Pop Rocks

The psychology behind the media bombast

Love to Hate

The line separating life's most compelling dichotomy is thinner than you think

Ever hate someone?

You might get a weird tingle of discomfort when you think about it. Like anger, we're not exactly socialized to express it. Plus section 5 of Mom Code dictates that "hate" is a strong word, so you're probably not too keen to admit to loathing, detesting, or a number of other fancy-pants words Shakespeare used.

The famous duck-or-rabbit image, a very figurative way of looking at love and hate
Well, if it makes you feel any better, our brains are blueprinted to freely hurtle between love and hate, and sometimes we feel both at the same time. Whoever's genius idea that was, we golf applaud you.

But that might explain why we feel so crazed during break-ups. As concentric music writer Eric Harvey recently mused in conversation, there've been some assertive female performances in music this year. Particularly regarding relationships, which brings me to Janelle Monáe and her video for "Cold War."

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Halfway through the take, she laughs as she holds back tears and finally breaks down during the lyric, "I was made to believe there's something wrong with me / And it hurts my heart."

Given the trajectory of her art, which currently revolves around androids, it's really hard to say if she's referring to fiction or an actual relationship. Point is, the threshold between laughter and crying, both indentured wisps of the more regal Love and Hate, isn't too wide, either.

The idea of love souring into hate is about as groundbreaking as Buster studying cartography in the short-lived TV show Arrested Development. The dichotomy's been documented since the dawn of time and has fueled a good chunk of pop careers, hate sex on Gossip Girl, and countless other (literal) goldmines.

As sheepish as we are to admit it, we've probably hated people, and I'm not referring to a temporary tenant who doubles your electric bill when she leaves 10,000-watt lamps on during the day or your dentist who says, "Eh, you don't need anesthesia." I mean ones we've loved!

So why is the fence between the two so rickety?

As biological anthropologist Helen Fisher explains in Cut Loose: (Mostly) Older Women Talk About the End of (Mostly) Long-Term Relationships, our rage system is linked to parts of the brain that anticipate rewards. So we get used to the blissful flutters that come with romantic love. Then when you pull those fuzzy experiences away, our dopamine is sent reeling as we snap out of frustration.

In fact, some researchers speculate that romantic love is a primitive drive that's as essential to survival as sex or food. Controlling them is another story. Women tuck away their maternal instincts in favor of pursuing a career. We can delay pouncing on food when hunger flares up.

But feelings for another person are pretty difficult to rein in, aren't they?

Which is why I don't feel too bad that I, ahem, hate someone I dated. There, I said it. Rain judgment on me. Someday I will learn to forgive, blah blah blah, but for now, the mere thought of this person warms my blood up to a nice simmer.

There's no easy solution for the recently heartbroken. You're not the only one to have burst out crying while washing dishes or third-wheeled it to Harry Potter. Taking comfort in the facts that millions of others can relate (see: pop culture) or that Darren Jessee of Ben Folds Five never actually got his T-shirt back help. Friends, and now science, will tell you to make friends with time.

I promise they're right.

Kasia Galazka is a New York-based freelance writer and psychology junkie who goes to as many concerts as she can afford.

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