Flawed Conception of Love Relationships: Few Reflections from Erich Fromm

By Mugees Ul Kaisar  

ONE may start with the pointed observation that Erich Fromm makes in his illuminating book The Art of Loving that despite so much attention that the matter of “love” receives, the question is, why does it fail so frequently in our world? Why do most so-called love relations spin off into bitter hatreds? Fromm notes that its genesis is the mistaken assumption that love comes easily without any ethical prerequisites. Probably one of the most brilliant insights that Fromm comes up with is the fact that a good, loving, humble & compassionate relationship naturally demands the point that the individual human beings tied up in that relationship are themselves loving, humble, unselfish and compassionate. A good, healthy, loving human relationship is only enabled by inner goodness of the people that compose that relationship. Therefore, to formulate a successful human relation, ethical disciplining of one’s own self is a prerequisite. For example, as long as one is egotistical and self-centered, one cannot properly contribute in a loving, giving, sacrificing relation.

This is taken for granted that one’s own character, one’s own individual being, one’s own ethic, goodness, humility, arrogance, selfishness, and other personal traits will not have their ripple effects on the relationships that the individual is going to enter into. Love is given such a naively neutral station as if it isn’t part of who we are. Falling in love does not necessarily mean that one has been purified of all psychological pathologies. Falling in love may give “all is good” kind of feeling but soon ego pathology surfaces up in these relationships, thus making the inevitable point of the unavoidable prerequisite of individual soul making as a preliminary necessity.

The problem with prevalent dominant conception of love relations is the fact that the “I” is at the centre. One is not “loving” but in fact is in love with the feeling of being loved. All the so-called sad poetry that saturates social media is all about so and so left “me”, why don’t they love “me”, etc. This psychology has to do with unconscious infantile mode of relationship (of childhood) where one was at the centre of maternal love. First of all one has to realize that the “world” is not the “mother”. One has to come out of this infantile mode of being where one expects people or world to function & behave like one’s own “mother” whose love expectedly is perfect, unidirectional, total, predictable and without malice.  Once one comes out of this “mother complex” (which unconsciously drags people down emotional tortures soon after “world”/some human forsakes them), one is instantly treated. Following this, one has to next realize that love in its essence means expansion of being. Ego cocoon, when broken free, gives rise to love. A human being who is “loving”, sees every other human being as a part of his own self/being. “Wish for the other what you wish for yourself” is the ultimate Prophetic definition of a mature “loving” human being. This flowering out of the horizon of being/self is love. This expansion of being that doesn’t let one see others as separate from one’s own being is fundamentally the gift of love to whomsoever it dawns upon. This expansion of self naturally renders all selfishness irrelevant.

Love is “giving” in its very nature rather than expecting that one should be put at some high pedestal, by others, like an infant. Again, Fromm highlights the importance of self-work for formulating healthy mature human relations and that is by “sacrificial love” he doesn’t mean “giving up” things in the sense of a buying-selling dynamic but rather it is the overflowing of one’s own bliss that is shared with the other. It is one’s own inner stability and strength that makes one “loving” rather than arrogantly and narcissistically expecting others to love him.

It is for these reasons that Fromm considers love as an “art” (or a mode of being) that needs sincere effort rather than a reductive pleasant sensation that one “falls” into. A loving human relation has ethical prerequisites and needs self work. For Fromm, people confuse initial “falling in love” sensation with the permanent state of “being in love” which demands permanent character traits – requiring prior self work. Here Fromm makes another brilliant point that needs our attention; he says that the initial intense feeling of falling in love is in fact an indication of one’s own previous loneliness. The intensity of “falling in love” gradually starts to fade out once the participants in the relation get more and more acquainted with each other; disappointments begin to surface up because the original inherent loneliness sticks its head out again. One recalls here Jung’s and Campbell’s point that most infatuations are projections of one’s own inherent ideal images which begin to shatter as the real person emerges from beneath the projected image, leading to creation of  multiple fault lines. When one is selfish and lonely (owing to persistent ego-centeredness which fails to participate with the collective where ego has to recede), the initial intensity of so called love relation followed by its failure essentially points to deeper individual problem of the person.

Fromm traces the repercussions of mistaking love as “being loved” rather than “being loving” to a problematic vantage point of being concerned as to how to be more “lovable” as an “object” and thus one starts with the trajectory of self objectification. It is not surprising, says Fromm, that people today market themselves out there as products. One invests in (say, for example) gym, guitar skills, etc to increase one’s “market value” in the capitalistic transaction (ironically) called as “love”. Young boys and girls, as one observes the social media space, seem to forcefully put themselves out there as “objects” with certain “skills” (like functionalities of a chid toy bought from a toy store) in order to be loved by the “other”.

An irritation of seeking attention from others all the time inherently points to one’s own deep loneliness that actually calls for serious self work to amend the problem. Marketing oneself as a product with certain set of high value functionalities stems from deep rooted ego-centeredness which is caught up in an eternal thirst of validation and love from others; such a person simply wishes to be “loved” as we have mentioned above, rather than actually truly loving humanity out of mutual sympathy and thus such an ego cannot properly function in a two way relation with other humans. Most relations in today’s world come crashing down simply because the foundation work is very poor. Physical abuse, mental abuse, and all kinds of problems are testament to the fact that we assume mere falling in love guarantees individual human goodness when in fact that needs prior individual self work.

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