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Relationships • Conflicts

On Saying ‘I Hate You’ to Someone You Love

If we overheard someone telling their partner candidly that they hated them, we might well come away with the conclusion that this wasn’t a relationship destined to last very much longer. Even if the message was delivered with immense politeness (and throughout we’ll be assuming that it would be), it’s hard to imagine that trust and intimacy could survive such a direct blow to pride.

But that would be to neglect how much a frank declaration of dislike could in fact belong to health and vibrancy, and might even be deemed properly romantic, in the sense of conducive to, and sustaining of, love.

Photo by Nik on Unsplash

No relationship is possible without an immense degree of disappointment. Two partners cannot help but – in a myriad of ways – letting each other down relative to the heady initial hopes that propelled them together. Their longings for understanding, sympathy, kindness, entertainment and care will not survive any close-up acquaintance with one another’s true selves. We are all – from within the confines of long-term love – fated to emerge as extremely complicated propositions: with our trying share of defensiveness, compulsions, blind-spots, childhood-founded follies, lazinesses and no-longer-so-sweet failings. Coming to know all this about someone isn’t merely a disaster (though it is at one level that too), it is simply a sign that we’re getting to know someone deeply.

The lover who dares to express their hate isn’t necessarily being idly rude or casually destructive; they are allowing themselves to trust that they can be understood for giving vent to reality. 

Anyone can love us for our polite and accomplished sides. Only a genuinely worthy lover can bear our authentic dimensions. It’s touching – of course – to be able to tell someone we love them. It’s a true privilege, and a sign of real closeness, to be able to share with them the scale of our grief and melancholy: how they have kept us away from other people, how they have constrained us with their needs, how they have irritated us with their habits and how they have failed to rescue us from our failings. The accusations don’t have to be accurate, what counts is that we finally feel safe enough to share them.

We spend an inordinate amount of time being good boys and girls to buy the affections of others – and go half crazy from the effort. The love we should cherish is an arena in which we can – with the necessary caveats – at last show ourselves off as we actually are. It may not be entirely grown up, but nor does intimacy feel possible around someone who narrowly and ruthlessly insists on our maturity.

Overhearing a declaration of hate is – it seems – far from an inevitable sign of trouble. It may yet be one of the more tender things we could ever hope one day to be able to share with someone we admire and adore.

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