes when they aren’t shining as bright; people who will see the baggage we carry, and love us all the same. What we really wish for is not just back-scratching, but grace too: to be loved, to be given even when we aren't deserving, when we can not reciprocate.
And the more I think about it, the more I realize how detrimental it would be to have reciprocity alone be the core of my relationships. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not exempted from the innate selfishness that lies within every human being. I too make it a prerequisite to have my people reciprocate my acts in some way or form; I too want to gain something from my relationships. But I’ve always thought that to make that the foundation of the relationships I build would be hypocritical because…
... listen, I am too a messy human being. There are things that even I do not like about myself, things that I am having a hard time fixing try as I may, things that my people just… have to put up with for the time being. There are times, very often too, when I am off my game. There are days when I close myself off from everyone, when I grow distant, when I do not carry my share of the weight; there are times when I do not reach out as much as I should, when I speak more than I listen, when I could probably be more supportive, when I am somewhat inconsiderate and insensitive, when I am not the best person I could be to the people I love. And on those days, my people have never chosen to “reciprocate energy”. I am grateful that my people have always instead chosen to be patient with me, to be kind, to carry the weight that I should be carrying when I cannot, not because they are obliged to, but just because they want to. I cannot built on reciprocity alone because that is me: messy and all over the place. I need a lot of grace.
My point is not that seeking reciprocity is wrong and malicious, that it is a trait that must be discarded. It would be hypocritical to say that. In theory, pure selfless love is feasible. But I am convinced that for as long as we are human, it isn’t very practical. In practice, the love we give out, and the subsequent relationships built on it, will always be mired in some selfishness. It is human nature. Everyone you keep in your life brings some sort of value to it, as do you to theirs. If we are being truthful, these relationships wouldn’t exist if that weren’t the case. We do not actively admit it, but in essence, we are all just using one another. And so we cannot deny how vital reciprocity is.
But the point is you've got to realize that authentic relationships, which seem to be in short supply in our time, are built on more than just the simple give and get, that reciprocity alone does not suffice, that reciprocity alone constitutes… I don’t know, business transactions? not friendships, sibling bonds, and anything else in which love is to be a factor, that you cannot build fulfilling interpersonal relationships based on self-serving motives alone, that real love (assuming it is love that you wish to build relationships upon) is intertwined with selflessness and grace.
If you are going to choose to love human beings, know that they are going to be messy, far from perfect; they will infuriate you, they will do the very things you tell them not to; they will not always listen as they should and will probably say some things they shouldn’t say; there will be days on which they will not be the kindest, or the most supportive or the most considerate people; they will push you away, they will not always be the best version of themselves, they will not always be what you need them to be, they will not always be the most loveable.
And on those days, reciprocity alone will tell you to “match energies” or whatever the kids call it these days. But love and grace will have you choose to look beyond the smoke screen, have you detect the smoke screen in the first place and find a reason to love your people still; it will have choose to carry a lion share of the weight, to be kind, to be patient, to be what your people cannot be in the moment. Because grace, not reciprocity, is the foundation of love for us imperfect beings. Grace is the reason love is possible. If you are going to choose to love human beings, you have to be ready to give and not ask in return… a lot... and then some.
Again, I am not implying that reciprocity is not fundamental. In fact, I think it is imperative that you have people that will pour into you as well. One-sided relationships will run you dry, and you cannot pour out of an empty cup. All I am trying to say is that that alone will not be enough; the mere give and get will not be enough to constitute the love upon which we all supposedly wish to build relationships with others. If love is as much a prerequisite for authentic relationships as we all claim it is, then surely grace is up there with it because grace vindicates love. Grace makes the incoherent notion that a holy God would still desire us whole regardless of how far we stray and how long we have tramped upon His law sound a bit logical. Grace vindicates God's ineffable love for us all. Grace makes God's love work. Grace makes a relationship with God plausible. And grace will make our relationships make sense too.
And so it is only logical that it be upon grace that we too build relationships. Yes, seek from your people what you will. That's okay. But you are going to have to be very, very gracious as well because love does a lot of giving that it will not get back. And our people? They are only human. They will mess up... and mess up again... and again. Mine do all the time. You forgive them just because they are your people. They will not always be able to give. You pour into them regardless. You are going to have to learn to discard the idea that it is all reciprocative, kid. You cannot and should not build on reciprocity alone because it will one day fail.
Reciprocity, Grace, and Love.