Learning to Love According to Erich Fromm

· October 28, 2018

According to Erich Fromm, people must celebrate love every day as a liberating and enriching act. The people who manage to learn to love in a mature and conscious way understand that love isn’t possession nor conditions. Love is caring and a firm desire to promote the growth of all those people we love.

It’s very likely that Erich Fromm never sensed just how important his book The Art of Loving was going to be. What’s also likely is that not everyone knows the conditions he was under when he wrote this interesting and fabulous book. Those who had the opportunity to meet this Jewish psychoanalyst and humanist philosopher used to say that only a few people made such a relevant transformation as he did.

Up until the 50’s, Fromm was that great Talmud scholar and Marxist psychoanalyst who wanted to distance himself from Sigmund Freud‘s theoretical foundations.

He was a somewhat taciturn intellectual who settled in the United States after World War II. He left the weight of a divorce behind him, as well as the death of his last wife (by suicide) and the memory of a fragmented and ruined Europe.

It was in that decade when he decided to move to Mexico and become an activist for peace and women’s rights. Fromm wished to change his perspective on life, open up to happiness and the world, and fight for what he believed in. He became a very influential therapist and befriended President Kennedy. He also found love in a brilliant woman named Annis Freeman.

Even with the bitter memory of his previous wives, Fromm established a firm goal: to learn to love. He wanted that stage in his life to be the best one so far. He not only wanted to learn to love her. Fromm also wanted to learn to love the rest of the world. That’s where his famous book came from, from the happiness he experienced in the last decades of his life.

Erich Fromm.

Learning to love according to Erich Fromm

“To love without knowing how to love wounds the ones we love.” This quote by Thich Nhat Hanh summarizes a more-than-obvious reality. Most of us haven’t mastered the art of loving. We’re rather neophytes of a reality we submerge ourselves into by chance. We sometimes limit ourselves to love others as children instead of adults, mainly due to our culture.

We’ve been molded through a series of norms. They have made us see love as a construct of magic and ideals. In our current society, there’s still the idea of “courteous love”, where men are supposed to enchant women. We like to think we’re victims of Cupid’s arrows and that real passion is what Shakespeare’s eternal lovers of Verona experienced. We believe we’re all destined to love someone through the red threads of destiny.

Erich Fromm, a prominent social psychologist, made it very clear in his book The Art of Loving that love requires responsibility. Loving is something that trained artists do. Learning to love requires practice, mastery, and continuous work where effort and strain leave nothing to chance or fate.

“Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it’s a practice.”

-Erich Fromm-


Let’s see some of the things Erich Fromm taught about love.

Active love

We all truly want to be loved. We long to be cared for, valued, appreciated, revered, and validated in everything we do, are, or have. However, there’s something we must keep in mind: passive love is immature and doesn’t work.

“”Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says ‘I need you because I love you.'”

-Erich Fromm-

Love isn’t something to rest on, it’s an active and present scenario. We must care for each other, love each other, and respect each other. When someone truly knows how to love another person, they let them participate, they give and receive, and they continue to be an active part of a project where there’s always both spiritual and emotional growth.

Waves forming the shape of two people.

Our eternal concern of finding the perfect person

Learning to love also means being aware of another aspect. We often worry way too much about not finding an ideal person that’s in tune with all our dreams and desires. More often than not, we get frustrated by not finding our “true love” when, in reality, we don’t even know if we’re up to par to maintain it.

We’re sometimes so full of romantic constructs that we tend to ignore a very crucial thing. Love demands work. It’s important for us to know how to face the challenges that come with a good relationship.

A couple hugging.

Love as a need

Learning to love implies knowing how to get rid of all needs. Whoever seeks a romantic relationship to fill their shortcomings will feel so unsatisfied that they’ll end up leading the other person to a permanent state of slavery.

Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love.”

-Erich Fromm-

Loving is a creative act

According to Erich Fromm, love is a form of energy. It’s an impulse that encourages us to move, express ourselves, and create. In relation to the previous statement, this expansive and creative force only emerges when we’ve already met our basic needs.

Likewise, something that Fromm wrote in The Art of Loving is that it’s not enough to just feel that energy. We need to remember that love is something we have to live and shape. Authentic passion feeds on feelings, maturity, and balance and it understands that the most beautiful work of art requires hard work and dedication.

A couple in a forest.

Love is like music, paintings, carpentry, writing, or architecture: you need to understand the theory to then be able to master the practice. Just like a highly creative engineer, we’ll find a way to overcome every difficulty, challenge, and bump in the road efficiently.

As a conclusion, loving, according to Erich Fromm, requires leaving behind all those childish perspectives that often define us (and that society has taught us). We must stop seeing love as a passive act and start seeing it as a spark that magically binds two people. Love is a substance, a body, and a matter. It’s a raw material we can use to build a spectacular project, but only if we truly want it and are responsible for it.

“Love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love.”

-Erich Fromm-