I just finished reading The Art of Loving, a classic of sorts by Erich Fromm. The book was structured and reads like a scientific thesis, and I shall restrain myself from crediting that to the stereotype of German methodical precision. I’ve often thought it futile to analyze the anatomy of love, to make sense of something that’s as unreasonable and unpredictable as the weather in Texas. Fromm manages to do so quite eloquently, bridging the different types of love we experience in life: parental, romantic, love for humanity, love for god, and finally, love for yourself. I don’t agree with it all, but a good teacher doesn’t make you agree with everything he says, as long as you’ve taken something away from the lesson.
There are a few things in the book I didn’t particularly like. The strong focus on causality between our relationships with parents and our future relationships. The whole thing about homosexuality. There were other ideas that were entirely refreshing and thought provoking. The relationship between capitalism and failure to love. The idea of romantic love as a creation of modern society. The notion that universal love for humanity is a prerequisite to building healthy personal relationships. I think everything is up to debate and interpretation when it comes to love (even the definition of the word itself), and I find this quote worth discussing:
“Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision.”
For me personally, love is not only a feeling, nor is only a decision, a judgement, a promise. It begins with a feeling, a spark that catches your attention. Perhaps it was the twinkle in her eye, or his gregarious laughter. Her beautiful smile and the way he sprints across the basketball court. The spark turns into the desire to get close, to know more about the other person. Sometimes it kindles a wildfire, other times it lights a candle that burns slowly and steadily.
Then the decision part comes in. When you decide to stay even after the fire has burned into ember, even though there are other sparks flying around, and sometimes the fire no longer keeps you warm at night. It’s not because of a promise. Promises are burdens of high expectation that often fail to be fulfilled. My favorite author in my favorite book says it best when he said, it’s because “my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.”
The Little Prince knows quite a lot about love, in my opinion.
As mature adults, we are all very capable of being alone, and sometimes relish in it. To relinquish part of your independence to become attached to someone, both emotionally and physically, is never comfortable. But it’s the sweetness of hope that gives us courage to give out our battered heart, time and again. It’s the hope that we will find someone who will share our joys and pains, laughters and tears. Someone who supports us when we fail and humbles us when we succeed. Someone who inspires us to become better people, and who finds the same inspiration in us. And if you are lucky enough to find such a person, and even luckier to have this person feel the same, perhaps you can decide to love.
But before you even get that far, love starts with the simple desire to be together. True affection begins when another person begins to occupy your mind not only in times of loneliness, but sneak in where before you were quite content to be alone. Perhaps you are quite busy at work, and suddenly you smile because you remembered someone is waiting for you at home ready to hear you unload your stressful day. Or maybe you are journeying to the top of the world, and as you reach the summit, you wished he would be there to share the exhilaration. As we live our individual lives in mundanity or glory, having someone to miss, having someone to share those moments makes the bad ones bearable and the good ones even more precious.
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near–
“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you…”
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“Then it has done you no good at all!”
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince