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Hating the One You Love—"I Hate You, but I Love You"

"Love can become a fertile ground for the emergence of hate."

Key points

  • Loving and hating someone at the same time is not necessarily a contradiction, but it does create profound emotional dissonance.
  • Hate can serve to preserve the closeness of a relationship when other paths of communication are blocked.

Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hate wherewith he hated her [was] greater than the love wherewith he had loved her"Bible, 2 Samuel, 13:15

Familiarity is the root of the closest friendships, as well as the intensest hatreds." —Antoine Rivarol

Many testimonies, as well as fictional works, describe situations in which people find themselves hating the person they love. This might initially appear to be a contradiction, for how can one love and hate the same person at the same time? A discussion of this problem requires making a distinction between logical consistency and psychological compatibility. Hating the one you love may be a consistent experience, but it raises difficulties concerning its psychological compatibility.

Love and hate are often described to be diametrically opposed; in this case, it is impossible to speak about hating the one we love without engaging in a logical contradiction. Two major arguments can be raised against this description. First, love is broader in scope than is hate, as it refers to more features of the object. Thus, while in hate the object is considered to be basically a bad agent, in romantic love the object is perceived to be both good and attractive. Second, there are many varieties of each emotion (and there are more kinds of love than of hate), and each kind cannot be the exact opposite of all other kinds of the other emotion.

Love and hate are distinct rather than opposed experiences: They are similar in certain aspects and dissimilar in others. In light of the complex nature of love and hate, it is plausible that when people describe their relationship as a love-hate relationship, they may be referring to different features of each experience.

The difficulty that arises as a result of feeling hatred and love toward the beloved, not merely at the same instance, but also over an extended period, is the difficulty of coping with profound emotional dissonance. Although the presence of mixed emotions is not necessarily puzzling, the presence of different emotions that are both profound and all-encompassing toward the same person, such as love and hate, seems to be psychologically incompatible.

People describe their relationship as a love-hate relationship when the circumstances are such that the focus of attention changes under different conditions; hence the change in the emotional attitudes. When the lover focuses his attention on his partner's wisdom, he loves her dearly. When he thinks about the humiliation she brings upon him, he hates her guts. Thus people can say: "I hate you, Then I love you . . . Then I hate you, Then I love you more" (Celine Dion); or "Sometimes I love you, sometimes I hate you. But when I hate you, it's because I love you" (Nat King Cole). Such cases can be explained in light of the fact that emotional experiences are dynamic, and different external and personal circumstances often change our emotional attitude toward the same person.

Love can become a fertile ground for the emergence of hate. When the intensity and intimacy of love turns sour, hate may be generated. In these circumstances, hate serves as a channel of communication when other paths are blocked, and it functions to preserve the powerful closeness of the relationship, in which both connection and separation are impossible. Consider the following testimony of a man convicted of killing his wife (cited in the book, In the Name of Love): "You don't always kill a woman or feel jealousy about a woman or shout at a woman because you hate her. No. Because you love her, that's love." No doubt, love can be extremely dangerous, and people have committed the most horrific crimes in the name of love (and religion).

The claim that love and hate exist simultaneously is a more difficult case to explain; here we need to understand how two such divergent attitudes can be directed at the same person at the same time. A woman may say that she dearly loves her partner in general, but hates him because of his dishonesty. Accordingly, people do say something like: "I love and hate you at the same time." In this kind of attitude, the profound positive and negative evaluations are directed at different aspects of the person. In a similar vein, an unmarried person in an extramarital relationship might love the married person deeply, while also hating the beloved for preferring to maintain the bond with the spouse. Likewise, we may hate someone because we love him and are unable to free ourselves of our love for him, or because this love is not reciprocated.

It is interesting to note that our desire for exclusivity arises in romantic love, but not in hate. On the contrary, in hate, we want to see our negative attitude shared by others. It seems natural that we want to share our negative fortune with others while wanting to keep the positive part merely to ourselves. In positive emotions, when we are happy, we are more open to being attentive to other people, but we guard the source of our happiness more.

To sum up: Hating the one we love is possible from a logical point of view, as it does not necessarily involve a contradiction. This phenomenon, however, entails profound emotional dissonance, which in turn reduces the number of instances of such cases.