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"Like" and "Love": A Meditation
I see that someone in the Question and Answer forum has asked the question: What is the difference between like and love?
This question seems like "commonsense," and perhaps it is. We "know" the difference between like and love. The challenge is to define the words, to extract what we hold in the ether of our consciousness and put it in concrete terms on the page.
Now, without looking at a dictionary: What does "like" and "love" mean? We have to answer that question before we can differentiate them.
The interesting thing about these two words is that they have very different functions when applied to people and things. They also serve different functions depending on what one's proximal distance relationship is to them (I'll explain what I mean by "proximal distance relationship" in a bit).
The first thing to say, before we get started, is that I am writing from the perspective of a native-born citizen of the United States of America, whose one and only language is American English (you know, as opposed to British English, which is slightly different).
The functions of "like"
- I like pizza. (to like a thing)
- I like Tom. (to like a person)
- I like the Charlotte Hornets. (to like a professional basketball franchise, something I am geographically distant from; and I am also distant from them in terms of familiarity, that is to say I don't know the team, the organization, or any of its personnel, personally).
- (With a different inflection of the voice) Suppose I say to Wendy, in a different inflection of the voice: I like you. This is, as you know, different from the way I "like" Tom.
- I like surfing. (to like an activity)
- I like the fall season. (to like a season of the year; to like a seasonal state of being)
The different functions of "love
- I love my family (of origin). (to love where you came from)
- I love my family (which I created). (to love a group you have started, creating someone else's "where I came from."
- I love my enemies. (we shall explore if this is indeed possible).
- I love God. (again, we shall put this to the test).
- God loves me. (we will ask just how possible it is to know such a thing).
- I love pizza. (formerly, I only "liked" pizza; but now, with a different inflection of the voice on the word "pizza," I now purport to love it)
- I love Tom (like a brother).
- I love Tom (in the "fellowship of Christ,")
- I love Wendy (like a sister)
- I love Wendy (in the fellowship of Christ)
- I love Wendy (apart from any relation to 'God') but I am not in love with her.
- I love my audience (an entertainer who 'loves' his audience, both the one right in front of him and his 'constituency,' so to speak..
- I love the paintings of Rafael.
I "like" pizza, means that I personally approve for my direct consumption. I approve of everything about pizza: its aroma, its taste, the texture of the crust, whatever.
To "like" pizza---a thing which is possible to have direct experience with---is to personally approve of it.
I "love" pizza. What is "love" doing in that context.
- Love might be hyperbole in this instance.
But what would inspire hyperbole, if not genuine feeling behind it?
Perhaps we can say that to "love pizza" is to favor it in an extreme way.
I like Tom. Tom is a person whom, presumably, I can have direct experience with. For me to like him is for me to personally approve of Tom, and wish to make him my friend.
I love Tom (like a brother). My feelings for him rises above "like," for whatever reason; and we share an extreme closeness sympathies. Sometimes we hear the expression: "My brother from another mother."
I love Tom (in the fellowship of Christ). He and I and everybody else are communing together in a big old whirlwind of Christ's love. We are "brothers in Christ," and all that.
But how do we begin to separate "love" from "like"?
The introduction of the element of the "brother," I think, gives us a clue. A "brother" is family, after all; and for me to love Tom like a brother suggests that my feelings for him are so strong that I, somehow, want make him a member of my team. I want to, as it were, grant him honorary status as a member of my family.
We're starting to get somewhere.
I "like" Wendy in a different way than I like Tom.
When you tell someone you "like" her, with a particular inflection of the voice, what you want is to be more than friends. You are not at the "love" stage, whatever that is.
"Like," in this instance, rather functions as an exploratory probe. My approval of her is beyond the level of a friend or comrade. "Like," in its exploratory probe aspect seeks to discover if "love" (in-love) can be the outcome between us.
This kind of "like" is an exploratory probe looking for love.
I love Wendy (like a sister) and I love Wendy (in the fellowship of Christ). These function in the same way that I said they did with Tom.
I love Wendy (apart from any reference to God) but I am not in love with her. How is "love" functioning here, apart from loving her like a sister, or my loving her 'in the fellowship of Christ."
It could mean that I love her (as a close, close friend). It means that I "care" for her and always want the best of all things for her.
Suppose I once loved Wendy (in the "in-love" state), and we married and lived together, as married people do. But then suppose we divorced and I say, "I still love Wendy, but am no longer in-love with her."
How is "love" functioning here? Let's go through it.
1. Suppose when Wendy and I met, and a few months later, I declared to her that I "like" her. I'm talking about "like" in the exploratory-for-love sense, exploration for the possibility of my "falling in love" with her.
2. Assuming she "likes" me too, we set out to do something about it.
3. Let us say, then, as our relationship deepens, we both transcend the exploratory-like state and come to "love" one another; that is, we "fall in love."
4. When we fall in-love in this way, what we desire is to make a kind of, shall we say, "intimate alliance" with that person. This alliance may or may not result in the reproduction of ourselves in the form of children. It doesn't have to but the potential is always there.
5. Life intervenes most inconveniently and we "fall out of love." We are in a state that is the opposite of "in"; we are "out."
6. We are out-of-love, but we still "love" one another. We do not love each other as siblings. We do not love each other "in the fellowship of Christ." We do not even love each other as "close, close friends" necessarily.
7. Nevertheless, we "still love" each other. What in Sam Hill does that mean? How is "love" functioning here?
I was in-love with Wendy but now I'm "out-of-love" with her; but, of course I still "love" her. Well, I find that I can no longer continue our "intimate alliance," for whatever reason, but I continue to wish her own, independent "Kingdom of Love," we might call it, to prosper. Of course, all of this is a fancy way of saying that I want positive things for her life and I want her to be happy; I wish her luck in finding a more enduring "intimate alliance," and hopefully, the next one will "last forever."
- Like is to positively favor. "Love," as a clear hyperbolic exaggeration of "like" (as in I "love" pizza) means to positively favor in an extreme way; indeed, "love" is language we might use to identify favorites (such as foods, sports teams we have nothing personally to do with, music---anything other than people). Even if I say, "I 'love' the actress Sandra Bullock, whom I have never even met before in my life---the feeling functions at the level of objects because of my remove from Ms. Bullock; I'm speaking of how I find myself, as a movie watcher, effected by her "screen presence" and all that.
- Mind you, "love" functions still differently for a psychotic fan, who, also, has never met Ms. Bullock in person. "Love" is clearly obsessive-compulsive in this instance.
- "Like" can also serve as an exploratory probe, on the look out for "love," that is, the "in-love" state.
- "Love." Is it possible to "love one's enemies"? I suspect that this is easier said than done. I also suspect that is far more often said than actually accomplished.
To "love one's enemies."
Question: If I merely say that I love my enemies, how can this be verified?
- I do not positively favor my enemy. I do not "like" my enemy.
- I do not wish my enemy well.
- I do not wish my enemy to be happy. I am largely indifferent in the matter of his happiness.
- I am indifferent to my enemy's happiness. This is because to be passionate about it, one way or another, would be to give my enemy more energy than I believe he deserves. This, of course, is a fancy way of saying "he isn't worth it."
- Of course, there is the business of "hate" as "the flipside of love." It seems to strangely and paradoxically follow, then, that one cannot actually hate a true enemy.
- This business of "hate" as "the flipside of love" is operative in some situations, is it not?
- This hate-love dyad is a function of passion, is it not?
- In general, our enemies should not inspire passion, because if we allow this we are giving our adversaries "more energy than they deserve."
- Although, one can respect his enemy, hold him in high regard, find him admirable in several ways.
- At best, though, it seems to me that the best a respected enemy should inspire is a hate-respect, respect-hate dyad. Even in this instance we should not have any investment in his "happiness."
If I find my enemy in the desert dehydrated, dying of thirst; and I take him out of the sun and let him rest, and give him water and even feed him, am I engaged in the act of "loving" him?
That is to say: Is my "loving" him, my enemy, a necessary prerequisite for helping him in dire circumstances?
Perhaps I do it because I "love" myself. Perhaps I do it because of the kind of person I see myself. I know that I wouldn't like to think of myself as the kind of person who could leave a person dying of thirst in the desert, no matter who it is.
I "love" the paintings of Raphael.
Here is yet another function of love. Even though we are, strictly speaking, talking about an object, it is, nevertheless, hard to describe this usage of the word "love" as hyperbolic---in the sense that it would be in terms of "loving" pizza or the Charlotte Hornets or Disney World or banana splits, and so forth.
We are talking about art. We're talking about great art by a painter, whose greatness is acknowledged by many. We're talking about the way great art is said depict "truth" and all that good stuff.
Perhaps what we "love" is a view of life, which Raphael's paintings unlock for us.
I "love" my audience.
I'm going to skip a few steps to save some time. I think that an entertainer can "love" her audience to the extent that their general well-being enables "them," her "audience" to continue to buy her records and tickets to her live performances.
Yes, I think that's quite enough. I'm not a sadist, after all!
Thank you so much for reading!