Why Being a Hater Could Be the Key to Friendship
I once dumped a guy over Dave Matthews.
It happened in the spring. I innocuously asked him to burn me a CD, Pink Floyd’s The Wall. He returned the next evening with 17 discs in tow. When I asked why there were so many, the following exchange transpired:
“These aren’t Pink Floyd records. They’re Dave Matthews Band,” he said.
“But I don’t like Dave Matthews,” my bruised naïveté replied.
“I think that’s because you haven’t heard enough Dave.”
“No one in the Western world has that problem. Where’s The Wall?”
“I ran out of CDs.”
Standing in the living room of my first apartment, holding 17 pirated discs (we’re talking B-sides, bootlegs, and actual “rarities” he appeared to be proud of having unearthed and even more enthusiastic to share in their clandestine beauty), it only occurred to me to say one thing:
“I think we should break up.”
He was tall, handsome, funny, and kind, yet at 21, an inability to sweep my tacit loathing of Dave Matthews under the rug was a deal breaker. It’s not why the relationship had to go, but it established an exact time of death.
I have since retold this tale to multiple parties. Inevitably, those closest to me have offered the same response: “Good decision.” Each time that reply crosses the threshold of a stranger’s lips, I know we are destined for true companionship. A shared distaste of Dave Matthews is thicker than blood. I’ve yet to be wrong. (No offense, Dave lovers; just let me have this.)
Over the years, I have encountered first-person accounts of said-to-exist individuals who hate one or more of the following, either in tandem or in sum: Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Coldplay, Reese Witherspoon, red lipstick, cilantro, Seinfeld, Taylor Swift, body-con dresses, Salvador Dalí, red roses, and wicker furniture (fair).
I love many of these things. I will never understand anyone’s unmitigated vitriol toward Anne Hathaway. When among DMB fans, I am often met with the same pitying yet jolly laugh the Whos in Whoville reserved for the Grinch’s affable misanthropy. Who can say why we illogically despise certain things?
According to science, we seem to enjoy the bond that occurs in the wake of such shared negativity. Anyone who grew up playing competitive sports will testify: Nothing binds us together like a common enemy. New research has something to say about this very human, very pervasive phenomenon. Keep scrolling for further insight.
The power of positivity is indeed a worthwhile endeavor; however, we can’t selectively numb feelings. You turn off pain; you turn off joy. Psychological health requires routine cycling through negative emotions. “It is impossible to avoid negative emotions altogether, because to live is to experience setbacks and conflicts,” says psychologist Shannon Sauer-Zavala of Boston University. While conducting a study investigating the link between mixed emotional experience and psychological welfare, Adler and Hal E. Hershfield, a professor of marketing at New York University, discovered that “taking the good and the bad together may detoxify the bad experiences, allowing you to make meaning out of them in a way that supports psychological wellbeing.” While a raindrops-on-roses, whiskers-on-kittens zeal for optimism is often held up as a laudable, transcendent approach to living, suffering remains integral to the human condition. Negative thoughts have value. They help us grow.
Neurologically speaking, there really is a thin line between love and hate. Professor Semir Zeki of University College London, who led a study published in the online journal PloS ONE, states, "Hate is often considered to be an evil passion that should, in a better world, be tamed, controlled and eradicated. Yet to the biologist, hate is a passion that is of equal interest to love.” Both love and hate produce neural circuit activity in the putamen and insula areas of the brain, both located in the subcortex. While many of the same biological triggers exist, one key difference remains: Hate is the more logical of the two. The primary difference between feelings of love and hate in the brain arises in the cerebral cortex, the area associated with judgment and reasoning. These areas become deactivated while in love; hence, the saying “love is blind.” Only a small area of the cerebral cortex is deactivated in feelings of hate. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Hate presents itself an objective, more sportsmanlike breed of passion, one vindicated by facts and analytics. Where love is touchy-feely, hate begs a reason.
There is sufficient data to suggest hating all the same things boosts interpersonal chemistry, making for deeper cuts than shared interests alone. A study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, part of a larger body of work by the University of South Florida’s Jennifer Bosson, indicates the formula for fast friends is, in fact, shared negativity. Bosson’s work found sharing a negative attitude over a third party led to quicker bonding among participants. “Presumably, sharing negative attitudes is alluring because it establishes in-group/out-group boundaries, boosts self-esteem, and conveys highly diagnostic information about attitude holders,” she writes. Despite the consistency with which this pattern emerged in the data, participants remained blithely unaware of the notion that their feelings of connectedness were generated out of antagonism. When asked, the vast majority routinely asserted sharing positive opinions would lead them into stronger friendships. Au contraire, optimists.
One explanation as to why hating on things in the company of strangers garners such universal appeal is that the habit manifests as an act of defiance against social norms. We’re socially conditioned to say the proper, nice thing, to not make a row and to be polite. Allegedly, this is how we win friends, by looking good and being likable. Going to the dark side, however, jettisons the conversation into raw vulnerability. Breaking social norms implicitly signals confidence and trust. There is a cloak-and-dagger sort of deliciousness to divulging one's own venom.
In Bosson’s study, strangers were, simply put, consistently more attracted to one another when they discovered a shared negative attitude. I have experienced this ineffable magic firsthand on multiple occasions. Once, at a dinner party wherein I knew no one save for the host, a conversation sparked over the ubiquity of Internet trolls and Twitter hate. I confessed the topic fascinated me entirely. I could not understand, in particular, what the big fuss was over a polarizing celebrity. The woman sitting next to me turned and said, nonplussed, “It’s just one of those things. I hate Coldplay.” Her confession opened the door to a lively and forthright debate. The two of us ended up closing down the restaurant. Her willingness to eschew the triviality of cocktail hour and shrill, agreeable small talk felt instantaneously conspiratorial and taboo. Here was a woman interested in a real exchange, not politics. Also, I was genuinely enthralled by what could possibly be so offensive about Coldplay.
I’m here to offer the possibility of what is actually occurring when we share our dislikes with one another, in particular strangers. It’s not the negativity that sets our hearts aflutter, but rather a shared affinity for authenticity. Human beings crave realness. We are starved for it. And people are remarkably authentic when expressing their dislikes. I have encountered far more rousing diatribes in defense of abandoning a belief than in favor of acquiring one. As a journalist, I conduct a fair number of interviews, and one pattern prevails: Ask someone why they like something, and you’ll often get a response of tepid, canned enthusiasm. Ask someone why they hate something? Here come the detailed specifics. Diversity of opinion makes the world a more interesting place. I am excited and challenged by a difference in opinion. I can’t wait to hear why you hate Coldplay. Please, enlighten me.
In the end, it is our ability to allow for a wide berth of discovery and exploration in order to thrive and grow as a culture. We must welcome new patterns of thought and constantly challenge old paradigms. To be fair, the notion of “hate” discussed herein is not in reference to actual, deep-rooted prejudices or social injustice. This is a debate over the fluffier sort of loathing: the Dave Matthews Band of enmity, if you will. It’s ultimately a conversation about tolerance and generosity. Affording someone the freedom to express their opinion, listening with an open mind… These are vital acts of generosity, courage, and compassion.
But, seriously, if you hate Dave Matthews, I bet we’d get on like gangbusters.
Opening Image: Jess Hannah
Have you ever had a lasting friendship stem from a mutual dislike? Tell us in the comments below.