If you guessed, “hate” you’d be wrong. The opposite of “love” is actually, “use.” Let me explain.
More Than a Feeling
You’ve probably heard that love isn’t a feeling; that it’s a decision. But a decision to do what? Historically, philosophers, theologians and psychologists have tended to agree that to love someone is to be committed to working for their good. To really love someone is to commit yourself to protecting their life, defending and supporting their integrity, and actively fostering their development.
While we’re at it, to unconditionally love someone isn’t the same thing as putting up with any damn fool thing they want to do. It means making an unconditional commitment to protecting their life, defending and supporting their integrity, and actively doing whatever is in your power to foster their development—whether you feel like it or not, whether they want you to or not, and whether they deserve it or not. A person comes into deeper awareness of their personhood when they are loved.
Don’t Be A Tool
But if love is the commitment to help the person you love become more, well, “person-y,” then (as Karol Woytyla pointed out in his classic work) the opposite of love must be to take away their personhood, by using them like a thing. We love persons. We use things. Things are a means to an end–as they should be. I don’t love things. I may have a fondness for them, but I use them just the same. I might take care of things, but only as long as they continue to serve the purpose for which I employ them. And when those things have served their purpose, get old, or broken, or outdated, I usually neglect or even dispose of them.
For instance, I may have a set of tools that I really like to do my woodworking with, but I only like those tools as long as they serve me well, and I only take care of them so they will continue to serve me well. If the handle on my favorite hammer snaps off, or my saw blade bends, or if another tool seems to do the job more efficiently, I won’t mourn the passing of that old tool. I used it. I fulfilled the purpose for which it was to be used and now I’m on to using something else.
People > Tools
People, thrive on love. We were created to be loved. Our biology craves love to the point that if a baby is unloved, he will develop a condition known as “failure to thrive” and refuse even food. If I love someone, if I truly work for their good, defend their integrity, and actively support their development, most people become more. They push past boundaries, they stretch their limits. They are more likely to become everything they were created to be. They become more of a person.
But if people thrive on love, they begin to fall apart from use. If I use someone as a means to an end, they shrivel up. If I only call my parents when I need money, or visit my friend when I need to borrow his garden tools, or do nice things for my girlfriend or wife (or worse, both!) when I want sex, that person feels themselves shrinking, first in my eyes and then in their own evaluation of themselves.
When I use someone, they feel de-personalized, they become “thing-i-fied.” They experience shame. When I use someone, in both small ways and big ways, I actively and dramatically deny their personhood and treat them as a thing, a tool, a means to an end. I may even feel affection for them when I do it (much like I experience a certain satisfaction from employing that familiar tool in my workshop), but despite that warm feeling, I’m doing the opposite of loving them as a person. I’m using them as a thing.
A Valentine’s Day Resolution–Recommit to Love Over Use.
Sadly, I see this an awful lot in my marriage counseling work.
- The wife who says, “I love him, but I’m not in love with him” has been unconsciously using her husband as the thing that was intended to stimulate her emotional reactions, to make her feel alive–her husband is just a tool, a means to an end.
- The husband who, unable to deal with the conflict necessary to get his needs met in his marriage, self-medicates by using another woman to make him feel good about himself–the paramour a means to an end.
- The couple who doesn’t talk, doesn’t work together on anything, who loves their own comfort much more than they love each other, but who think they had a good week because they had sex a few times are simply using each other as oxytocin vendors.
At Last, Your V-Day Resolution
This Valentine’s Day, in addition to the chocolate, the flowers, the sappy notes, and the stolen moments of passion, give a gift that will really last. Take a moment to unearth those little–even unintended–ways you’ve sometimes used your beloved as a means to an end. Resolve to turn each of those times into new opportunities to work for the good of your beloved–to love that person as he or she, like any person, deserves to be loved.
For more information on loving well this V-Day, check out:
Young couple photo available from Shutterstock.