I’m re-immersing myself in Fromm’s The Art of Loving for many reasons. The following quote has particular meaning for me because it identifies how easily we can settle when truly decent realities exist in our bonds. We can settle for something that feels good enough ‘though perhaps not soulful, not emanating from a personal center alive. And this particular section of Fromm’s chapter on the disintegration of love in western society strips away what we mistake for love and intimacy. A mistake I can live without especially if accepting what is “good enough” means I miss out on the deeper experiences of love…
“The world is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the sucklers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones—and the eternally disappointed ones. Our character is geared to exchange and to receive, to barter and to consume; everything, spiritual as well as material objects, becomes an object of exchange and of consumption.
The situation as far as love is concerned corresponds, as it has to by necessity, to this social character of modern man. Automatons cannot love; they can exchange their ‘personality packages’ and hope for a fair bargain. One of the most significant expressions of love, and especially of marriage with this alienated structure, is the idea of the ‘team.’ In any number of articles on happy marriage, the ideal described is that of the smoothly functioning team. This description is not too different from the idea of a smoothly functioning employee; he should be ‘reasonably independent,’ co-operative, tolerant, and at the same time ambitious and aggressive. Thus, the marriage counselor tells us, the husband should ‘understand’ his wife and be helpful. He should comment favorably on her new dress, and on a tasty dish. She, in turn, should understand when he comes home tired and disgruntled, she should listen attentively when he talks about his business troubles, should not be angry but understanding when he forgets her birthday. All this kind of relationship amounts to is the well-oiled relationship between two persons who remain strangers all their lives, who never arrive at a ‘central relationship,’ but who treat each other with courtesy and who attempt to make each other feel better.
In this concept of love and marriage the main emphasis is on finding a refuge from an otherwise unbearable sense of aloneness. In ‘love’ one has found, at last, a haven from aloneness. One forms an alliance of two against the world, and this egoism à deux is mistaken for love and intimacy.”
And what of love that is not, as Fromm calls it, pathology? Even the socially accepted one detailed above.
“Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the center of his existence. Only in this ‘central experience’ is human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis for love. Love, experienced thus, is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves. There is only one proof for the presence of love: the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned; this is the fruit by which love is recognized.” Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving
Such fruit is grown over decades of being with ourselves, not fleeing from all we are, standing in love and insisting on strengthening every area of our existence as best we can.
j. ruth kelly, 2013, all rights reserved