The Art of Loving

I previously have written a number of posts on love but I have not mentioned a small book I read in my early twenties, and the first book I gave to Jane—who would later become my wife—just weeks after meeting her—Erich Fromm’s, The Art of Loving. It begins:

Is love an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort. Or is love a pleasant sensation, which to experience is a matter of chance, something one “falls into” if one is lucky? This little book is based on the former premise, while undoubtedly the majority of people today believe it is the latter.

Fromm thought that we misunderstand love for many reasons. First, we see the problem of love as one of being loved rather than one of loving. We try to be richer, more popular, or more attractive instead of learning how to love. Second, we think of love in terms of finding an object to love, rather than of it being a faculty to cultivate. We think it is hard to find someone to love but easy to love, when in fact the opposite is true. (Think of movies where after a long search the lovers finally connect and then the movie ends. But it’s the happily ever after that’s the hard part.) Finally, we don’t distinguish between “falling” in love and what Fromm calls “standing” in love. If two previously isolated people suddenly discover each other it is exhilarating. But such feelings don’t last. Real love involves standing in love; it is an art we learn after years of practice, just as we would learn any other art or skill.

In the end, though loving is difficult to learn and practice, it is most worthwhile and more important than money, fame, or power. The mystery of existence reveals itself—if it ever does—through things like relating to nature and productive work but, most of all, through our relationships with other people. Thus to experience the depths of life, we should cultivate the art of loving.

And as for Jane, the original handwritten inscription I wrote in the book is still apropos:

To Jane

In whose heart
I have perceived
a great deal of
warmth and love …


(Note. This post first appeared on this blog on July 29, 2014.)

Liked it? Take a second to support Dr John Messerly on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

3 thoughts on “The Art of Loving

  1. Hi John,
    I remember this book and it had just the same impact on me as it did on you, lasting and important. I think I even gave a copy with my later-to-become wife (but we weren’t able to “stand in love,” because it ended about 5 years later). Much of what Fromm said I didn’t really grasp until many years later. In 1973 I met a woman I fell in love with and stayed there right down to the present, when she, my bride of 47 years, lays sleeping in the next room…June.

    So thanks for the refresher this fine dark morning down here in Oly!

    Charley Kempthorne

  2. Fromm was correct; at any rate, conventional wisdom very often is mistaken.
    Remember the poster from the ‘70s to the ‘90s?: “It is not how much you love, but much you are loved”?
    Naturally, such was only a pop poster having little significance, other than to decorate a wall with something catchy. Yet it was emblematic of conventional wisdom.
    In the last comment I wrote, finally said what I always wanted to: modernity requires sacrificing simplicity. Love ought to be simple, but with increasing complexity and complications, love loses serendipity. Hasten to add that there’s no substitute for modernity—in a contest between love and modernity, the latter wins, very few wish to return to a simpler life, which entails relinquishing certain benefits of modernity. How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm when they have seen Paris?
    Paris might have been the City of Love at one time, but it is not quite the same now. From 1965 to 1966, San Francisco was often ‘Loveadelic’— today it is consumerdelic.
    How you gonna keep ‘em up in the Haight, when they have seen LA?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.