Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving

On Giving and Receiving

Giving produces more happiness than receiving, not because of deprivation but rather because in the act of giving is the expression of my vitality… In the sphere of material things, giving signifies being rich. He that has a lot is not nearly as rich as he that gives a lot. 

On the Objects of Love

Love is not essentially a relationship with a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of the  character that determines the type of relationship that a person has with the entire world, not with a single “object” of love. If a person only loves one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not true love, but rather a symbiotic relationship, or an amplified selfishness.

On Fraternal Love

The most fundamental kind of love, basic in all types of love, is fraternal love. By this, one understands a sense of responsibility, care, respect and knowledge with respect to any other human being, the desire to promote his or her life… if I have developed the ability to love, I cannot avoid loving my brothers… this is based on the experience that we are all one. The differences in talent, intelligence and knowledge, are negligible compared with the identity of human essence that is common to all men.

On Maternal Love

The narcissistic, dominating and possessive woman can be a “loving” mother while her child is young. Only the mother that truly loves, the woman that is happier giving than receiving, that is firmly planted in her own existence, can be a loving mother when her child in in the process of separation.

Maternal love for the growing child, love which desires nothing for the self, may be the most difficult form of love to achieve, and also the trickiest, because of the ease with which a mother can love her young child. But precisely due to the said difficulty, a woman can only truly be a loving mother if she can love; if she can love her husband, other children, strangers, and all human beings.

On Erotic Love

… the longing of complete fusion, of union with another person. By its very nature, it is exclusive and not universal; it is also, perhaps, the trickiest form of love that exists.

In the first place, it is easily confused with the explosive experience of “falling in love”, the hasty removal of barriers that existed prior to this moment between two strangers. But such an experience of sudden intimacy is, by its very nature, of short duration. When the stranger has been converted to an intimately-known person, there are no more barriers to overcome, no more sudden closening to achieve. One gets to know the “loved” person as much as one knows oneself. Or, perhaps, it would be better to say as little. If the experience of the other person were more profound, if one could experience the infinite depth of the other’s personality, they would never seem so familiar–and the miracle of taking down barriers would renew itself daily. But for the majority of the people, the self as well as others, seem to be rapidly explored to exhaustion. For them, intimacy is principally established through sexual contact. Because they experience separation from the other fundamentally as a physical separation, a physical union means overcoming separation.

If the desire for physical union is not stimulated by love, if the erotic love is not at the same time fraternal, this will never lead to unity except in a transitory, orgiastic sense.

Erotic love, if it is true love, has a premise. To love from the essence of the being–and to experience the other person in the essence of their being. In essence, all human beings are identical.

On Tenderness

Tenderness is in no way, as Freud believed, a sublimation of the sexual instinct; it is the direct product of fraternal love, and exists equally in physical forms of love and in the non-physical forms.

On Lovers

At the beginning of a relationship, the lovers “consider the intensity of their passion, that being crazy for one another, as a proof of the intensity of their love, when it only shows the degree of their prior loneliness.”

On Marriage

To love someone is not merely a powerful feeling–it is a decision, it is a choice, a promise. If love were not more than a feeling, there would not be any basis for the promise of eternal love. A feeling begins and it may disappear. How can I judge that it will endure eternally, if my act does not imply a deliberation and decision?

Taking these points of view in to account, one may arrive at the conclusion that love is exclusively an act of will and a commitment.

On Selfishness

The selfish person is only interested in himself, desires everything for himself, does not feel pleasure in giving, but rather only in taking… judges others based on their utility; is basically incapable of lovingSelfishness and love for oneself, far from being identical, are really opposites. The selfish individual does not love himself too much, but rather too little; in reality, he hates himself.

Freud sustained that the selfish person is narcissistic, as though he denies his love to other and instead directs it toward himself. It is true that selfish people are incapable of loving others, but they are also unable to love themselves.

On Sexual Satisfaction

Love is not the result of adequate sexual satisfaction; on the contrary, sexual satisfaction–and even knowledge of the so-called sexual techniques–is the result of love. If any proof other than daily observation were necessary to support this thesis, these could be found in the vast material of psycho-analytic data. The study of the most frequent sexual problems–frigidity in women and the more and less serious forms of psychic impotence in men–, demonstrates that the cause is not rooted in a lack of knowledge of an adequate sexual technique, but rather in the inhibitions that impede loving. Fear or hatred of the opposite sex are at the root of difficulties that impede a person from surrendering completely… If a sexually-inhibited person can let go of his or her fear or hatred, and thus become capable of loving, their sexual problems are resolved. If not, then no knowledge of sexual techniques will help.