I have been musing about the business of loving and liking. More accurately, I have been thinking about such matters for many years, certainly as most people have thought about these important elements of life. Deb and I have dealt with so many couples over so many years that it has become almost routine for us to tell couples something like, “The problem that you two have is that you love each other, but don’t like each other.” This is a bit of simplistic statement, but often true for couples who find themselves arguing frequently, sometimes painfully critical of each other and deeply unhappy. We also say, half-jokingly and half-seriously, “You two got married for the wrong reason: you loved each other…you didn’t like each other. You didn’t spend enough time together before you got together, fell in love (often physically and emotionally), but you really didn’t know each other enough to consider the matter of “liking” because love was so predominant. So this has been a bit of a sad mantra that we have come to say to many couples who find themselves in relationships that are unhappy, sometimes abusive, and almost always intensely critical of one another.
I continue to think that there is an important distinction between liking and loving, as well as a way to explain long standing relationships that seem to have more arguments and unhappiness than joy and satisfaction. But I think there is more to the scheme, and my more recent thoughts have sprung out of my examination of my own relationships. Indeed, I have some people that I love but do not like, and others that fit the very opposite, i.e. people that I like but do not love. But the situation seems a bit more complicated. In my more recent musings I have discovered that I miss some people and do not miss others. This missing seems to be evidence of loving, and the absence of missing seems to be evidence that love is not part of the relationship.
I have a former friend whom I miss and love. I have not seen (call him…) Sam for many years, and yet I miss him quite often, and think of him fondly. Interestingly, however, I ended my relationship with him beginning about 10 years ago and completed the process about 8 years ago. I ended the relationship because I found that there was much about “Sam” that I didn’t like. We shared a certain lust for life, conversation, and a bit of athletic endeavors, but over the 20 years that I related to Sam I found myself increasingly unhappy with him and silently critical of much of his way of life. More importantly, I found that I had made quite a move towards his way of life and interests but I felt that the favor had not been returned. He was quite unaware of my feeling increasingly unhappy and (silently) critical until I broke the news to him 10 years ago about this time of year. After some wrangling, talking and not talking, I asked him if he could meet me more on my playing field. After some months of silence, I emailed him and heard from him that he had decided or discovered that he “didn’t want to” do as I had suggested. This now ended relationship is yet one of love for me sans the unhappiness and criticalness that it once had. I prefer this state of love at a distance to disliking at closeness.
The picture is yet more complicated. How about the people that I “don’t miss” but seemingly have relationships with. I have come to believe that I don’t love these people even though I like them and see them fairly regularly. As with any really important matter in life, love is undefined, and for the most part unexplained, so I can’t explain or really define what love is except to state what the Supreme Court once said in a defining ruling: “We don’t know how to define it, but we know it when we see it.” So I “know” that I love Sam, and I “know” that I don’t love James. How odd this seems.
I am lucky to be married to my best friend, someone I both dearly love and much like. There are, of course, things that I don’t like about Deb, and she returns the favor, but we have come to accept these disliked things with less and less distress over our 37 years of being together in one way or another. I think I have the best of both worlds with Deb, namely the worlds of loving and liking, but this love her and like her certainly makes loving and liking other people difficult in comparison. Try as I may, it still is difficult to find people with whom we can have both. Love seems to come unbidden, while liking seems to be more about similar interests and experiences. I am sure there is much more about the subject that I do not know, but I am still learning.