The Art of Loving According to Erich Fromm

The Art of Loving According to Erich Fromm
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

The legacy of Erich Fromm’s phrases about love continues to inspire us today. Because, when it comes down to it, we have to admit that loving is not always easy. It requires courage,  action, commitment and a high sense of humility and responsibility. Few authors have taught us as much as Fromm has about the art of loving.

The teacher, poet and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hahn, once said that loving, without knowing how to love, hurts the person we love. The worst thing is that we often see love as something passive. For many people a crush leads to infatuation, where one completely surrenders to the other person. When this happens there is no choice but to let ourselves be carried along, hoping that the love will be reciprocated, nurtured and confirmed by the other person. But we often find that what we receive in turn is devoid of energy, creativity, and not reciprocated.

The Art of Loving

To love intelligently and fully is the result of a deliberate act, an intent that requires and, at the same time, demands excellence. If we just let ourselves go, acting passively and waiting for the other person to do and say everything, and also to reciprocate, then we will just end up completely frustrated. This is what the social psychologist, psychoanalyst and German philosopher, Erich Fromm, taught us in his book “The art of loving“, and here are a collection of his quotes that summarize this unforgettable book that is worth reading again and again.

“Paradoxically, being able to be alone is the condition to be able to love”

-Erich Fromm-

Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm’s quotes about love

The art of loving” is not an individual book within the enormous intellectual legacy that Erich Fromm left us. It is actually a continuation of another book, “The fear of freedom“. In the latter Fromm had already addressed different aspects of human nature and, because of this, felt the need to delve into the fascinating area of love, so basic and essential for every human being.

Above all, Erich Fromm wanted to teach us that love is an art. It demands that we master both theory and practice, because, and this is important to remember, love is the only reason for our existence, it is what really gives our lives meaning, as well as giving meaning to our society.

Let’s see below which of Erich Fromm’s quotes best summarize these ideas.

1. Love is the active concern for life and the growth of what we love

One of the most interesting aspects in the book “The art of loving” is the suggestion that most of us do not know how to love. It may seem a somewhat bleak idea, however, but we have to take into account the social context that Fromm lived in. After the end of the Second World War there was a great void of values, an existential crisis that forced many thinkers, philosophers and psychologists to rethink their ideas.

Love was, and is, the engine that should encourage us to be better people. To do this we are obliged to work actively on our personality and our personal growth. In this way we will satisfy self-love first, and then be able to love the other person fully. This is something that requires true humility, courage, faith and discipline.

2. Love is an activity, not a passive effect; it is a continual being, not a sudden burst

We pointed this out at the start. Being in love should not be a passive act where we simply let go, without doing anything else. On the contrary, it is an act in where joy mixes with actions, willingness, and sharing.

This is another of Erich Fromm’s most representative quotes. In it we are urged to get down from our cloud and strengthen our relationship. He calls on us to make every effort to walk hand in hand together with the same ideas and re-create our relationship on a daily basis.

Couple in love

3. Immature love follows the principle “I love you because you love me”

“Immature love follows the principle: I love you because you love me. Mature love says: You love me because I love you.  Immature love says: I love you because I need you. Mature love says: I need you because I love you.

-Erich Fromm-

This is one of Erich Fromm’s quotes that is not limited exclusively to love relationships. It has more to do with the way in which people relate to their own society i.e. they do so more out of necessity or a feeling they are lacking something than through altruism and a true love for their fellow men.

Fromm regards this type of love, which is based on need, as rather pathological. It implies not looking after nor understanding ourselves. It implies an expectation that others will take responsibility for what we don’t want to do. Something that is actually our responsibility.

“The first step is to become aware that love is an art, just as life is an art; If we want to learn to love, we must proceed in the same way that we should proceed if we want to learn any other art, such as music, painting, carpentry or the art of medicine or engineering “

-Erich Fromm-

4. If two people have been strangers…

” If two people who have been strangers… suddenly let the wall between them break, and start to feel and discover each other, this will be one of the most exciting experiences of their lives”

-Erich Fromm-

This is another of Erich Fromm’s most beautiful quotes. It speaks about intimacy, that miracle that usually begins with attraction and that is consumed with a deeper encounter that transcends the skin and sexuality itself. We are talking about an emotional connection, discovering another person with all their nuances, virtues, flaws, and essence. We’re talking about the intimacy that glides hand in hand with trust, the touch that makes our hairs stand on end, or a relaxed and nostalgic conversation that seems to come from the stars themselves.

5. Love is not only a relationship with a specific person

“Love is not only a relationship with a specific person; it is an attitude, a guiding of our character that determines the type of relationship of a person has with the world as a whole, not with an object or a person”

-Erich Fromm-

Something that Fromm wants us to understand in his book is that people see love as an object and not an ability. Loving is not something that is limited to the relationship we establish with our partners, our parents or our children. “Loving” is enriching our existence, it is an attitude capable of giving this world meaning, a resolution capable of transforming our society. However, as Fromm explains, in this modern culture we have commercialised everything in our eagerness to satisfy our own needs, and that includes love.

6. It’s a paradox when two people become one and at the same time remain two

This is another of Erich Fromm’s best-known phrases, and one of the most thought-provoking ones too. As we already know, a temptation we often fall into is to “water ourselves down” in a relationship, especially when we are just starting. It is an degenerating process that ends up destroying our own identity, and which consumes who we really are, along with our freedom and dignity.

We cannot forget that the real art of loving is to still be ourselves, but to go forward together, having the same commitment, and to be responsible for our own growth and our  relationships too.

Couple Embracing

7. There’s a big difference between falling in love and staying in love

For Fromm there is a big difference between falling in love and staying in love. He thinks that if the relationship starts with sexual attraction which then leads very quickly to the act itself, then the bond the couple has is in danger.

Fromm explains to us in “The art of loving” that, in order to develop a mature, wise and responsible love we need to work on four essential areas: care, responsibility, respect and knowledge. However, on many occasions, we end up with a love with no intimacy which is based only on mere need –  a need that is satisfied with the sexual act. This is a throwaway disposable love. Passion can appear, but this is easily clouded by distrust and by not knowing the other person well enough. It is a love that never takes shape.

On the other hand, whoever knows how to go beyond the initial sexual attraction and excitement, and who wants to, will try to create an true intimacy. They will try to be like a craftsman, turning love into a real, mature, and courageous love.

And so, to conclude, in these quotes of Erich Fromm, we have learned that love is not only a “subject” where we have to learn both the practice and the theory. The art of loving is also an active and responsible attitude towards life and society itself. It is a transforming force that requires awareness and not conformism,  and which calls out for creativity and not passivity.

Girl with feather

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.