Relationships: A Like Story

Love and like are two very different emotions. They feel very different and they come about in very different ways. And we rarely ever think about the difference between them. We should.

When talking about a relational theory to a client or a classroom, I often find it best to put it in terms of person to person interactions. Instead of having people try to wrap their heads around group dynamics, I often say, “Imagine you were on a date and…” When I do that, the theory easily snaps into perspective. Because, of course, companies, organizations, agencies and communities are made up of people, and we all deal with people every day.

There is one particular paired-set of emotions that people so easily see the interplay between when I explain it to them and yet goes unseen in almost all relationships, both personal and corporate. Yet it is the cause of so much strife.  

Most people are familiar with the statistic that around 45% of marriages end in divorce. An interesting question to ponder is: how many of the remaining marriages are actually happy? I remember when my ex-wife and I separated prior to divorcing, a friend of mine looked me in the eye and said, “I flat-out know that the marriage you are ending is happier than the one I’m still in.”

That was a tremendously sad observation. And, I think, unfortunately common. But how does it happen?  Well there are of course many complicated reasons for marriages and relationships of any kind to come to an end, but I believe there is a common thread that weaves its way through so many relationships, not just marriages, that can make for dissonance, unhappiness and, too often, fracture.

Love vs Like.

Love and like are two very different emotions. They feel very different and they come about in very different ways. And we rarely ever think about the difference between them.  

We should.

Like” is quantifiable – albeit personal and distinct to each of us. We each know what we do and don’t like in a person. And when it comes to friends, we are all rather good at this. Like is an emotion that exists externally to us. “I like the way you dress.” “I like your smile.” “I like the way you treat waiters.” “I like your work ethic.” We have a list of positive attributes in our minds and then we (largely unconsciously) run the people we meet through the list as we get to know them and end up with a judgment of whether we like them or not. And how much.

And, importantly, once you have made the decision that you like or don’t like someone, it becomes a decision that you are prone to stick with. For good reason: It’s a decision that you have fairly thought through.

LOVE, however, is a wild, complicated, uncontrollable, unquantifiable beast.  Love is an emotion that exists internally to us. Love is how you make me feel. Love is butterflies in my stomach. Love is rapture when your skin touches mine. Love is dreaming of a future together and wanting to be with you all the time. Love is pining. Love is giddy.

Love is not asking too many questions…

The feeling of love is different for each of us and it is a custom blend that can have both good and bad ingredients.

I remember very clearly a moment in a relationship I was in a decade ago. I was driving home from the office and pulled up at a traffic light, and I said to myself, “I love her because…” And I could not come up with one good reason. I was unhappy, I was not sleeping well, she treated me and others poorly. I constantly had a knot in my stomach. Nothing in the positive column. But I was totally in love and we dated for another 18 months after the “clarity at the traffic light.” (I still shake my head.) Only later did I realize that I was asking myself the wrong question…

In the aftermath of our break-up, as I asked myself “how did I get into this mess?” I came up with a colossal realization: I Loved her, but I did not Like her. And I further realized how this had been common to many of my biggest relationships.

The “seven-year itch,” when some people realize they’re not in love anymore?  It’s really just the moment when they finally face the ramifications of falling in love with and marrying someone that they don’t actually like.  

When people try to “find the love again,” the problem is that they are really looking for like but they never had that in the first place.

Falling in Love is crazy. Really, we lose control. And we rarely, if ever, ask ourselves what this feeling is caused by. What are the ingredients of you being in love? What are the triggers? What are we really feeling if we break those feelings down?

The first imbalance of falling in Love is that we gift each other with unearned intimacy. We too often assume things about the other based on nothing more than wishing it to be true. It’s actually so unfair: we give our partner an identity, filling in the bits we don’t yet know and are disappointed later when they don’t exactly fit our invention. “I don’t know you anymore!” is more accurately, “that thing I invented about you without asking or knowing, is just not true!”

There’s a saying I really enjoy. I got it from a tremendous clinical psychologist, Paul Meisel, by way of Dolly and Kenny, “You can’t make new old friends.”  Sit on that for a moment. You might make a new friend that becomes something of an infatuation for a while. But it just as easily may fizzle out. Old friendships are something special. It’s because you actually know each other. True intimacy comes slowly.

It’s not just for people.

Love vs Like does not just apply to marriage and human relationships. It applies to brands. It applies to social contracts. It applies to community relations. When I give branding lectures, I show how tech brands largely focus on branding themselves at the far “Love” end of the spectrum.  It’s all about being cool and emotion-driven, but you don’t really know why you are with them.  And suddenly, something newer and shinier comes along and poof, the customer is gone. Easy come; easy go.

Government agencies and non-profits tend to brand themselves purely at the far “Like” end of the spectrum. As a list of services and capabilities. It’s boring and it makes them seem replaceable by anyone with a better list. If you commoditize yourself, you risk being traded like a commodity.

Find the balance.

The solution is love built on a platform of like. Invite people into a relationship with powerful emotional messaging but offer them a warm bed of logic to lie on once they are there. To put it back into human terms: It’s all good to be attractive and vivacious, but for a lasting relationship, you have to be likable, too.

As with most things in the Relational Intersect, it’s simple once you see it. You just have to decide to do it.

Stop. Think. Like. Love. And build lasting, thriving, fruitful relationships.

Because Ambien and antacids are no way to live.

– Simon Dixon

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