“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.”
--Thich Nhat Hanh
Last week, I quoted Erich Fromm who wrote an important book about love called The Art of Loving. It was written in 1956 and is considered a masterpiece. He believed having the capacity to love is a rare achievement. He also believed the capacity for love could be developed over time with dedication, effort and someone to help you along the way. Below you will find four important principles proposed by Fromm that explain why love doesn't automatically fall into place.
1. Love is not something that happens to us.
Love is not something that occurs as we stand passively waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right. It is not something that happens by chance or strikes us when we are looking the other way. It is a skill developed through intentional learning, developing and practicing. Just as an artist apprentices themselves in order to work toward mastery, developing the capacity to love demands knowledge and effort. Fromm believed love is intertwined with frustration and failure because we do not recognize that love is a skill to be developed rather than a natural human characteristic.
2. “I just want someone to love me.”
The greatest mistake we make in love is that we are looking for someone to love us. People often say, “I just want someone to love me.” I seldom hear people say they want to find someone to love. That goal is low on the list of desires for most people. The hunt is to find that “right” person to love them. Fromm believed that what was important in this journey was to think about and know our capacity to love.
For most people, the solution to the problem of love is to figure out how to “be loved” rather than increase their capacity to love. Solving the question of how to be lovable leads to behavior that undermines a sense of self in each person. It is common for people to give themselves away or to become what the other person wants them to be, instead of becoming an individual with the capacity to love. It is necessary to have a self to be able to love and be satisfied with love.
3. Confusion between intensity and intimacy:
When the wall between two people drops, they can have the experience of closeness and oneness. It is an exiting, exhilarating and intoxicating moment. If it is accompanied by sexual attraction and sudden intimacy, it feels as if a longed-for dream has come true. Fromm believes that this kind of love cannot last. As we begin to know one another and see all of who our partner is, disappointment, hurt and boredom set in, and the initial excitement finally comes to an end.
We mistake intensity for love and take it as the proof that we are meant to be together. We are sure that this time, we have met the right person and will be happy; this is the love that will last.
4. Confusing “falling in love” with the permanent state of “being in love.”
“I love them but I am not in love with them” is said more often than we can imagine. What is meant by these words is that the original state of bliss and the feeling of oneness has disappeared; I do not desire them anymore. As the song says, “The thrill is gone.”
The permanent state of love, a love that stands the test of time and lasts through hard times and good times, is possible. It is like going from being a sprinter to being a long distance runner. Love becomes difficult before it can be transformed into a deep abiding love.
Love does not have to fail.
Fromm’s message is not one anyone wants to hear. What we believe will bring us happiness and is basic human nature, turns out to be one more thing we have to study and practice. After all, I already have more to do than I have hours in the day. Fromm proposed that perhaps the over-scheduled lives we live get in the way of love. He believed that to become a master in any art, one must dedicate themselves to the process. How can we do that and continue to be stretched to our limits?
After reading Fromm, and observing today's lifestyles, I have two additional theories about why we don't develop our capacity to love.
1. We are not taught about love, therefore we do not know that our capacity to love and ability to love can be grown.
We learn about love through movies, television and romance novels – all cultural outlets that reinforce the false idea that love is easy and drops into our laps. We come to believe that when we find our true love, our soulmate, or that right person, love will be easy. We will be happy and treat one another well all the time.
2. Many babies and children do not have their basic needs met. Some even experience abuse.
Unmet needs and trauma impede our ability to love. Love becomes pain and those who love us become the givers of pain. To love is dangerous. The good news is that old wounds can be healed and unmet needs can be filled from the inside.
To quote Fromm,
“There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.”
Love does not have to end in pain and suffering. The message Fromm brings us is that love can last with hard work, dedication and practice. We can increase our capacity to love. Are you having trouble understanding your feelings toward those you love? I can help you sort out your feelings. Call me at: (919)881-2001.