In his classic book “The Art of Loving,” the psychologist Erich Fromm defines several characteristic of what real love looks and acts like:
“Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much. . . . Whoever is capable of giving of himself is rich. . . .The ability to love as an act of giving (self-extension) depends on the (level of) character development of the person. It presupposes the attainment of a predominantly productive orientation; in this the person has overcome dependency (receptive orientation), narcissistic omnipotence (control issues and marketing orientation), the wish to exploit others (exploitative/Machiavellian orientation), or to hoard (hoarding orientation), and has acquired faith in his own human powers, and the courage to rely on his powers in the attainment of his goals. To the degree that these qualities are lacking, he is afraid of giving himself—hence of loving.
“Beyond the element of giving, the active character of love becomes evident in the fact that it always implies certain basic elements, common to all forms of love. These are: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. . . . Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love. . . . [L]ove and labor are inseparable.” (pp. 22-24; parentheses mine)
Fromm also concluded that there are basically 6 major personality orientations that a human being can become. A person can develop a personality orientation that is primarily: receptive (passive-dependent), exploitative/manipulative (Machiavellian), that hoards, that markets itself (chameleon), that is productive, or that is necrophilous. The first four orientations are pathological, immature, self-defeating, even self-destructive. The last one, where a person loves death and all things mechanical and un-alive, is the most pathological and immature, and is often destructive in general. Only the fifth one represents a mature and healthy and integrated approach to life.
People whose character development is still at the level of receptive, dependent, passive, narcissistic, exploitative, marketing, hoarding, cannot actually love either others or themselves because they cannot invest themselves tangibly or deeply in a relationship with another or other human beings. They can only strip-mine, exchange feelings and sex and goods and services in the most tentative, tenuous, and temporary (and quite often petulant) way, because they will always be chiefly concerned with maximizing their own gain. They will not be interested in creating win-win situations; instead they will be playing a zero sum game where someone else must lose so that they might win.
And in fact, the complete lack of the capacity to care, respect, responsibility, give, work, invest oneself tangibly and meaingfully, as well as the lack of knowledge, self-awareness, self-control, self-discipline—provides a good idea of what anti-love or even human evil looks like.
Whatever the degree of their lack—the lack of care, respect, responsibility, giving, work, knowledge, self-awareness, self-control, self-discipline—they paint a picture of what immature or chaotic or selfish love looks like and are the reason why so many human relationships are the hot tangled mess they are: fear, immaturity, pathology, lack of real self-awareness/understanding. Darkness or blindness or a person being “asleep.”
And care, respect, responsibility, awareness, honesty, work, giving—learning how to do these things, developing these character traits—is the clear antidote to much of our immaturities and character defects. These are clearly the antidote to our listless, apathy, indifference. Indifference—or “I don’t care”—is really the expression or fall back of a person who can’t or who is unable or unwilling to care—a person who is not developed enough, large enough, noble or decent or virtuous enough, mature enough to care about more than the self, the ego, and how things affect and impact his ego (comfort, security, safety, ease of living, immediate gratification).
To be able to actually care about another, we have to have a sufficient level of self-development and maturity (personhood) to be able to extend ourselves consistently beyond the boundaries or limitations of our own ego and its skin sack. We have to have the capacity to think of others at the same time we think of ourselves.
And this requires an active, functioning, mature, working conscience.
If our conscience is not working, if it is underdeveloped, if it short circuits in times of stress and duress and anxiety, if in those times we lapse into antisocial or excessively self-protective, regressive, immature patterns of behaviors and we are not able to call ourselves out on our immature or antisocial or unloving behaviors—if our conscience is not able to call us out on our own immoral or regressive or immature behaviors—if we lack that level of honesty and clarity because we are still bullshitting and deceiving ourselves (we are whitewashed tombs—pretty looking on the outside, but full of decay and death and fear on the inside), then we will not be able to actually love another and we should never claim to actually love another, because we do not. We are merely using or exploiting another, and doing so very temporarily (for as long as the relationship gratifies us, gives us our goodies, doesn’t make us too uncomfortable or unsettled, doesn’t require too much of us or anything real of us, doesn’t require us to actually invest ourselves in it and commit to it and extend ourselves).
To be able to actually love and care about another we must have a functioning and mature conscience that does not short circuit or go missing or get flooded and overwhelmed in times of stress and duress and anxiety.
Moreover, we must actually come to identify with that part of ourselves—we must come to feel/sense/hold that our conscience is what actually best defines us, much more so than our ego and all of its many scattered random discursive wants and tastes and aversions.
Until we identify ourselves with our conscience, until we have developed and trued our moral compass, we cannot love. We can only in some guise use and exploit and manipulate others and live as a parasite and feed off of them and not truly invest ourselves. Why? Because we’re not an adult in the relationship, we’re not a whole person; instead we’re only a partial person, we’re emotionally still a child, psychologically we’re still a child (we don’t know who we are), we’re incomplete. And what’s missing is our conscience as well as our capacity to think honestly and critically. These closely related capacities and traits do not yet really exist (except perhaps in the most favorable of circumstances and sunniest of weather). And so our capacity to control ourselves emotionally does not really exist, our capacity to say “no” to ourselves and to our legion of discursive and vacuous wants does not yet exist. All of what makes an adult truly an adult psychologically, emotionally and intellectually, does not yet exist in us. So how can we expect to love another or even ourselves like an adult? (In a consistent, stable, deep and meaningful and abiding way) We will love ourselves childishly—erratically, chaotically, haphazardly, carelessly, emotionally, tenuously, and without perspective (we will be living and loving as if life goes on forever; we will be living and loving in denial); and we will love others in a similarly discursive and erratic way.
This is why romantic love cannot complete us. It may heal some ancient wounds, show us that we’re loveable, spark parts of us to life; but romantic love cannot complete us. Only growing up emotionally and psychologically and developing our conscience and our capacity for discernment and critical thought can complete us such that we are able to actually love ourselves and another (or others) in a healthy, growth-oriented way—one where we no longer think and act and demand and pine away and live in fantasyland like a child, but rather one where we have put aside such childish things and now live in the real world—and do so with great honesty, sincerity, self-awareness, compassion, understanding,, and because of these characteristics as well.