About the time I was in college, there was a saying going around to which everyone was expected to nod in somber agreement. “The opposite of love is not hate,” it went. “The opposite of love is indifference.”
But it’s not really true, is it? Indifference isn’t the opposite of love, it’s just its absence. The absence of something is not its opposite. To say that indifference is the opposite of love is like saying that the opposite of fire is sixty-eight degrees.
So is hate the opposite of love after all? No, because sometimes hate is just one aspect of a passionate emotional involvement that may be hate one day and love the next. It’s only the intensity that stays constant.
Maybe different kinds of love have different opposites. The English word love is pressed into service to fit all kinds of emotions, attitudes, and actions that might usefully have their own words.
There’s the intensely sexual, emotionally idealizing love of a young person for another. There’s the still sexual, but wiser and deeper love of an older adult for a life partner. There’s the appreciative love one has for a friend one admires. There’s the generous, sometimes altruistic love one has for needy strangers. There’s mother-love and father-love and the love of child for parent—filial love, both immature and mature. And these are just the loves one has for people. There are also the real loves one can have for animals, for beauty, for nature, and for abstractions such as flag, party, and country.
These loves are so different, surely they must all have their own opposites.
In a one-to-one relationship with another person, the killers of love are disappointment and resentment. Disappointment is like drops of water that can eventually eat away a stone. Resentment is more like lightning, striking and scorching, sometimes cleaving in two.
But neither disappointment nor resentment are the opposite of love. Love has no opposite. Because there is no force as negative as the force of love is positive. Love can be eroded and even destroyed, but it can’t be defeated by something more powerful. Because no such thing exists.