We’re all guilty of this.
“Something pretty” is how you got some citations from The Art of Loving, which I read over the weekend and was, as promised, one of those rare books that rises to the top as “good.” And, sure, “pretty.” And while it reads a little more sullenly that I was feeling, I still ran my fingers through some of the good parts, right there in chapter one, to share them with you here. People know that love is important.
I believe this. I believe that people subscribe to the promises of love, and I believe that we are, for the most part, optimists on the subject. (Even those of us who are jaded are only jaded because we were (and deep down still are) optimists.) But people often mess up the doing of love, and to that, I gently take you by the shoulder and scoot you a little to the left. Because: most of us are doing this wrong.
People like love.
But in the wrong way.
“They are starved for it; they watch endless numbers of films about happy and unhappy love stories, they listen to hundreds of trashy songs about love — yet hardly anyone thinks that there is anything that needs to be learned about love.” — Fromm, The Art of Loving
All of us, it seems, instead aspire to “fall into it,” to find ourselves swept up in the feelings we see portrayed (and, to an extent, project) in everything we consume about love, and we end up feeling more strongly about our idealization of love than we do about love itself. We typically suffer from one if not both of the following mistakes about “love:”
1. Most people love primarily as “being loved,” rather than “loving.”
Hence the focus, for the vast majority of us, is on getting the most we can out of the transaction — and even those who position ourselves as “lovers” or “givers” are subconsciously (and in a self-sabotaging manner) really just looking to get (in this case, “appreciation,” “admiration,” or, simply, “love.”)
They think this exchange is honorable, but in reality, it’s just the other side of the same coin, all of us looking to “get love,” and most of us “giving” something that looks and feels like “love” simply in order to get it back.
Many of us are consumed with the “fairness” of the exchange, wanting to talk in terms of who does “more,” and keeping score as though we’re opponents — or business partners — and not a single organism, where self-love is love is self-love.
Love is all or nothing — we cannot love one person (either our partner or ourself) at the expense of the other. Love doesn’t work that way. Love builds on itself, and all of us are interconnected. So only when we truly love ourselves can we truly love another, and only when we do a good job of giving ourselves love and taking care of our own needs (without using others) can we enter into relationships with full hearts.
2. Most people assume love is an endpoint or feeling — rather than an ongoing decision and action.
They experience a fleeting feeling and are quick to call it “love,” and the biggest problem with doing so is that the minute that feeling fades (and it always does), we assume we’ve “fallen out of love”
“This attitude — that nothing is easier than to love — has continued to be the prevalent idea about love in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
Love takes work — but we’re so often slow to treat it as such. We’d rather endure half-hearted arrangements and let things fall apart, chalking it up as a fluke error or poor partner choice. And then we enter the next relationship, sights set high but with nothing to show by way of mindset improvement (other than blind optimism and/or a degree of jadedness.)
“There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love. If this were the case with any other activity, people would be eager to know the reasons for the failure, and to learn how one could do better — or they would give up the activity. Since the latter is impossible in the case of love, there seems to be only one adequate way to overcome the failure of love — to examine the reasons for this failure, and to proceed to study the meaning of love.” — Fromm, The Art of Loving
The meaning of love — healthy love — being a rich and complex question, but something undeniably built on emotional health and respect for one another as individuals, not just as warm bodies who fill the role of “our boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/partner/spouse/etc.”
It means entering into relationships without a list of qualifications or expectations, especially around how we anticipate our partner “making us happy” or, equally, how we strive to “make them happy.” It’s simply being happy together, while fully understanding that it is not our partner’s job to make us happy — or ours theirs.
The meaning of love is to grow together, not hold each other in one spot. In that sense, it can seem to go against our lizard-brain desire for security and stability. Mature love supports and inspires and promotes. Mature love is breathing and living.