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Home / Lifestyle Experiments  /
The Love-Hate Spectrum
Love Hate spectrum

There are people and things we love hating and others we hate loving -- and plenty more in between


I wonder: is it possible to get through life without someone eventually asking your opinion about something?

"How was that restaurant?" "How was your date?" "How was your vacation to Thailand?"

Most of the askers don't want a detailed answer, and we know it, so we develop a habit of keeping our answers brief. Our stock answers are "I loved it," "I hated it," or "It was okay." The world becomes black and white with a single shade of grey right in the center.

Reviews on sites like Amazon or TripAdvisor perpetuate the distortion, except the grey shade goes mostly unacknowledged. The hotel or the book was amazing or it was a piece of sh-t. If the item being rated scores somewhere between the extremes, no one wastes the time to write a review.

This push towards the extremes weakens the real meaning of hate and love. Does saying "I hate Brunei" or "I love Chinese food" adequately capture what we're trying to express?

Hate and love are best seen as the extremes of a continuous spectrum, a spectrum we can draw pictorially in several different ways, with hate considered the more lowly of the two. We can imagine love-hate as a vertically climbing skyscraper. The lowest point, the foundation, represents hate; the highest point above the penthouse suite is love.  We can draw love-hate as a horizontal line, with points on the extreme left being hate and points on the extreme right as love. 

Neither of these, however, genuinely captures the extremes of love and hate as we talk about them in our everyday conversations. We're more apt to use an expression like "I just made a 180" to describe a shift from one direction to the complete opposite one, as 180 degrees measures the angle from one end of a straight line to the other. 

Angles capture emotional preference spectrum changes more realistically than vertical or horizontal lines do. Love and hate are seen as opposites; we move from one to the other by degrees rather than by distance.  Imagine instead love and hate as a diagram superimposed upon a schoolchild's protractor.  Hate is assigned the fewest degrees, 0, and its opposite, love, is 180° away.  

Hate and love aren't actually points here. They are more like regions.  0° certainly signifies a point of extreme hatred, but this intense hatred stretches on for another 10° or so, gradually lessening in intensity until it became just hate.  As we keep advancing around our protractor, the hate lessens into strong dislike, then dislike, then mild dislike.

Near 90°, from between 88° and 92°, we enter into a region of neutrality, before moving into more positive emotions, from mild like, to like, to strong like, to love, to intense love. A more realistic depiction of the spectrum wouldn't include lines arbitrarily separating one region from the next.  Colors gradually altering in shade by degrees would describe the phenomenon more accurately.

When we meet someone for the first time, without any further information, we usually assign that person a value somewhere between 88° and 92°, a rating clustering around but not exactly neutral.    I say usually.  We can be irrational.  The new acquaintance may physically resemble a famous fashion model, so without consciously thinking about it, we assign her a value of 155° (strong like), with no further rationale to justify the rating. Years ago, when I was visiting Northern India, I ran into an average-looking Canadian girl who, for absolutely no sensible reason, I assigned a value of 70° (dislike).  For the next few months, I inexplicably kept running into her throughout various regions of Pakistan.  Like a sitcom episode, she crossed back into India the exact same day as I did. Each time, I kept lowering her value only because I had no desire to ever see her again, until near the end, I must have measured her at 20° (hate), despite having no genuine reason for ever disliking her in the first place.

After chatting with this 88-92° new acquaintance for a few minutes, we discover she graduated from the same university, so we bump her up 10° into the mild like range.  A short while later, we find out she shares the same dietary preferences and sense of humor, moving her up into solid like territory. Once she removes her baggy sweater, revealing an incredible figure, we're now in the strong like region.  [As a general rule, anyone we find attractive will get points added and anyone considered unattractive will see points subtracted. It's not fair, but life isn't either.]   We devise an excuse to see her again … and again … and over time, this strong like turns into love.  One day, realizing she's in the intense love region, we propose to her. 

Having something uniquely in common typically earns a person more degrees on our ranking scale. Sharing blue eyes or brown hair isn't sufficient most of the time. When I first started taking yoga classes with a new teacher, Esther, rather than grant her the normal neutrality rating, I quickly put her into the higher mild like range.  My reflex is to grant higher ratings to people who practice yoga and lead a healthier and more spiritual lifestyle.    That's my personal grading system. Other people have their own criteria for bestowing extra likeability points.  Donald Trump would add points if you were famous or rich, for example.   Esther had a Korean significant other, just like I do. That worked in her favor.  It didn't take many meets for Esther to get into the 115-120° range, which is solid like territory, enough for her and her lover to get invited to a Christmas Eve bash my wife and I were hosting. 

When Esther didn't show up and rebuffed other possible get togethers without counteroffering, I began to like her less. We naturally like people more who enjoy spending more time with us. Shared experiences are how we build up friendships. You may not spend much time with your oldest friends now, but at one point you put in the legwork to establish their stable long term market value.   If a new acquaintance isn't willing to invest in those shared experiences, with nothing more substantive upon which to advance the friendship that person can't earn additional degrees and will eventually be restricted to or bumped down into the mild like category, the place we assign people we're friendly with but wouldn't go out our way to personally see.  It's reciprocity at work:  if an acquaintance keeps you locked into a mild like region on their chart, eventually they're going to wind up in the same place (or possibly worse if you interpret their lack of interest as a "betrayal") on your own chart.  Unless you're delusional and view people you barely know as your best friends. 

One of my oldest friends in Thailand, Artur, was once in the 145-50° (strong like) range.  I hung out with Artur a lot in my early years in Thailand. During the first month of our friendship, Artur introduced me to the woman who quickly became my girlfriend and, eventually, my wife. 

But over time, Artur kept letting me down. One New Year's Eve, he completely blew me and my girlfriend off, upsetting me so much that I didn't see him for the next two years. When Artur re-entered our lives, he did so at a lower rating, more like 125-130°  I valued him less because he'd shown, through his behaviors, that he valued me less.  Presently, he may even be down in the 115-120° range.  I find it's always me making the initiatives to see him. Over this last year, he's backed out of three social outings at the last minute that I made the effort to invite him to. After this happened a certain number of times, my wife and I stopped counting on him, and we haven't seen him in over six months. 

Artur is like a public company which keeps missing its earnings targets.  Its stock price is regularly and gradually revised downwards.

Artur probably never belonged in the 145-50° range to begin with, and the market, over time, just adjusted his rating to conform to reality. My wife and I used to have another friend, Bean, a mutual friend of Artur's, whom we also met in those early days in Thailand. Although Bean fell somewhere on the likeability scale between 110-115°, he was treated identically to Artur, as someone rating at 145-50°, due to our shared history with the two of them.  My wife once made a comment, wishfully as it turns out, that if the sheißa ever hit the fan, we would be able to  count on Bean and Artur to have our backs.  Well, such a test arose soon after she uttered those words. I and my wife were in a major bike accident on the island of Koh Tao at a time when Bean was also vacationing there. Without getting into too much extraneous detail, I'll just say Bean was missing in action - before, during, and after the incident.  When we got back to Bangkok, he never inquired how I was doing nor thought to comment to Artur upon his return from his Canadian Christmas vacation that I'd been seriously injured. Artur only found out about my fractured shoulder and the resultant surgery because my wife posted the news on Facebook. 

To put it bluntly, after almost 10 years of "friendship", Bean proved he didn't give a s-t. 

Bean was more like Enron. His earnings had been overstated for years, based on an untested expectation that when the opportunity ever came to prove his worth, he'd step up to definitively justify the 30-35° boost he'd been enjoying all this time.  When the books were eventually opened, our friendship was finally exposed for the illusion it always was.  Bean didn't drop 25-30° like Artur. His stock crashed.  His rating went into freefall to somewhere in the 30-35° range (strong dislike). We dislike people who deceive us.

You see, that's one of the catches on the Loathelove Meter. The more highly you value someone, the more of a correction they're going to undergo if it's ever suddenly revealed they don't deserve that value. My wife is one of the precious few people who fall into my Intense Love region. I am sure I am one of the few who also fall into that region on her own preference scale.  Earning someone else's intense love is not a trifle to be played with. If my wife returned home one evening and caught me in amorous compromising situations with three young women, a cameraman, and a fiber optic internet uplink, she'd feel humiliated and betrayed. She wouldn't bump me from Intense Love down to the Love or Strong Like regions.  Caught in my own deceit, I'd have an excellent chance of getting a total re-grading into the Hate/Intense Hate regions.

With greater rewards come greater responsibility; if you blow it, you have a greater price to pay. You can see now how having a Love-Hate relationship with something actually makes sense.  The more strongly you feel about someone/something at one extreme, the more strongly you are able to feel about that same someone/something on the other when your assumed expectations prove unfounded.

With 180 degrees to play with, you can grasp how inadequate a multiple choice list of "I love it", "I hate it", and "It was okay" is to assign preferences.   With degrees, it's possible to describe how much more or less you prefer something. 

How was the movie? "It was 110°."  What did you think of the date you went on last night? "It was about 37°."  Do you really love Chinese food?  "No, because Chinese food ranks at 152°."  Do you hate Brunei?  "Not quite, more like 43°."

When you start thinking of hate, love, and everything in between as degrees, you realize there isn't much, if anything, you'd place in the 0-10° intense hate region and probably not a bundle you could assign in the 10-20° hate area either.  Hate and love inspire very strong negative and positive emotions, respectively. There aren't many people I can recollect throughout my life who've instilled such hatred within me.  Years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles, there was a fraudster in Oklahoma who frivolously sued me.  He masqueraded he was acting in the public good, when all along he was just hiding behind an idiotic legal statute in Oklahoma that gave him jurisdiction to shake down people who'd never set foot in the state.   What followed were 18 months of very gruesome exposure to the American legal system. This man is someone I'd say I still hate when his name (rarely) comes to mind.  If I found out tomorrow this guy got struck by lightning, I'd suggest to my wife we go out to a nice restaurant to celebrate.   There may be only one other person I might assign to this hellish region.  Even Bean, who severely disappointed me and my wife, doesn't incite such anger within me that I'd be glad to hear misfortune befell him. I feel more pity for Bean than I do hatred. 

You're best off having as many people, places, and things placed into your 160-180° range and nothing at all in the 0-20° area. I know this isn't realistic, it's just an ideal. If you can feel intense love, intense hate comes along with the spectrum package.

Consider yourself lucky if all you hate are places, like Brunei, or abstract concepts, like nuclear physics, or people you don't actually know, like the U.S. President.


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