The Art of Loving ~ The Theory of Love Part I

Chivalry Dying of Love for the Goddess

Chivalry Dying of Love for the Goddess (1817-1845) Eleanor Fortesque-Brickdale ~ source Wikimedia Commons

Hmmm …. this is interesting.  When I first read this book it was like I was having an epiphany but with my second read through it, it’s not grasping me like it did the first time.  Have I matured?  Have Fromm’s ideas already percolated? Were Lewis’ descriptions of the different loves more enlightening and deeply resonating? I’m not sure, but on we go!

Love, the Answer to the Problem of Human Existence

The theory of love must begin with the problem of human existence.  While man is gifted with a unique awareness of himself and life, that knowledge brings the awareness of his aloneness and separateness in this world.  Right from the Biblical story of Adam and Eve we are separated and “the awareness of human separation, without reunion by love — is the source of shame. It is at the same time the source of guilt and anxiety.”  Our deepest need is to escape this separateness and achieve union and therefore, through the ages, man has devised ways to achieve unity.

the lover's whirlwind william blake

The Lover’s Whirlwind (1827) William Blake
~ source Wikiart

Fromm extrapolates that in its infancy the human race was close to nature and therefore its desire to achieve unity came in the form of “orgiastic” unions, such as worshiping a totem pole, or animals gods; however in a non-orgiastic culture this desire for union can take the form of drugs or sex to escape separateness yet Fromm says, “the sexual act without love never bridges the gap between two human beings, except momentarily.”

We want to eliminate differences by equality which used to mean that we are “all God’s children” and should not exploit each other, however modern culture has transformed the meaning to “the equality of automatons; of men who have lost their individuality ….. The polarity of the sexes is disappearing and with it, erotic love ….(because) men and women are the same, not equals as opposite poles.”  We are pressured to conform because men and women who function as automatons are easier to control in a mass aggregation.  But this function does not address our separateness, and addictions are the result.  He goes on to describe our “brave new world-ish” type society and asks “How should 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 longing for love and the dread of the nothing and of separateness?”

A third method of achieving unity rests in creativity or art, but only as far as the artist can see the process and the completion of his work.  In modern times, one often serves a function and is detached from the process.

Love in a Mist Anderson

Love in a Mist (unknown) Sophie Gengembre Anderson
~ source Wikimedia Commons

The desire for interpersonal union is fundamental in human beings as it gives meaning to life; without it we have insanity and destruction.  However, this union can function of different levels: is it a mature love that speaks to the problem of man’s existence or “immature forms of love which may be called symbiotic union?”

Immature forms:

Passive Symbiotic Union is submisson, or masochism.  The person attaches himself to another person and lives through that person who guides him, wherefore he does not have to make decisions.  The attachee becomes the idol and the submissive person loses their identity or their individuality; he renounces the act of living by losing some of his freewill.

Active Symbiotic Union is domination or sadism.  The sadist wants to escape his aloneness by making another person part of himself and is as dependent on the other person as the masoist is to their partner.  While there is an extreme difference between the masochistic and sadistic states, emotionally there is little difference.

In contrast,

Mature form:

Mature Love Union where a person “preserves one’s integrity, one’s individuality.  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.  In love, the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.”

So what is Love?  “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.”

Giving does not mean “giving up” as someone might view it whose character has not formed beyond the material or selfish.  Instead it is the highest expression of potential which brings joy to the giver who gives his life to the other, and therefore his love.

But not all have acquired the ability to love as it depends on growth and maturity of character; if a person lacks certain traits or has harboured negative ones, he is afraid of giving of himself and thus is handicapped when it comes to love.

Blue Lovers Marc Chagall

Blue Lovers (1914) Marc Chagall
~ source Wikiart

The basic components of love are:

Care – love has to be laboured at, like a garden, in order for it to grow

Responsibility – a voluntary act towards the needs of another

Respect – loving without exploitation and “exists only on the basis of freedom.” Yet one cannot respect another without knowing him deeply

Knowledge – speaks to the desire to fuse with another and knowing them thus is “stilled by union”.  Knowledge in itself is an elusive thing and can never be fully realized. Fromm seems to think one of the closest ways of “knowing” is through love.

More in The Theory of Love, Part II ….

The Happy Lovers

The Happy Lovers (1765) Jean Honore Fragonard
~ source Wikiart



I’m having a curious response to the second read of this book.  I believe on my first read, I was able to ignore, or at least partially mitigate, the psychological tone of the book and was absorbing his nuggets of good sense with relish.  This time the psychological bent is distracting me and I can’t help but feel that Fromm is missing something intrinsically human that attaches to the act of Love.

In some areas, I can’t see myself fully agreeing or fully disagreeing.  With the immature forms of love, I can certainly see what he means but I think he offers extreme cases and while some relationships have elements of his diagnosis, they are not necessarily entrenched with these unhealthy expectations or actions as Fromm seems to posit.  Definitely we need to take care and be aware of our behaviour and how we view the other person, but is it really as dire as he says?

I do love Fromm’s continual stress on activity and practice and labour.  As plants don’t grow without water, love doesn’t grow without work and dedication.  It’s weird, that as humans, we need to be continually reminded of this.


⇐  Is Love An Art?                                                  The Theory of Love ~ Part I

7 thoughts on “The Art of Loving ~ The Theory of Love Part I

  1. Fromm is a bit extreme in some of his descriptions. In pathological conditions sadism and masochism may be so pronounced, but in ordinary life and relationships things are more mixed.

    I think that even though most of us fail in reaching the ideal of love, there is still a feeling for the direction we need to go — that in itself is a kind of inborn “sense of love”. It pulls us to strive further, even if we are not so actively and consciously practicing this “art.” Unless there is severe trauma or illness that produces great aberrations, we will see in every human this striving toward love.

    • I so agree with you, Lory. Reading this book, -as with my ongoing reading of Scripture-, my aim it’s to become a bit more aware of this practicing this “art”, since it’s the christian life in a nutshell, LOVE, love God, love your neighbor, love your enemy. LOVE is what makes us human, what reunites us with Him, what redeemed us, what compels us to obey Him, to treat others as we want to be treated, what keeps us alive.

      Fromm was great at defining those pathological extremes, but I join in saying that we ought to be a bit careful not to box everything in the concepts we create to understand love or our behaviour, but to remember they are just points of reference to discuss a mixed and complex reality.

    • Yes, exactly. It’s the old extremism of career choice, I think. Because he was a psychologist, he saw these conditions from his patients and therefore probably assumed they existed in a greater and more extreme degree than they do.

  2. Oh, wow. You always write this amazing synopsis of the chapters so effortlessly.

    I’m going to join you and say that there’s something I “feel” that I can’t quite put my finger on, that seems off mark in Fromm’s book.

    I am starting to think that his worldview is irreconcilable with mine, (dare I say with ours?), and thus his book is becoming a good source of quotes, or a collection of good points, but not a full articulation of the question of love. And all this is because a christian an an atheist only overlap in some aspects of love, but our model to learn and understand love is God’s love for us, while Fromm, as you say, picks a psychological and humanist angle.

    Still this book is worth our time. There’s gold pieces of knowledge strewn all throughout. From this part, I take his observation that in love, when we give of ourselves, it’s a creative act, and we gain with that act of giving. If we see giving as sacrifice, and loss, our understanding of love and relationships in general is immature.

    I also appreciate what you’ve summarized so well, the debasing of love when we focus on sex without affection, (and I’d add the spiritual dimension of it).

    Reading your posts is a profound joy. I’ve been so caught up with work, and this morning I find myself with some time, and coming to my wordpress reader and finding your post has made my day.

    I don’t want to leave without also saying how enjoyable it’s to read your posts with the art you add. I do love each and all of the paintings.

    • Yay, Silvia! I was wondering how you’ve been and what you’ve been up to. It appears that we have the same feeling. I also think Fromm has some excellent thoughts that point us in the right direction of improving the way we love, but these ideas seem to exist separately and when I attempt to put them together, they just don’t fit as a whole philosophy (as you say, a problem with worldview). I remember the last time I read this book I was slightly frustrated as I didn’t feel Fromm gave us a workable, fluid plan on how to love better. Lewis does a much a better job in this aspect. However, I’m finding that some of Fromm’s ideas support and enhance Lewis’, so these reads are a good pairing.

      While I started off feeling this book worthwhile because many people do not do the practical work of trying to learn to love better, I now think Fromm has completely jettisoned the emotional feelings of love people have. So far he does tend to negate all of them. I, however, feel they can be good if they are tamed and managed by true practice of this art; they only go wrong when we rely on them to sustain the love with no or little work and have nothing as a base. Contrary to Fromm, I like how Lewis acknowledged them but put them in their proper place.

      Thank you so much for your sincere and kind words, Silvia. It’s nice to know that my posts are appreciated as they do take quite a bit of effort to produce. I receive benefit from them but it’s encouraging to know someone else does as well. I’m sure you’ll return the favour when we read Don Quixote next year! 😉😘

      • I do hope to be able to return the favor with DQ book 2, for sure. I too love writing those posts for myself, but when someone else benefits from them, I get rewarded with a lot of joy.

        You nailed it here:
        While I started off feeling this book worthwhile because many people do not do the practical work of trying to learn to love better, I now think Fromm has completely jettisoned the emotional feelings of love people have. So far he does tend to negate all of them. I, however, feel they can be good if they are tamed and managed by true practice of this art; they only go wrong when we rely on them to sustain the love with no or little work and have nothing as a base. Contrary to Fromm, I like how Lewis acknowledged them but put them in their proper place.

        Lewis’s book is shorter but also more cohesive and more powerful. Still a good book to read, if only to admire Lewis’s better understanding of what love is.

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