The great challenge of coupling is how to love, not how to be loved. The error of many forlorn single persons and many married persons arrives as the pain of feeling unloved. Desperately seeking connection, one wonders how to get the other person to love them.
We talk about falling in love and certainly this happens. But I fear the “falling in love” part can be a trick that makes later experiences even more frustrating. Simply put, love is a lot of work.
The error of wanting to be loved or the hope to fall in love can blind us to the truth that love happens as an ongoing deliberate act more often than as an accidental Hollywood “meet cute.”
Erich Fromm, psychoanalyst and philosopher, describes this in his 1956 book, “The Art of Loving.” Allow me to lift a few lines:
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“This book … wants to show that love is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone, regardless of the level of maturity reached by him. It wants to convince the reader that all his attempts for love are bound to fail, unless he tries most actively to develop his total personality, so as to achieve a productive orientation.”
To be a lover, personal growth and self-awareness are a must. A beautiful work of art doesn’t just happen. The artist spends years in education or apprenticeship. Many experiments with different media are explored; the cook using temperatures, spices and presentations; the painter using colors; the sculptor using textures of wood or stone. After years of diligent practice, a work of art emanates and is presented.
Coupling is an art and requires years of patience, endured failure and deliberate work. Fromm goes on to describe some of the work required.
“That satisfaction in individual love cannot be attained without the capacity to love one’s neighbor, without true humility, courage, faith and discipline. In a culture in which these qualities are rare, the attainment of the capacity to love must remain a rare achievement.”
Sixty years ago, Fromm raises the concern of a culture where these traits are rare. Remembering Solomon’s wisdom in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun,” we still struggle with a seeming lack of such virtues.
I would suggest that coupling is about what you do — not about what you don’t do. Focus on the positive, focus on your virtues, your practice of loving, not the shortcomings of your other.
Fromm tells us to love our neighbor, a vital spiritual ethic. If we can face our own fears and projections and see the needs of our neighbor, then we’ve moved the dial toward being a lover. He goes on to mention humility, courage, faith and discipline. These are rare qualities in today’s society of quick fixes and easy pleasure.
The frustration you feel in your coupling is evidence of the need to work on these traits. Coupling is a process of grinding off your rough edges to reveal the work of art already present but underneath. Now, go create some art.