The Opposite of Love

It’s not hate. We’ve all seen this movie: Two friends constantly bicker. They agitate one another in escalating ways. Eventually, they have a huge fight, then go their separate ways – only to end up as a couple by the time the credits roll.

“There’s a thin line between love and hate,” we say. Well, if they’re so tightly paired that we constantly mistake them for one another, they can’t really be opposite ends on a big spectrum, can they? They must be rather closely related. How else could we jump from one to the other within a single conversation?

In 1921, Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Stekel postulated that “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” Why? Because there can be no love without the potential to hate – and vice versa. “The opposite of feeling can only be the absence of feeling,” Stekel wrote.

What do love and hate have in common? In order to show either of them, you first have to care. When we care a great deal about someone, we give them power: the power to make us feel ecstatic and the power to drive us insane. That’s the crux, isn’t it? Your wife can put you on cloud nine with her reaction to her birthday present, but she can also annoy the hell out of you by leaving her makeup all over the place.

Indifference breeds no such potential. If you were indifferent to your partner, you’d just shrug no matter what they do, and they probably wouldn’t be your partner for very long. Like a bullshitter disrespecting the truth by ignoring it altogether, someone displaying pure apathy where they were once so involved is the worst punishment for anyone who still cares. Ergo, the opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference.

Elie Wiesel was a holocaust survivor and author. After WWII, he continued speaking up for the Jewish and other minority communities, both in his books and on stage. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In an interview following the award, he said that…

Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.

When you care so much that your emotions become nearly unbearable, don’t step into apathy. Try stepping back instead. Take a break. Go on vacation. Give yourself the gifts of time and space.

Make room to process your feelings, and let the heaviest clouds shed their rain. Sooner or later, the sun will return, and you can get back to the business caring – and all the love and hate that might come with it.