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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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 ….
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.