The Opposite of Love

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.

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14 Responses to The Opposite of Love

  1. ShimonZ says:

    I like your argument.

    • Kevan says:

      Thank you, Shimon!

    • Kevan says:

      Shimon: You probably know some languages that I don’t. Do you know of any non-English words for love that have different shades of meaning than the English word expresses?

      • ShimonZ says:

        Hi Kevin. In answer to your question; I do know a number of different languages. My primary language is Hebrew, and that is the language I think in, and the language closest to my heart. And it is possible that I miss some of the subtleties of other languages, including English. But what I can tell you about the Hebrew word, is that it suggests that by way of love, one is constantly inspired… that it enables one to be aware of the presence of god.

  2. Susie says:

    I think I agree…but my head is too full of many other things to have a coherent thought. My thoughts on this are mostly theological. If I can put them together I’ll come back and write it down.

  3. Grace says:

    Interesting thoughts…although, light and dark are said to be opposites and one is the absence of the other, yes? *shrug*

  4. Saoirse says:

    I do think love is an incredibly powerful force. I’d even go so far as to say few things can match it. And you can’t see love itself-you see the effects of it-even the look in one’s eye…..I don’t know what the opposite is. I’ll have to think about it as you’ve inspired me to do. Here’s another love that baffles me- the love I feel for someone who was in my life for 18 years. I never liked him. I never respected him. Sometimes I actively disliked him. He harmed people-however unwittingly. Yet somewhere along the line I realized he had become someone I cared for deeply and would extend myself for, just as I would someone I did like, respect, admire, easily obviously loved. How weird is that? What love is it, do you think? Just love of humankind?

    • Kevan says:

      I don’t know, Saoirse. Maybe it’s one of the nine billion ways of loving that doesn’t yet have any name or phrase to describe it. I’m interested in learning more. Do you see yourself in him? Or did you love him because you gave to him? We often love those we’ve shown care for, regardless of whether they’re worthy.

      • Saoirse says:

        I don’t know Kevan-I’ll have to think about that. Your question put me in mind of one of the guiding tenants of my life-tragically :) right at this moment I can’t think who said it-or words to this effect: You take a look around decide who belongs to you and behave accordingly……

  5. Susan says:

    This is such a multi-facted subject. My initial comment was “wow” and here I am three weeks later still thinking about what you wrote. Thank you for sharing this with us. Long story, but my mother abused me when I was a child and at some point in my early teens it seemed to me that I chose not to love her anymore. Loving her hurt too much. So love is a choice, too, something over which I have control.

    • Kevan says:

      Susan, I’m honored to know that my musings struck a chord. Children seem to be designed to love those on whom they depend; when the dependency is outgrown, sometimes too is the love. For an abused child, the next stage in growth is usually to learn to love herself. You’ve obviously processed your pain and gained wisdom in the doing. Congratulations.

  6. Susan says:

    This continues to help me, as I struggle with a problem a loved one is experiencing. We had a talk. I talked carefully. I loved. I always have. I always will. Everyday I visualize love enveloping my loved one as he finds his way. Nothing is more powerful than love. I believe that. I must believe that.

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