What does it mean to fall in love? And why is it falling? Does that mean love is an accident? Does it occur only when we lose our balance? Does love only happen when we lose control? These are questions that German psychoanalyst Erich Fromm explored in his iconic 1956 masterwork, The Art of Loving. He argues that LOVE, being in love, experiencing love is not something one falls into. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Love, the capacity for love, and the ability to be in love takes work. Like a lot. But the good news is that it takes the kind of work that we are all capable of doing and all capable of actually being really good at.
Fromm believed first and foremost that love takes practice. Not only the act itself, but also being equipped to be in love. We must stand in love. Not fall. He often compares love to the artistic process - which I love. Thank you Fromm for actually framing the artistic process and artistic pursuits as something that requires practice. Not everyone does. Practice, more practice and then some more. Skill building really. He writes,
“The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering. What are the necessary steps in learning any art? The process of learning an art can be divided conveniently into two parts: one, the mastery of the theory; the other, the mastery of the practice. If I want to learn the art of medicine, I must first know the facts about the human body, and about various diseases. When I have all this theoretical knowledge, I am by no means competent in the art of medicine. I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice, until eventually the results of my theoretical knowledge and the results of my practice are blended into one — my intuition, the essence of the mastery of any art. But, aside from learning the theory and practice, there is a third factor necessary to becoming a master in any art — the mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art. This holds true for music, for medicine, for carpentry — and for love. And, maybe, here lies the answer to the question of why people in our culture try so rarely to learn this art, in spite of their obvious failures: in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power — almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.”
So love is learned. Fromm would say, mostly from self reflection and understanding ourselves. Add of course how we were loved and witnessed love from our caregivers. Fromm wonders how we can truly love another if we do not know and understand ourselves. We cannot love another if we do not fundamentally understand what loving ourselves feels like. And yeah that’s cool, but also pretty damn dicey. It is hard to love yourself, even though social media tells us it’s super easy and we all should be able to do it. No problem. But here’s where I like the self love part of Fromm’s theory. He’s saying, it takes work. It’s not easy, and if you want to get good at it, you have to practice. And then practice some more. And what is universal about practice? Failing. A little and sometimes a lot. But there is great honor in this failing. As someone who not only touts both the hard science benefits, along with the emotional and spiritual benefits of maintaining a daily practice, this rings true and also gives me enormous hope. What practice does, whether it is every day or less frequent is it amasses experience. It collects a knowingness. So much so that when we find ourselves finding ease in a process, it seems magical. Like all of the sudden. When in fact, that moment is a gathering of hours and hours of practice. And maybe that’s where the falling comes from. Maybe that falling is flow. A gathering, a merging, a magical, illuminating moment of freedom that feels so true. If love is about practice, then maybe we do fall, but only after putting in the hours and learning how to stand..
Thank you for being here.
Listen to this episode of JOY IS NOW here.