Why We’re All Terrible At Love According to Erich Fromm

Ben Thomas
5 min readFeb 14, 2021

This time of the year, when lovers rejoice and cupid’s arrow is drawn, can also be a painful one for those left un-cuffed. Love is a tricky concept; often imagined as some sort of fantastical and mystical state of union with another, something that you will fall into the moment you lock eyes with your soon-to-be other half. It’s this amazing, life-changing thing that is so hard to attain but, paradoxically, so easy to be in. You think to yourself life would be so much easier in love. And, unfortunately, you’re often reminded of how much you’re missing out on by movies, sitcoms, books and gross couples that are a little too into PDA.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm disagrees with this conception of love as easy. Instead he considers love to be the hardest of hard work but, nonetheless, as one of the most worthy aims known to the human race. In “The Art of Loving”, and in spite of the heavily gendered language that might not hold up nowadays, Fromm lays out his theory in detail.

Firstly, he notes that many don’t actually appear to want love in the healthy sense. In fact, he notes three common misconceptions that leads people down the wrong path in pursuing love. When people say they want love what they mean is not that they want to love but rather to be loved. We desire some form of affirmation, some sense that we are right in our nature or meant to exist, and being loved is a state that we believe to satisfy this. Some then pursue certain marks of identity that, in a general sense, attract admiration in their culture. For example, many individuals will pursue success, whether financially or through other means, in order to gain the admiration that they believe will lead to them being loved. Others will rely on physical attraction in the vain sense, believing that appearances is all that is needed in order to gain love.

This misconception is closely tied to the second one, that people treat love as an object rather than a faculty. Many believe that…