I Know What I Love, But What Do I Like?

February 25, 2019
Tennis shoes in the middle of colorful circles
Art by Kirsten Hemrich

The moment I realized I was in love for the first time floats into my memory more often than I’d like it to. It was summer in a small hometown with a boy. But more than that, there was me, frozen with overwhelming self-awareness and recognition of feeling. I had read every teen romance novel and seen every romantic comedy the world had to offer and lived with idyllic impressions of love circling my brain for years. Standing there, with the conscious thought of “you are in love” in my mind, I felt mainly discomfort. It was a very personal experience in the sense that I didn’t want to scream it from the rooftops. There was no musical crescendo and no credits started rolling as the screen faded to black. The realization popped into my head without much circumstance and left me to deal with the inner turmoil. Was love supposed to feel so individual? I wasn’t even sure I wanted to feel it at all.

Before I started dating that first boyfriend, we were just “a thing.” If someone asked me if I liked him, I would say yes or that we were “talking.” I relished such non-committal language so much that I didn’t want to transition into officially and seriously dating someone I had real feelings for. There was comfort and security in the nonchalance that didn’t require me changing facets of my identity but still let me have fun and spend time with another person that I liked. Once I loved him, I felt nervous because I knew I had to bear the burden of sharing my feelings.

In 10 Things I Hate About You, Bianca Stratford strolls onto the screen in a sundress with clips in her hair, the picture of upper-middle class popularity. Innocently, she dishes out one of many memorable quotes (from arguably the best movie ever): “Yeah but see, there’s a difference between like and love. Because I like my Sketchers, but I love my Prada backpack.” Her friend Chastity replies, “But, I love my Sketchers.” Bianca graciously clarifies, saying, “That’s because you don’t have a Prada backpack.” Sure, we could write off Bianca as vapid and stupid (especially compared to her feminist icon sister Kat) and maybe the movie invites us to do that. Or we could realize the power in such a distinction of feeling.

Does liking something always serve as a subordinate step to loving that thing? I feel like I fall in love walking around Grounds every day, only to notice one thing I don’t like, like the fact that their socks are pulled too tautly or something else equally microscopic, and the illusion shatters around my brain in a minute. Or maybe liking something is just a feeling we have until something better comes along, like a Prada backpack, or until our feelings progress far enough to require a reclassification.

Parsing out the difference between like and love confuses me a little, mainly because I think that I and many other women are traditionally expected to love and love unconditionally. Feeling lukewarm about something or someone isn’t supposed to be us--the heteronormative love stories include crazy girlfriends and damsels in distress and love potions all under the workings of a happily-ever-after plot.  

I feel like I fall in love walking around Grounds every day, only to notice one thing I don't like, like the fact that their socks are pulled too tautly or something else equally microscopic...

I also feel like this expectation translates to our friendships as well, where we can’t merely have an amazing connection with a person and find them inspiring and funny and profound. There’s a real performance involved with love, even if it’s of the homosocial variety. I’ll like my friends instagram posts, but then there’s this expectation to show real support by commenting “LOVE” with a million hearts on a post that’s just them standing in front of a brick wall at a pregame. I don’t love the picture necessarily, but I do love my friend.

In one of my other favorite rom-coms, How to Lose A Guy In 10 Days, Kate Hudson’s character, Andie Anderson, tells the guy she’s attempting to lose after a fabricated fight, “I love you, Benky. But I don’t have to like you right now.” Okay, fake pet names and purposeful drama aside, there’s something hilarious at the root of the concept that you can love someone after 7 days of knowing them but not like them. Do like and love always have to go hand in hand? I feel like I can quickly tell the people I’ll get along with, but I’m way more reserved with deeper feelings like love.

While I’m a sucker for a romantic comedy, I’m also an English major so I’ll throw some literature realness in here. I’m reading The Canterbury Tales for one of my classes, and in “The Knight’s Tale,” Emelye serves as the love interest for Arcite and Palamon, who both fall in love with her without her knowledge. Later, she begs Diana, goddess of chastity, to let her stay a maiden forever. Diana basically tells her, sorry girl, you’re marrying one of these two randoms and then leaves her to watch a tournament of knights and wait for one of the two men to win. Even though we have plans and wishes for our lives, love doesn’t seem to play by the same rules. I didn’t want to fall in love, but it happened.

Falling out of love for the first time was just as weird as falling in love. Again, nothing happened necessarily, but the feeling just wasn’t there anymore. Once I acknowledged my feelings instead of mentally pushing them to the side because I didn’t want to devote the energy to processing them, I figured out that I still really appreciated this person and valued the time we’d spent together, but I just wasn’t “in love.” And I still have love for him, but having love isn’t the same as loving. Before dating, we were friends and I liked him as one, but I just can’t get myself to be close to an ex in the same way as before I loved them.

I like waking up early and eating a peaceful breakfast, but I love staying up until 3am watching YouTube videos. Maybe liking and loving things are distinct feelings and relationships. Or maybe they play off one another, and almost impede into the other’s presence.

Don’t even get me started on all the things I hate.

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