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Summary: The Art of Loving

Erich Fromm wrote, in The Art of Loving (1956), "Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence." Fromm was referring to a built-in problem that comes from being conscious of our existence, hence also aware of our apartness from others and our impending death.

Fromm wrote that humans could be afflicted by "existential loneliness," feel­ing tiny and isolated in a vast universe. The "solutions to the problems of existence" that Fromm wrote about were ways of trying to overcome this loneliness, this separation from reality that is created by human consciousness

The same basic solutions could be seen throughout human history, Fromm said. Orgiastic states were group celebrations that promoted a feeling of oneness (therefore overcoming existential lone­liness). In modern society, conformity was a misguided attempt to achieve the same sort of bond with a larger group.

Creative activity, Fromm wrote, is a good solution if you can find it. The artist or inventor or entrepreneur acts for a goal that is larger than the isolated self. However, many modern jobs do not permit constant creativity; many are filled with routine.

That leaves love as "the most sane and satisfactory solution to the problem of existence," in Fromm's words. In a love relationship a person makes contact with something important outside the ego, and it can be a lifelong creative project.

Research shows a common pattern in happy long-term relationships. People in such relationships tend to regard each other as best friends as well as lovers.

John Gottman of the University of Washington identified "four horsemen" that predicted divorce. The most corrosive attitude was contempt.

Later, in sifting data from decades of research, Gottman said the best predictor of a lasting marriage was the ability of a man to listen to, and take advice from, his wife. This could be based on any factor that correlates with the ability of men to take advice from a spouse, but it was a strong predictor.

Fromm wrote that the attitude of love was not confined to romantic relationships but could be applied to many different situations. Fromm identified brotherly love, motherly love, and self-love (which is distinct from selfishness) as distinct categories.

Fromm also believed that different conceptions of God, found at different stages of human civilization, embodied different kinds of love. He identified four versions of God that appeared in various cultures and offered his opinion that the most advanced version is "God as everything" corresponding to a love and respect for all existence and all creation.

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