Love and Unlove

What is the opposite of love? The conventional pairing is love and hate. But is hate what stops me loving? John Welwood suggests that what lies behind “our wounded relationship with love” is “the mood of unlove”, a deep-seated suspicion I harbour within myself that I am not truly lovable as I am 1. This suspicion “undermines our capacity to give and receive love freely”. It acts as a filter which hides evidence of love, while highlighting any note of disinterest or rejection 2.

Possible faces of love and unlove.

My ‘mood of unlove’ announced itself at a party a few years ago, by overplaying its hand. It was a beautiful event, full of engaging people who were happy to see me. A thing happened, a thing too trivial and tedious to reward recounting. And there was no rejection involved. But it was possible for me to interpret rejection. So, why not?: I did. At that point I wanted to run home to my cave, far from the gross injustice of humanity. But somehow I wasn’t convinced with my own interpretation. I stayed, bewildered by the banquet of welcoming signs, baffled by how one small thing could numb me to the feast. The next day the whole incident became a little clearer: I had to develop a talent for seeing welcome, to balance a genius at inventing rejection.

In my new game, I look for signs of welcome. They are endless. I am standing in the crowded U-Bahn 3 , where everyone allowed me to join them. I walk down the street; each person passes without molesting me. The busy morning street opens up for me, to cycle to my destination like a salmon in a dense stream 4 5. Once I stop looking for signs that I am singluarly appreciated, the world is a very welcoming place. Of course, the price of that welcome is to recognise that I am one of many, I am one of us 6. But then, the desire to be seen as different corners me into being especially disliked, if I can’t be especially liked.

“This Happy Dog Thought People Had Thrown A Parade For It” 7

While neologisms can be awkward and unnecessary, ‘unlove’ is precise in its ungainliness 8. What holds me from love is a love-shaped suspicion. Hate is a powerful force, an different animal in its own right, and can exist as a partner to love or its inversion. When hate drives me to feel passionately, that passion may itself flip inside out and become love. Unlove, on the other hand only exists to prove love’s absence. 

The form ‘love/unlove’ has broader applications. My friend’s ex-girlfriend, a constant presence in his conversation, is his ‘ungirlfriend’, because she apparently isn’t ex yet. She still fulfills all the functions of a partner, except for presence. What’s more, an imperfect girlfriend can hardly compete with the perfect ungirlfriend 9. A man yearns for community, because he can’t feel community, but the new community is still haunted by his sense of lack: an ‘uncommunity’. All she knows about a mother is that her mother is everything that a mother shouldn’t be, her ‘unmother’.

Tricky! This image is a representation of unlove. But my use of it is an example of unlove. While writing about love as if I want it’s presence, I am still anamoured by it’s absence.

There is a particular posture to not recognising unlove. I reach for love, but I don’t grasp it. I open the door, but I don’t move. And it is delicious, to keep my cherished problem AND convince myself that I am working to shake it 10. Inactivity is resolved by seeing the obstacle as external; my history, my society, my family, my partner 11. Locating the taste of my own unlove is to admit a deeper reason for my suffering: I don’t trust love.

  1. ‘Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart’, John Welwood (2007), p.04.
  2. In psychological terms, this is a ‘confirmation bias’, the selection of information to support a conclusion already reached. This tendency is all the more insidious when unconscious, as the drama is taken as external and ‘real’.
  3. Berlin’s underground train system.
  4. “I’m wanted at the traffic-jam,/They’re saving me a seat.”
  5. For love in traffic, see
  6. “Love means to learn to look at yourself
    The way one looks at distant things
    For you are only one thing among many.
    And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
    Without knowing it, from various ills…. “

    from ‘Love’, Czeslaw Milosz,

  7. The dog may have been deluded, until the delusion became an agreed reality.
  8. It isn’t Doublespeak, but the bleak simplification of language reflects Orwellian Newspeak. Doubleplusunlove, anyone? “Newspeak has no antonyms, therefore the prefix “Un–” is used to indicate negation”.
  9. Dante’s relationship with Beatrice is an ungirlfriend receipe; don’t meet her, don’t marry her, but go all out after she is safely dead.
  10. This is where Doublespeak is possible, in describing (my suspicion of) love while ignoring (my suspicion of) love. “The Ministry of Love building has no windows and is surrounded by barbed wire entanglements, steel doors, hidden machine-gun nests, and guards armed with “jointed truncheons” “.
  11. One effective means to cover my disinterest is to find someone else to focus on, “I would, but I can’t, because he/she… ”

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