The Art of Loving

Can anything be learned about the practice of an art, except by practicing it?
— Erich Fromm

Fromm’s work found in the Art of Loving is timeless.  This book represents over twenty years of his psychoanalysis and social research studies.  He investigates the meaning of love from all perspectives and relationships, challenging the reader to question whether love is an art or a science; what actions need to be taken for a love to be successful; and dives into the deep transparencies an individual has to commit to in order learn about themselves, and often need to share with others in order to love and be loved.  Fromm says, “Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a ‘standing in’ not a ‘falling for.’”

His work is still very much applicable in present day, if not even more so with the distractions, pressure and disconnect from social media.  Fromm goes to great lengths explaining the major misconceptions our society has about the meaning of love, saying, “As a matter of fact, what most people in our culture mean by being lovable is essentially a mixture between being popular and having sex appeal.”  He is honest about the love that we need to hold for ourselves, and others, mentioning frequently that the only union that lasts a lifetime are the ones not that we share with our loved ones, but the love that we have with our very selves.  There is always opportunity for the individual to learn from a love shared with someone else, but he believes it is important to understand that this love is not meant to necessarily last, debunking the popular happily ever after. 

Fromm highlights the importance of giving in a successful relationship, and not always having the expectation of receiving something in return. 

He speaks about the popular tendencies humans have with seeking “orgiastic states”, explaining that historically priests and medicine men would encourage and sometimes demand their communities to experience these states with drugs and alcohol.  In this circumstance, this experience was shared with all; therefore there wasn’t any guilt, anxiety or shame attached to this practice, especially because of how it was prescribed.  Now, however, when individuals attempt to mask their feelings of loneliness or seek to self-medicate and find that “orgiastic state” with substances when they’re not feeling fulfilled by love, this practice can quickly turn into addiction and the individual then experiences guilt, remorse and sickness.

The myths and biblical stories that Fromm intertwined into his research provide excellent visuals and relativity to the reader, particularly regarding self-love, no matter the pronoun in which the reader identifies with.  His writing is refreshing and still applicable decades later, finding love in friendships and family members, as well as the more foundational love that we share with our parents as children, our romantic partners, our colleagues, and most importantly: ourselves. 

When analyzing the theory of love, Fromm’s quote, “Infantile love follows the principle: ‘I love because I am loved.’  Mature Love follows the principle: ‘I am loved because I love.’  Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’  Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you,’ breaks down the life stages of love from the neediness of infantile love, to the independence and strength of love when approached with maturity, confidence, and realism.  The individual has to surrender their whole selves to the universe of love in order to fully commit to loving both themselves and others:

It is hardly necessary to stress the fact that the ability to love as an act of giving depends on the character development of the person.  It presupposes the attainment of a predominantly productive orientation; in this orientation the person has overcome dependency narcissistic omnipotence, the wish to exploit others, or to hoard, and has acquired faith in his own human powers, courage to rely on his powers in the attainment of his goals.  To the degree that these qualities are lacking, he is afraid of giving himself--- hence of loving.

This book is filled with research, theories, historical stories, myths, and great knowledge for any student or individual looking to gain a deeper understanding of the role love plays in human lives.  I found this book very interesting, helpful, and just as easy to read as a novel, but also extremely informative and appropriate for any psychologist, therapist or healer of any sort.