Our Greatest Misunderstanding About Love: Philosopher-Psychiatrist Esther Perel on Modern Loneliness as Ambiguous Loss and the Essential Elements of Healthy Relationships

On the long-lasting art of sensation deserving of wanting and worthwhile of receiving.

By Maria Popova

In his revelatory 1956 timeless The Art of Loving, the humanistic thinker and psychologist Erich Fromm (March 23, 1900– March 18, 1980) attempted defy millennia of cultural distortion, setting out to recover our most destructive inheritance from the Romantics and to fix Freuds limited, limiting theories with a new lens on love, extreme and sensible: For centuries, our culture conditioned us to “see the issue of love mostly as that of being loved, rather than that of loving,” which in turn conditioned us to think that the hardest feature of love is discovering the right person to love us, but once we do, enjoy is easy.

Drawing on his deal with clients and on emerging ideas in humanistic viewpoint that had only just started revising the old narratives of religion and Romanticism, he observed that the secret to love is to treat it not as a noun– a state to be discovered and possessed– however as a verb– a practice to be mastered. The challenging work is the learning, which then gives ease upon love between those who have done this work– the work which Rilke popular “is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks … the work for which all other work is however preparation.”

Art from Trees at Night by Art Young, 1926. (Available as a print.) Fromm inverted this formula.

Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitmans Leaves of Grass. Available as a print.An inheritor to Fromms work born a century after the publication his work of art, the Belgian-American philosopher-psychotherapist Esther Perel– author of the modern timeless Mating in Captivity, developer of the informative and pleasantly disquieting Where Should We Begin? “podcast for anyone who has actually ever enjoyed”– gets where Fromm left off in this lovely animated adaptation of her On Being interview, checking out the vital aspects of love as a practice, the delicate relationship in between play and danger, the cyclical nature of enthusiasm, the osmosis of desire and self-regard, and how the idea of ambiguous loss brightens the modern-day experience of solitude:

Complement with Fromm on what self-love actually means, his 6 rules of intimate listening, and Alain de Botton on remedying our main mistake of logic in love, then broaden the lens with an ancient Eastern point of view in the fantastic Zen Buddhism instructor Thich Nhat Hanhs field guide to the skill of caring.