The phrase, “We shouldn’t be together but I still care about you” is often exchanged during an end-of-the-dating period conversation and can be quite confusing. It doesn’t quite make sense that, if you care about me, then why are you hurting me? Shouldn’t it be that, if you cared about me, then you would want to be together?
I kind of chalked that phrase up to be a cop out; it’s just your cowardly way of trying to let me down “easily” and in fact, you probably don’t care about me at all. However, I actually think that you can still care about someone and still not necessarily like them; I did not understand the very important distinction between the two until just recently.
I live by the motto that, once you have experienced something, it will forever be. Once something happens, it will never go away. Sure, experiences and moments are transitory and illusionary, but you can always go back in your head and re-visit them at anytime; once something is created, it cannot be taken back. Once I had that realization, it kind of freed me from fear of loss. I could gain any friendship, invest in any relationship, bond with any pet, and still feel that it was worth my time.
Liking someone, and caring for someone occupy two completely different realms. I think, when you like someone, you also care about them. But, you can also care about someone without necessarily liking them. If you have once liked someone, then you have also once cared for them. And, because moments and experiences do not ever go away, there will forever be a presence that you liked them at some point, even if you do not currently like them. So when you say, “I don’t want to be with you, but I still care about you”, it is stemming from that notion: although I do not think we should be together at this moment in our lives, I invested some kind of time and energy into you at some point, and therefore, I still care about you as a person. Even if I don’t think we will ever get back together, I still want to enjoy those inside jokes we created with each other, because it reminds me of a good time in my life. I wanted to support you at one point in our lives, and I still want to support you, because I saw what a great person you are and I sincerely hope you get that job promotion, but I don’t like you anymore, because I know we are not on the same path in life. Or, because we spent some considerable amount of time together and shared our deepest, darkest secrets, I know things about you–I know how you often overbook yourself, I know how you react when bad things happen in the world, I know how your job can often be stressful and demanding, or how you probably throw the remote at the t.v. when your favorite sports team loses. So when finals comes around, when a school shooting occurs, when evaluation season is present, when your team is massacred, I still think about you, because I invested time in you at one point, and genuinely care about you, but don’t necessarily “like” you.
“Liking someone” takes on a completely different connotation than “caring about” someone. When you “like” someone, you see some kind of investment in your future together. The things you do and say are motivated towards developing your relationship for that pinnacle moment (aka marriage) and moving yourselves towards a singular unit. You call each other at specific times, you hang out at specific times. You have some kind of hyper focus with the time you spend on each other. All your conversations are couple-related. But, when you care about someone, you hope they are doing well. The focus of your relationship might be a little more lax, less high stakes, more tentative and spontaneous. Of course, caring about someone can come in many different intensities; sometimes, you might care about someone enough to still want to know about their day-to-day activities. Sometimes, you might care about someone to just tell them Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, Happy Earth Day. Or sometimes, it might just be good enough to you to know they are still alive and not dead and that is all the information you care about.
“I don’t think we should be together, but I still care about you”. Rejection can often be really traumatizing, because we often internalize rejection as, “there is something wrong with me”. I think, as a capitalist society, we are so used to “winning” and “being first place” that we think the same of relationships as well; if we don’t get the guy in the end, then we didn’t “win”. Sometimes, there actually could be something wrong with you, personally. You could be really clingy, embarrassing to take out in public, or have really stinky feet. But often times, there isn’t anything wrong with you personally. There could just be some factors that are not aligning to keep the two of you together: location, timing, interests, maturity level. And for those reasons, you probably should not be together, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you still don’t care about each other.