The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm
Will Melt Your Fucking Brain
One Line Summary
God-tier level explanation of what is Love
The Art of Loving is a 10/10 book.
I honestly don’t say that lightly. I’d never say anyone “has to” read a book because everyone is at different places in their life, but man, this is about as close as it gets.
If you’re ready for it, you’re going to have some major epiphanies.
This book is written by Erich Fromm, a brilliant psychologist who published much of his best work during from the 40s-60s. He was heavily influenced by Marx and Freud, although reading this book you can see that he has deviated largely from both.
In The Art of Loving, Fromm covers the almost impossible task of answering the question of “what is love” from a rational, academic point of view. Although you’d probably think he wouldn’t get very far, he absolutely nails it.
Why it’s Awesome
I’m going to be quoting Fromm here a lot because the way he explains thing is just brilliant in many cases. So let’s get right into it. How does Fromm explain Love?
First off, let’s do away with what Love isn’t. It’s not neediness, which is what most people assume.
Most people feel some sort of deficiency or insecurity in their life. Then another person comes along, and because they have qualities you believe will fill this deficiency, you “fall in love”. They have become your savior.
But this is not Love, this is co-dependency. You cannot stand yourself, and so you latch onto another in hopes of future happiness. If this person no longer fulfills their duties of saving you from yourself, you lash out at them. If both people are co-dependent, this kind of relationship tends to resemble that of a drug addict: high one moment, devastated the next.
I learned this lesson very early on in college, although I didn’t even realize it. I had latched onto a girlfriend and projected tons of positive qualities she did not have onto her because being around her satisfied my insecurity.
When she broke up with me, I was absolutely devastated. My entire world crumbled. Yet looking back I can honestly say this is one of the most important things that ever happened to me.
Because my breakup was so bad, it forced me to drop this paradigm of co-dependent Love. Not totally, I’m not trying to pretend like I’m perfect. But at least to a large degree. I was forced to learn relationships from a perspective of independence.
And this is where we will get into what Love ACTUALLY is. So let me give the floor to Fromm:
“Love is an active power in man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity”
This is more or less what I just explained. Everyone has a desire to unify with others. But in this more mature definition of Love that Fromm is presenting, there still is a sense of individuality for each person. The other person is not “your savior” as we’ll see moving forward.
But we can go far deeper than even this basic definition. Fromm again:
“Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a “standing in,” not a “falling for.” In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving.”
Here we see that Fromm has defined Love not only in terms of an action, but the very specific action of giving.
For many people, giving is scary. There are afraid that if they give too much, what will happen to them? Yet as we saw in the 7 Spiritual Laws of Success, those who give will receive. It’s a flow and you don’t want to cut off the flow. So why don’t more people give?
Fromm again has the answer:
“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 is HUGE.
What Fromm is saying is that a lack of giving comes ultimately from a feeling of lack, either in their own abilities or current situation.
Let’s bring this down to a practical example.
A man in a relationship is trying to better himself. He wants to go to the gym, make more money at his job, and overall increase his “value”. This will likely also improve the quality of the relationship as a whole.
But let’s say the women he is in a relationship with is in the needy paradigm of love I described earlier.
What will likely happen is that she cannot allow herself to give to her man in this case. She will not give support in fear that if her man accomplishes his goals, maybe he won’t want her anymore. In her mind, he may leave her for maybe a younger, prettier women.
So what happens? The women does not Love, she takes. She may try to sabotage his goals, either consciously or unconsciously.
If the man is also in the needy paradigm of love, he will not give to the women the gift of drawing a personal boundary and doing what he knows is best for both of them. Instead, because he is afraid of drawing a boundary out of fear of losing her, he will give into her demands of sabotage.
Now the man has failed in his goals and the relationship has not improved for either person. Destructive co-dependency.
As we can see, Fromm is offering a extremely NUANCED view of giving. It is not as simple as “I’m a martyr and should sacrifice myself”.
In fact, in Fromm’s definition of Love, SELF-LOVE is just as important as any type of love. Without love for yourself, you cannot love anybody.
This self-love is also different from selfishness. The selfish person does not have self-love: as Fromm pointed out above, the root of selfishness is actually self-hatred. They feel a deficiency inside, and so seek to remedy this deficiency via whatever means necessary.
Next, Fromm tackles the issue of different forms of Love. They are:
- Brotherly Love
- Motherly Love
- Erotic Love
- Love of God
I’ll go through each one briefly. Read the book for more detailed analysis.
“If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life. If I can say to somebody else, “I love you,” I must be able to say, “I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself.”
In Fromm’s paradigm of Love, notice that because it has been defined as an ACTION, it is no longer limited to one person, which is the mainstream view of Love. In fact, he is arguing that Love necessarily must permeate to all people in order to truly have transcended the needy paradigm.
This is love that is unconditional. No matter who you are or what you do, this kind of Love remains strong in the Motherly form. Fatherly Love is much more conditional. As Fromm explains, children need to receive both kinds in order to truly become mature, healthy adults.
If Love is no longer limited to one person, then what about the Love between men and women? Are you supposed to Love your spouse as much as your neighbor’s spouse? Something about that doesn’t seem right either. This question is actually why I picked up this book.
Fromm’s answer is a paradox. Here is how he explains Erotic Love:
“Erotic love is exclusive, but it loves in the other person all of mankind, all that is alive. It is exclusive only in the sense that I can fuse myself fully and intensely with one person only. Erotic love excludes the love for others only in the sense of erotic fusion, full commitment in all aspects of life-but not in the sense of deep brotherly love.
One neglects to see an important factor in erotic love, that of will. To love somebody is not just a strong feeling-it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision?
Inasmuch as we are all one, we can love everybody in the same way in the sense of brotherly love. But inasmuch as we are all also different, erotic love requires certain specific, highly individual elements which exist between some people But not between all.”
Okay, that was a lot. Let me explain.
Fromm is not arguging that chemistry between people isn’t important. However, he also disregards the view that love is ONLY about what the other person can do for me, which is the Needy paradigm all over.
The role of CHOICE also becomes extremely important since we are no longer talking about Love as a feeling but as an ACTION. Therefore, the man or women who you choose to labor for and give becomes who you have Erotic Love for.
We’ve already spoke about this. Basically, this is sense of completeness you have within yourself. But also, it’s a giving to yourself. You’re not afraid to receive as well as give.
Love of God
This is a really long section where Fromm goes in depth on history of God and what divine love is. He talks about how God is not meant to be personified, rather God is that which cannot be spoken off due to its infinite and impossible nature. I’d definitely read this if you consider yourself a spiritual person.
In essence, Fromm argues that modern religion has it wrong and that God is not something separate from you. God and you are one, along with everyone else. Your love for God really is in this case just another form of Self-Love.
So those are all the forms of Love. The last thing I want to talk about that I loved in this review is this idea of Love as an Art.
These may seem like strange habits to cultivate for Love in our conventional paradigm. But from Fromm’s paradigm of Love as Action, it makes a lot of sense. These are all time-tested and well known methods to mastering any art.
Each person’s personal experience of Love may be different. But by applying this principles joyously to your practice of Love, you’re bound to be successful.
Why Does It Suck
One major problem I see with people on the spiritual path is that they think it’s about becoming a loving person. When in reality, any image of who or what you are is exactly what is standing in the way. In that case, I hesitate to hand this book to spiritual seekers, even if it contains a lot of core truths. Ego can get lost in it while completely ignoring the element of Truth.
The Wrap Up
Absolutely incredible book. If you’re a human being, there’s a good chance you need to read this. While Love is inherently abstract, it’s also incredibly real. In fact, some people would say it’s the only real thing there is. All else is illusion created by separateness.