The Essence of Liking

The thoughts contained in this post were first put into virtual form a bit over 2 years ago, but they are important enough for me to recycle and modify them here. In a nutshell, I want to talk about what it means to like.  In my experience, there are some really crucial aspects to that verb that often get overlooked..

1. Some etymology: The word “like” is one of those words that is commonly used.. and is interesting if you think of the different ways it is used.. Its history is also cool..
As an adverb/preposition (It runs like magic. or Like an idiot, he lied to his girlfriend…) like is generally a shortening of the word “alike” which is cognate of the German word “gleich,” which means “the same” at its core.. Etymologically, Germanic “G” turned into a “y” when it was in front the vowel “e” in the lower German of the Angles and Saxons who eventually conquered Britain.. This relationship can be seen in words like (germ)Gelten==to be of worth/to be valued/ (engl)Yield==to produce something of value or (g)Genug=enough, and (e)Enough… (g)Gelb==(e)Yellow.. etc etc.. Gleich fits this rule, because it used to be written as geleich.. which became “y-like,” which then progressed through “alike” to “like.”  In any case.. the base point here that is not hard to see is that our word “like” in this context comes from a meaning equivalent to saying “to be the same as”.. which obviously makes sense.

However.. looking at “Geleich” for a moment (I’m going to go off on a tangent here that will eventually loop back around I hope!).. it is interesting to split this word apart into it’s two roots. First, there is the prefix “ge” which is mostly dead in English and is only found easily in the word “e-nough”.. but which is common in German. “Ge”, according to my Duden Herkunftswoerterbuch, generally means “together with-” and in the case of the sole English word “enough” it is combined with an Indo-European root “nek” that basically means “to suffice”.. thus enough literally means “together with sufficient”.. which is its obvious meaning in English..

anyway.. getting to the second part of the word.. the root “Leich” is far more interesting. It is a common Germanic root that means “body/figure” and it’s found obviously in the German word: “Leiche,” which means “corpse” and the somewhat more obscure(although not to those who play D&D) English word “Lich,” which originally just meant a body/person/figure.. but then became closely associated with unliving bodies/figures.

What’s interesting here.. is to think about the meanings of these separate words and the final meaning that we have of their combination… “Geleich”, which would become “alike”==> “like” in English and “gleich”==”the same as” in German came from a combination that meant “together with the body”

Thus.. in a sense.. when we say that something is like something else.. we are basically saying it is together with the form/body of whatever it is being compared to.. In general, sameness/similarity, as determined by our minds, comes from a clear association of things with our own bodies.. Similarity is just a projection from our own identity outwards.. and this concept is rooted deep down in our own language. In a like manner.. the verb “to like” has the same origin.. and obviously comes from a root core meaning of “I find this thing/person similar/the same as my identity/core…”

2. All of this etymology was merely foreplay for the main thing I wanted to talk about.. namely the relationship of “like” and “love” in relationships…

Many years ago.. a bit more than a decade, I believe… I remember having a conversation with my grandfather… It was back before his strokes.. and I had not yet discovered by best half, but instead was still with the E. … We were visiting Grandpa at his Apartment in the Meriter living community over on Henry street.. and grandpa was chatting with E. … probably flirting with her as he was always wont to do with a pretty young woman.. and at the end of our visit.. he said to her.. “I like you E.” to which, she looked somewhat agitated, because that, to her, seemed much less than saying “I love you.” (even though they hardly knew each other..).. but then Grandpa, who was always sharp in all ways, followed with “This is important for a Kundert.. for it is not enough for us just to love you, we must also like you on top of that… ”

This statement struck me at the time as being obviously true.. but I didn’t have the life-experience at that time to see its quite deeper meaning…

Later on.. I would.. and this would first become clear in my relationship with E., where it became clear that although we did “love” each other.. over time, she very much stopped liking who I was and tried to change that… which eventually drove us further and further apart.. and it took us years to finally sever the relationship.. because this growing dislike==growing “not-the-sameness-of-body-or-identity”–which would be obvious to anyone who was objectively watching our relationship–was never valued by us as being nearly as important as the “love” that we had for each other… but this “love,” if I look at it analytically.. was more of an accumulation of good memories that was occasionally reinforced by sex.. and basically had become a big ball of relationship inertia that kept both of us from going down the paths that we needed to grow..

Eventually.. the relationship imploded.. but not because we ever recognized the mountain of dislike being covered by the thin and fraying veneer of love.. but rather because E. fell in love with someone else.. and with that thin sheet of love pulled away.. the obviousness of our lack of a healthy relationship sealed its fate.

In any case.. my realizations of all this would not be possible if I weren’t now in a relationship with my best half.. not only whom I love with all my heart.. but whom I like as a person.. a friend.. and as a human being in all ways and more than anyone else I’ve ever met. Without having experienced such a wonderful relationship.. the context and perspective for this thought would never have been there..

Finally.. one thing that I tend to note now when I look around me at people’s relationships.. is not just whether people who are together are in love with each other… seeing that is not so hard.. but I also look to see whether they like each other. Do they find a way to see the “together with my body”-ness of their partners.. and not just (or even primarily) in the chemically driven physical/sexual way.. but in the more meta level of actually identifying with the person they are with on a multitude of levels.

Can they, in all honesty, say to their partner: “I like you.”

I hope so… for love without like often ends up creating a relationship that is a mountain of hatred and regret covered by a thin dusting of memories of better times… This is not to say that they cannot again begin to like the other person.. but such “liking” takes effort and work and time… It is an eminently worthwhile and noble endeavor.. but it is always work..


About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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2 Responses to The Essence of Liking

  1. Pingback: Nice and Kind | The Philosophy of NOM

  2. Pingback: Numbers, Grokking, and Wonder | The Philosophy of NOM

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