Love, Life and Other Matters
In her book Love 2.0 (Hudson Street Press, 2013) Barbara Fredrickson encourages us to expand our idea of love beyond the constraints of limited, single-focused love of another. She suggests that the narrowed definition we popularly hold places an enormous onus on the object of our love to meet all out needs. Fredrickson argues that we should move beyond that notion of love and focus on the world around us and the small joys and other loves it offers. If we do this she says then we are more likely to build up a bank of positive emotions that protect us when we feel hurt or disappointed by the failure of one we love. She suggests that we shift our focus to positive states “… of joy, amusement, gratitude, hope and the like – that simultaneously infuse your mind and body.”
I don’t think that means that you should be less discerning in your choice of love but rather be aware of what you ask for from that person. Sometimes we ask for something that the other person is unable to give and then are doomed to disappointment. Part of the decision about whether this person is the dream of your life is about being open to the possibility that he or she may not be able to reach that ideal you have in your mind.
Ask anyone what they mean by love. You will probably get as many answers as the people you ask. Ask yourself and see how many answers you give yourself. We are often very confused about what the word love means because it come in so many
guises. However, we consistently become confused when we look at love within the confined space of the special intimate relationship.
The love for one parent is different from the love of the other as is our love for each of our siblings or our children and friends, let alone the intimate love or romantic love. And then there is the love for a pet, for an activity, for a piece of music – we can go on. Frederickson suggests that these loves broaden the mindset and build up resources; that it is a “supreme emotion” that enables us to become fully alive.
In 1957 Erich Fromm published The Art of Loving (Unwin Books), a philosophical examination of love. In this short book he argues that “love is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone, regardless of maturity ….” He suggests that our attempts to achieve love are likely to fail unless we try to develop our personality fully and develop “true humility, courage, faith and discipline.”
In his first paragraph in Chapter 1 Fromm asks: “Is love an art?” If it is, he writes, then it requires knowledge and effort and that incorporates discipline. If it is an art, then it must go beyond the pleasant sensation. In the following chapters he examines the nature of the idea different loves, builds up a theory and concludes with the idea of practicing love.
I think that he and Fredrickson would agree that we need to go beyond the idea of being loved to the act of loving, of developing a capacity to love. Fromm argues that this would free us from the vexed question of how to be loved or be loveable. If, he writes, the focus shifted men might be freed of those external attributes of displaying and proving success, power and wealth and women from being visually attractive. The shift from these external attributions would betoward courtesy, generosity, developing an interesting life and the ability to communicate that life to others.
Fromm points out that a driving need of the human being is to overcome the sense of separateness – “… to leave the prison of his aloneness.” The need comes out of the fear of separation, the source of guilt and anxiety. In seeking love, we
have to find a solution to the problem of separation and a way of achieving union.
Commentators debate the effects of modern communication: our connection to everything that the worldwide web offers. Our attention is being constantly taken by the ring of the phone, the alert of a sms or email or any other of the various
services that alert us to something happening and that we now believe needs an immediate response. The question asked is whether in having to be so widely connected at any one time, we are not also required to disconnect ourselves from where we are, who we are with and what we are presently doing? We cannot be everywhere with everyone at any one time. In a relationship this may be felt as abandonment. If someone you are having coffee with is having a conversation with an unseen person, the temptation is for you to connect with another unseen person. The result is two people sitting together, each locked off from each other as they communicate with people not at the table. Since fear of separation is the primary
source of anxiety and anxiety leads to disconnection, how is this relationship going to work? How are these two people really going to get to know each other if their time together is divided, if they are unprepared to be with each other?
Back in 1957 Fromm suggested that love was a marginal phenomenon in our society because the pressures did not allow it to be central to what we do. What would he say in 2015?