What is the Opposite of Love?
I was talking to someone yesterday and they said that they believed that the opposite of love was fear. It immediately brought up in me a feeling of “NO! That is not true!” So I said that. He accepted my rejection of this idea and asked me why.
I thought about my why for a minute and I said “I think the opposite of love is indifference, not fear.” And a few hours later, I still think that.
How can one love without fear? I love my children with all that I am but I also have fear in that love for them: what if they get hurt, what if they die, what if...with children the list is really endless.
In romantic love, I think fear is most relevant. How can you love someone so much that you want to spend your life with them and not be afraid all the fucking time? Loving deeply means having a real problem on the daily to deal with and manage the fear that is created when your heart belongs to someone else and what they think, say and do, could level you at any given moment.
As a divorce attorney and coach, I see most people arrive at our door done, ready to exit a marriage or relationship that no longer serves them, perhaps maybe never did. Those are most cases, and those are not so difficult. The really hard cases are where one spouse or partner still desperately loves the other, and the other has wholly left the marriage some time ago. The pain of watching love be torn from its object is what grief is all about. The love flowed freely and now it just bleeds itself all over the place, causing an edema that is both painful and sometimes life threatening.
What kills love most often is indifference. Indifferent to the thoughts, feelings, needs of the other. Indifference the fertile seeds of contempt. Once indifference is planted, contempt is sure to flourish, like kuduz on the side of a southern highway. And any therapist will tell you, once contempt is present in a relationship, there is almost no chance for any recovery.
Social scientists did a longitudinal study of marriages, they followed them over 20 years and they found that the marriages where one or both partners expressed contempt in one of the first sessions of of marriage counseling, had a 94% failure rate. Contempt actually was the telltale sign that the marriage was over before anyone was really talking of divorce. 94%! The scientists went on to say that the best predictor of divorce is the expression of contempt by one or both parties. That once contempt has taken root, there is only a very painful trajectory ahead.
In all committed relationships where there is love present, there is also a lot of fear. To me, fear is just part of loving. And the antidote to the fear is faith. Having faith that the one you love will continue to love you back, is how you move forward when hardship lands. Faith is the bridge over which love and fear dance with each other, allowing for the expression of vulnerability and need and want and love to be exchanged.
“Can anyone ever really love so much that they will never worry, never be sad? The answer is they cannot love this much, nobody can, and this is why I don’t mind you doubting....” Howard Jones.
See the things we love the most, will always engender in us a fear of loss, how could they not? We fear losing the things we prize the most. How could it ever be any other way? Love and fear have the most intimate dance, hopefully with love always taking the lead, allowing faith to light the path when fear’s darkness surrounds.
For me, fear is not the opposite of love, it is actually a natural second emotion demonstrating to me that I love, helping me see that which I value and need. Without fear, I can’t be vulnerable and without faith I can’t be authentic in my love for someone. I need fear to show me where I am stuck, where I am perhaps broken and in need of repair. Fear opens the door for me to show you who I really am, but I have to have faith to ever move me across fear's threshold.
For me loving will always be a fear based activity. It is just how it is for me. Loving requiring more from me every day, more demands upon myself to be honest, authentic and vulnerable. And, for me, there will always be fear in any of those.
But indifference grown into contempt kills love instantly, because I no longer care about you or your needs or wants. I no longer feel afraid of your departure or decision to remain, contempt has robbed me of all fear. I find your neediness and pain to be inconsequential and beneath me. Contempt or indifference eradicates all love and leaves the heart cold and untouchable.
Faith is what keeps the fires of love aglow. Faith that while you cannot feel lovingly connected all the time in all situations, faith shows me the path back to the place where your thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, desires and interests are as important to me as my own. Faith restores what indifference takes if I work for it. Faith will return me to the commitments I have made, the love that I feel when contempt would rid me of those things and leave an empty hollowed out place in its wake.
Love is an action. Its opposite reaction is not fear. Fear shows me where I love, because I am only afraid to lose the things I value. Contempt takes advantage and appreciates nothing, it devalues everything in its path and makes it worth nothing to me. While fear shows me how very much I value that which I am afraid to lose. And faith is what keeps me doing the work to eradicate the fear by talking about it, owning it and finding a channel for my love and my fear. To me, the two will forever be engaged in this exquisite dance, one taking the lead, while the other follows, and then without missing a step, the follower becomes the leader again and the dance continues. The only way the dance ends is when fear has been in the lead for too long, and is replaced by indifference. Only then does the dance begin to wind down into a standstill that leaves both partners painfully exhausted from the struggle.
Love and fear live in healthy juxtaposition with each other. One causing the other to be their best self and to do the work required to keep love leading. Indifference tells love to take a hike, that their presence is no longer required and no amount of faith can overcome the crumbling foundation of contempt.
However, if you can hold in your arms both love and fear, held safe within the faith that love and fear are meant for each other, that there will always be a delicate balance, one is assured to value that which you fear losing and loving that which you fear be taken. Love without fear equals indifference to me because I only fear losing those things that I love. And fearing the loss of that which I love only serves to show me how much I am perhaps not valuing the things that I love enough. Faith provides me a bridge across the divide between love and fear while indifference robs me of any interest in caring at all. Contempt turns me wholly around and helps me walk away, acting as if I never loved or feared in the first place.
For me, I hope that love and fear will continue to do their dance in my heart, each keeping the other in check for me to see where I am off balance, with too much love and not enough fear or too much fear and not enough love. And faith providing the stable foundation for fear and love to do their thing. And for this intricate, life affirming process to take up all my energy and time, so that the seeds of indifference will always fail to land.