The Art of Loving

50th Anniversary Edition by Erich Fromm


"Most people are unable to love on the only level that truly matters: love that is compounded of maturity, self-knowledge, and courage. As with every art, love demands practice and concentration, as well as genuine insight and understanding."

This little book by psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm explores love in all contexts, from romantic love, and the lofty expectations is carries, to brotherly love, self-love, and parental love. I admittedly have a lot of room to grow in these areas, and rereading this after two years I'm reminded of how love is always a choice that requires patience and practice.

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We are social creatures, made anxious by our seperateness. The culture offers false and easy means for addressing our anxiety — through sameness. It invites us to consume the same goods, work at the same jobs, adopt the same goals — define ourselves through the conformity and insignificant nuances of difference. But if we lack the courage to be individuals, we will never achieve love, since “love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity.” Love is not taking, out of insecurity; it starts in giving — of joy, interest, understanding, humor, sadness, “of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive” in us.

“The love for my own self is inseparably connected with love of any other being.”

I. Is Love an Art?

pg 1

Most people see the love primarily at that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love. Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable.

pg 2

A second premise behind the attitude that there is nothing to be learned about love is the assumption that the problem of love is the problem of object, not the problem of faculty. People think that to love is simple, but that to find the right object to love — or to be loved by — is difficult.

pg 4

There is hardly an activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.

pg 5

In spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power — almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.

II. The Theory of Love

pg 10

The more the human race emerges from these primary bonds (mother and child), the more it separates itself from the natural world, the more intense becomes the need to find new ways of escaping separateness.

pg 11

In many individuals in whom separateness is not relieved in other ways, the search for sexual orgasm assumes a function which makes it not very different from alcoholism and drug addiction. It becomes a desperate attempt to escape the anxiety engendered by separateness, and it results in an ever-increasing sense of separateness, since the sexual act without love never bridges the gap between two humans, except momentarily.

pg 13

One can only understand the power of fear to be different, the fear to be only a few steps away from the herd, if one understands the depths of need not to be separated.

pg 16

How could a man caught in this net of routine not forget that he is a man, a unique individual, one who is given only this one chance of living, with hopes and disappointments, with sorrow and fear, with the longing for love and the dread of the nothing and separateness.

pg 17

The unity achieved in productive work is not interpersonal; the unity achieved in orgiastic fusion is transitory; the unity achieved by conformity is only pseudo-unity. Hence, they are only partial answers to the problem of existence. The full answer lies in the achievement of interpersonal union, of fusion with another person, in love.

The desire for interpersonal fusion is the most powerful striving in man.

pg 18

The passive form of the symbiotic union (mother and fetus) is that of submission, or if we use the clinical term, of masochism. The masochistic person escapes from the unbearable feeling of isolation and separateness by making himself part and parcel of another person who directs him, guides him, protects him; who is his life and his oxygen, as it were. The power of the one to whom one submits is inflated, may he be a person or a god; he is everything, I am nothing, except inasmuch as I am part of him. As a part, I am part of greatness, of power, of certainty.

The active form of symbiotic fusion is domination or, to use the psychological term corresponding to masochism, sadism. The sadistic person wants to escape from his aloneness and his sense of imprisonment by making another person part and parcel of himself. He inflates and enhances himself by incorporating another person, who worships him.

pg 19

In contrast to symbiotic union, mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality.

If we say love is an activity, we face a difficulty which lies in the ambiguous meaning of the word “activity.” By “activity,” in the modern usage of the word, is usually meant an action which brings about a change in an existing situation by means of an expenditure of energy. Thus a man is considered active is he does business, studies medicine, works on an endless belt, builds a table, or is engaged in sports. Common to all these activities is that they are directed toward an outside goal to be achieved. What is not taken into account is the motivation of activity. Take for instance the man driven to incessant work by a deep sense of insecurity and loneliness; or another one driven by ambition, or greed for money. In all these cases the person is a slave of passion, and his activity is in reality a “passivity” because he is driven; he is the sufferer, not the “actor.” On the other hand, a man sitting quiet and contemplating, with no purpose or aim except that of experiencing himself and his oneness with the world, is considered to be “passive,” because he is not “doing” anything. In reality, this attitude of concentrated meditation is the highest activity there is, an activity of the soul, which is possible only under the condition of inner freedom and independence.

Envy, jealousy, ambition, any kind of greed are passions; love is an action, the practice of human power, which can be practiced only in freedom and never as the result of a compulsion.

pg 25

Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.

pg 26

Respect is not fear and awe; it denotes, in accordance with the root of the word (respicere = to look at), the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality. Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is. Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation. I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake,  and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me.

It is clear that respect is possible only if I have achieved independence; if I can stand and walk without needing crutches, without having to dominate and exploit anyone else.

pg 29

Even if we knew a thousand times more of ourselves, we would never reach bottom. We would still remain an enigma to ourselves, as our fellow man would remain an enigma to us. The only way of full knowledge lies in the act of love: this act transcends thought, it transcends words. It it the daring plunge into the experience of union.

pg 30

Care, responsibility, respect and knowledge are mutually interdependent. They are a syndrome of attitudes which are to be found in the mature person; that is, in the person who developed his own powers productively, who only wants to have that which he has worked for, who has given up narcissistic dreams of omniscience and omnipotence, who has acquired humility based on the inner strength which only genuine productive activity can give.

pg 34

Very often if the masculine character traits of a man (penetration, guidance, activity, discipline, and adventurousness) are weakened because emotionally he has remained a child, he will try to compensate for this lackey the exclusive emphasis on his male role in sex. The result is the Don Juan, who needs to prove his male prowess in sex because he is unsure of his masculinity in a characterological sense.

pg 38

Infantile love follows the principle: “I love because I am loved.” 

Mature love follows the principle: “I am loved because I love you.” 

Immature love says: I love you because I need you."

Mature love says: “I need you because I love you.”

pg 43

Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one “object” of love.

Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object—and that everything goes by itself afterward. This attitude can be compared to that of a man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims he has to just wait for the right object, and he will paint beautifully when he finds it. 

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.”

pg 43-44 (on brotherly love)

The most fundamental kind of love, which underlies all types of love, is brotherly love. By this I mean the sense of responsibility, care, respect, knowledge of any other human being, the wish to further his life.

pg 44

Brotherly love is love between equals: but, indeed, even as equals we are not always “equal”’ inasmuch as we are human, we are all in need of help. Today I, tomorrow you.

pg 45

To love one’s flesh and blood is no achievement. The animal loves its young and cares for them. The helpless one loves his master, since his life depends on it; the child loves his parents, since he needs them. Only in the love of loves who do not serve a purpose, love begins to unfold. 

pg 45 (on motherly love)

Motherly love…is unconditional affirmation of the child’s life and his needs… Affirmation of the child’s life has two aspects; one is the care and responsibility absolutely necessary for the preservation so the child’s life an his growth. It is the attitude which instills in the child a love for living, which gives him the feeling: it is good to be alive, it is good to be a little boy or girl, it is good to be on this earth! … It instills in the child the love for life.

pg 46

In contrast to brotherly love and erotic love which are love between equals, the relationship of mother and child is by its very nature one of inequality, where one needs all the help, and the other gives. It is for this altruistic, unselfish character that motherly love has been considered the highest kind of love, and the most sacred of all emotional bonds. 

pg 48

Here lies the basic difference to erotic love. In erotic love, two people who were separate become one. In motherly love, two people who were one become separate. The mother must not only tolerate, she must wish and support the child’s separation. It is only at this stage that motherly love becomes such a difficult task, that it requires unselfishness, the ability to give everything and to want nothing but the happiness of the loved one.

pg 49 (on erotic love)

…erotic love; it is the craving for complete fusion, for union with one other person.

pg 50

Sexual desire aims at fusion… But sexual desire can be stimulated by anxiety of aloneness, by the wish to conquer or be conquered, by vanity, by the wish to hurt or even destroy, as much as it can stimulated by love. It seems that sexual desire can easily blend with and be stimulated by any strong emotion, of which love is only one.

pg 51

Sexual attraction creates, for the moment, the illusion of union, yet without love this “union” leaves strangers as far apart as they were before.

pg 52

Erotic love, if it is love, has one premise. That I love from the essence of my being—and experience the other person in the essence of his or her being. In essence, all human beings are identical. We are all part of One; we are One. This being so, it should not make any difference whom we love. Love should be essentially an act of will, of decision to commit my life completely to that of one other person.

pg 52

To love somebody is not just a strong feeling—it is a decision, it is a judgement, it is a promise.

pg 54 (on self love)

If it is a virtue to love my neighbor as a human being, it must be a virtue—and not a vice—to love myself, since I am a human being too.

pg 54-55

The idea expressed in the Biblical “Love thy neighbor as thyself!” Implies that respect for one’s own integrity and uniqueness, love for and understanding of one’s own self, cannot be separated from respect and love and understanding for another individual. 

pg 55-56

The affirmation of one’s own life, happiness, growth, freedom is rooted in one’s capacity to love.

pg 56

Selfishness and self-love, far from being identical, are actually opposites. The selfish person does not love himself too much too little; in fact he hates himself. The lack of fondness and care for himself, which is only one expression of his lack of productiveness, leaves him empty and frustrated. He is necessarily unhappy and anxiously concerned to snatch from life the satisfactions which he blocs himself, but actually he only makes an unsuccessful attempt to cover up and compensate for his failures to care for his real self.

IV. The Practice of Love

pg 101-102

Modern man thinks he loses something—time—when he does not do thinks quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains—except kill it.

Eventually, a condition of learning any art is a supreme concern with the mastery of the art. If the art is not something of supreme importance, the apprentice will never learn it. He will remain, at beat, a good dilettante, but will never become a master.

pg 103

To get up at a regular hour, to devote a regular amount of time to activities such as meditating, reading, listening to music, walking; not to indulge, at least not beyond a certain minimum, in escapist activities like mystery stories or movies, not to overeat or overdrink are some obvious and rudimentary rules. It is essential, however, that discipline should not be practiced like a rule imposed on oneself from the outside, but that it becomes an expression of one’s will; that is felt as pleasant, and that one slowly accustoms oneself to a kind of behavior which one would eventually miss, if one stopped practicing it. It is one of the unfortunate aspects of our Western concept of discipline (as of every virtue) that its practice is supposed to be somewhat painful and only if it is painful can it be “good.” The East has recognized long ago that that which is good for man—for his body and for his soul—must also be agreeable, even though  at the beginning some resistances must be overcome.

pg 103

The most important step in learning concentration is to learn to be alone with oneself without reading, listening to the radio, smoking or drinking. Indeed, to be able to concentrate means to be able to be alone with oneself—and this ability is precisely a condition for the ability of love.

pg 104-105

It would be helpful to practice a few very simple exercises, as, for instance, to sit in a relaxed position (neither slouching, nor rigid), to close one’s eyes, and to try and see a white screen in front of one’s eyes, and to try to remove all interfering pictures and thoughts, then to try to follow one’s breathing; not to think about it, nor force it, but to follow it—and in doing so to sense it; furthermore to try to have a sense of “I”; I = myself, as the center of my powers, as the creator of my world. One should, at least, do such a concentration exercise every morning for twenty minutes (and if possible longer) and every evening before going to bed.

Besides such exercise, one must learn Tobe concentrated in everything one does, in listening to music, in reading a book, in talking to a person, in seeing a view. The activity at this very moment must be the only thing that matters, to which one is fully given. If one is concentrated, it matters little what one is doing; the important, as well as the important things assume a new dimension of reality, because they have one’s full attention. 

pg 105-106

Any activity, if done in a concentrated fashion, makes one more awake (although afterward natural and beneficial tiredness sets in), while unconcentrated activity makes one sleepy—while at the same time it makes it difficult to fall asleep at the end of the day.

pg 106

Needless to say that concentration must be practiced most of all by people who love each other. They must learn to be close to each other without running away in the many ways in which this is customarily done. The beginning of the practice of concentration will be difficult; it will appear as if one could never achieve the aim. That this implies the necessity to have patience need hardly be said.

pg 106-107

One cannot learn to concentrate without becoming sensitive to oneself. What this mean? Should one think about oneself all the time, “analyze” oneself, or what> If we were to talk about being sensitive to a machine, there would be little difficulty in explaining what is meant. Anybody, for instance, who drives a car is sensitive to it. Even a small, unaccustomed noise is noticed, and so is a small change in the pickup of the motor. In the same way, the driver is sensitive to changes in the road surface, to movements of the cars before and behind him. Yet, he is not thinking about all these factors; his mind is in a state of relaxed alertness, open to all relevant changes in the situation on which he is concentrated—that of driving his car safely.

pg 109

The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism

pg 111

The faculty to think objectively is reason; the emotional attitude behind reason is that of humility. To be objective, to use one’s reason, is possible only if one has achieved an attitude of humility, if one has emerged from the dreams on omniscience and omnipotence which one has as a child.

pg 111-112

If I want to learn the art of loving, I must strive for objectivity in every situation, and become sensitive to the situations where I am not objective. I must try to see the difference between my picture of a person and his behavior, as it is narcissistically distorted, and the person’s reality as it exists regardless of my interests, needs, and fears.

pg 112

The ability to love depends on one’s capacity to emerge from narcissism, and from the incestous fixation to mother and clan; it depends on our capacity to grow, to develop a productive orientation in our relationship toward the world and ourselves. This process of emergence, of birth, of waking up, requires one quality as a necessary condition: faith. The practice of the art of loving requires the practice of faith. 

pg 112

Even to begin to understand the problem of faith one must differentiate between rational and irrational faith. By irrational faith I understand the belief (in a person or an idea) which is based on one’s submission to irrational authority. In contrast, rational faith is a conviction which is rooted in one’s own experience of thought or feeling. Rational faith is not primarily belief in something, but the quality of certainty and firmness which our convictions have. Faith is a character trait pervading the whole personality, rather than the specific.

pg 114

Only the person who has faith in himself is able to be faithful to others, because only he can be sure that he will be the same at a future time as he is today and , therfore, that he will feel and act as he now expects to.

pg 116-117

To have faith requires courage, the ability to take a risk, the readiness even to accept pain and disappointment. Whoever insists on safety and security as primary conditions of life cannot have faith; whoever shuts himself off in a system of defense, where distance and possession are his means to security, makes himself a prisoner. T be loved, and to love, need courage, the courage to judge certain values as of ultimate concern—and to take the jump and stake everything enthuse values.

pg 118

while one is consciously afraid of not being loved, the real, though usually unconscious fear is that of loving. To love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is of little love.

pg 118-119

The paradoxical situation with a vast number of people today is that they are half asleep when awake, and half awake when asleep, or when they want to sleep. To be fully awake is the condition for not being bored, or being boring—and indeed, not to be bored or boring is oone of the main conditions for loving. To be active in thought, feeling, with one’s eyes and ears, throughout the day, to avoid inner laziness, be it in the form of being receptive, hoarding, or plain wasting one’s time, is an indispensable condition for the practice of the art of loving. It is an illusion to believe that one can separate life in such a way that one is productive in the sphere of love and unproductive in all other spheres. Productiveness does not permit of such division of labor. The capacity to love demands a state of intensity, awareness, enhanced vitality, which can only be the result of a productive, and active orientation in many other spheres of life. 

pg 123

If it is true, as I have tried to show, that love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence, then any society which excludes, relatively, the development of love, must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature. Indeed, to speak of love is not “preaching,” for the simple reason that it means to speak of the ultimate and real need in every human being. That this need has been obscured does not mean it does not exist. To analyze the nature of love is to discover its general absence today and to criticize the social conditions which are responsible for this absence. To have faith in the possibility of love as a social and not only exceptional-individual phenomenon, is a rational faith based on the insight in the very nature of man.