Mature Love v Immature Love

Erich Fromm, in “The Art of Loving,” wrote, “Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you’.”

The first statement is based on dependency—I am dependent on you, I am under-developed as a person, I am young and I am just starting out in adulthood and I am glomming onto you, relying on you to support me emotionally and psychologically (maybe even financially), to validate me, to give me a sense of who I am, to make me feel special, loved, wanted, valuable, complete, to compliment me, to make me feel better, to make my life better, easier, more fun, and because you are doing that, and because I am getting all of that from you and this relationship right now, that is why I “love” you. (But should that change, I’ll look elsewhere and very likely go elsewhere, and stop loving you. Or, I will love you but I’ll no longer be in love with you; we will coexist coldly, passively, distantly, like strangers, like siblings.)

The second part of Fromm’s statement (“Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you’.”) is based on uniqueness, essential-ness, essentiality—to me you are unlike anyone else in all the world, I have never met anyone like you, not even close to you, and because of your uniqueness and how well I get you and how well you in your uniqueness mesh with me in my uniqueness and what the you of you brings out in me and what my uniqueness brings out in you, and the synergy between us, I love you. I will never meet anyone like you or even nearly like you again. And I will cherish and honor and appreciate that uniqueness as best as I can, as often as I can, for as long as I live. I love you. And loving you in this way is something that I am so happy to be able to do. It is a vocation, a calling for me.

Infantile love follows the principle: “I love because I am loved.”  Mature love follows the principle: “I am loved because I love.”  Immature love says: “I love you because I need you.” Mature love says: “I need you because I love you.”
(Erich Fromm “The Art of Loving,” pg. 37)

Two distinctly different versions of love.

How do you love?

How do you want to be loved?

What sort of relationship do you aspire to and want to be a part of and help to create?

And this is not an either/or situation.  Both aspects of love–or both love and need–can co-exist in the same relationship.  The key is which one is the dominate and driving theme:  neediness and dependency, which leads to a sense of entitlement and exploitativeness; or the other person’s uniqueness as well as one’s own, which leads to sharing, caring, something much more humane and tender and human (and mature).

A man and a woman who love each other have not experienced everything together in life unless, looking at each other, the questions have occurred to each: What would become of you without me? And what would become of me without you?

Something deep and sanctifying takes place when people who belong to each other share the thought that every day, each coming hour, may separate them.

In this awareness we always find that the initial anxiety gives way to deeper and very important questions: Have we given each other everything we could? Have we been everything we might have been to one another? Is there anything we would like to undo, something we wished had never happened or that we had not said?

We sense that perhaps we can better bear the parting if we have treated each other with such love.

What a different world this would be if we dared to look deeply at each other, if we kept in mind the prospect of being torn unexpectedly from each other. We each would become more sacred to one another because of death. So much of what we value, so much of what captivates us and engages us, so much of what we fight over and bicker about, is only of temporary worth. In an instant, in the very next hour, it may become utterly valueless.

(Albert Schweitzer, adapted from “Reverence for Life, ” pp. 67-76; see:

What will you do, God, when I die?

I am your pitcher (I will shatter)
I am your drink (I will spoil)
I am your garment; I am your art, your craft.
Without me what reason have you?

Without me what house will remain
where intimate words await you?
Without me, you’ll have no sandals
your feet will wander bare,
and the cloak that I am
will drop from your shoulders.

Your gaze, which I welcome now
which warms my cheek
will one day arrive here,
look long, search hard
and at sunset lie spent
on an empty beach
in the lap of unfamiliar stones.

What will you do then, God? I am afraid.

(Rilke, “Book of Hours,” Book 1, No. 36)


“If You Knew” — Ellen Bass

What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.

A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in "If You Knew", "Reverence for Life", "The Art of Loving", Albert Schweitzer, Conscience, Conscious Love, Courage, Death, Dependency, Ellen Bass, Emotional Maturity, Erich Fromm, Immature Love, Intimate Relationships, Love, Love is Not a Feeling, Mature Love, Rilke, Spiritual Growth, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Mature Love v Immature Love

  1. hiddinsight says:

    Fantastic post! Truly inspiring and thought provoking to see love analyzed with this type of precision and depth.

    • John says:

      Thank you, Hiddinsight, for reading and commenting 🙂 And I’m glad this post was thought-provoking and inspiring!

      Kindest regards,


  2. Really wonderful post. I have certainly love both ways & I’ll take mature love over the other any day of the week. Unfortunately it’s rare. U wonder if people realize the value of a love like that.

    • John says:

      Hello Cadence,

      Thank you for reading and for the very kind words.

      And I agree with you, mature love (or genuine love, or real love–I use the terms interchangeably) is very rare. It’s very rare because it’s very difficult . . . meaning, it’s very *very* difficult (i.e. years of inner work and or therapy and or reading decent books level difficult) to deal with our character flaws and innate narcissism/self-centeredness and unrealistic/overgeneralized fears and limitations regarding stress and anxiety. It takes years of learning to face ourselves and to see ourselves and what we’re actually up to for what it is (we bs ourselves with all sorts of false stories about what we’re doing and why we’re doing what we’re doing) if we are to learn how to genuinely love ourselves, let alone another or even others.

      Distinguishing between mature love and immature love is a distinction that I have found (and continue to find) very useful in life and in making choices about my own actions. I suppose in a way it’s similar to WWJD? or WWtheBuddhaDo? or WWthe DalaiLamaDo?, et cetera . . . What is the mature and loving thing to do? It’s a good question to ask and answer and consider, in my opinion. it usually gives us a different perspective on things. And when asking the question (or a similar question) becomes habit or second nature, it means that our thinking is definitely changing, and thus *we* are definitely changing and growing and maturing.

      And I also think it’s a distinction that many of the authors I quoted and excerpted here make as well. I’m thinking particularly of M. Scott Peck, Krishnamurti, Rilke, Thích Nhất Hạnh (see my post below “Thích Nhất Hạnh on Love”, Thoreau, Merton (see my post below “Merton on Love” It’s a very useful distinction to make. Not only that, it’s a very wise (and loving) distinction to make and question to really mull over–what is the genuinely loving thing to do here?

      And I personally think it would be a nice/cool/awesome/grand/gnarly/bangin’ thing if more people paused to ask and consider it. 🙂

      Warmest regards, Cadence, and thanks again for reading and commenting. 🙂


  3. kittylinpinup says:

    Ive never read these two kinds of love so well put. Sadly in my marriage which just ended i loved with the mature love, my now ex husband with an immature love, and so of course he easily replaced me, its when you love the person for their uniqueness that you cant be replaced..Thank your for putting this up..

    • John says:

      Hello KittyLin,

      Thank you for reading and commenting, and you are welcome.

      And I’m sorry to hear that your marriage ended. I dislike divorce (except in cases of abuse and in some circumstances addiction); I think divorce is way too easy; I think a marriage is something that a person has to earn their way out of–i.e., they have to thoroughly exhaust all other avenues, including counseling (with a non-divorce happy therapist), reading decent books (i.e. “Passionate Marriage,” “The Road Less Traveled” “How Could You Do That!?”–and *really* reading these books and trying their insights and wisdom on oneself first for size). Divorce ought to be a last option, not a first or a second, but sadly that’s what it is for most people–too easy of an option, an easy out, the easier of two alternatives, something that people turn too way too quickly. People turn to divorce for all sorts of what I consider frivolous and immature/selfish reasons–the chief among them being that one partner doesn’t listen or talk enough or like they used to, or the old rationalizations: “I love him/her, but I’m not in love with him/her any more” and “I’ve grown and changed but my spouse hasn’t” (which is bullshit about 98% of the time).

      Again, KittyLin, I’m sorry to hear about your recent divorce. I wish you comfort and solace; divorces and break-ups are such painful things, especially when we love and care about a person deeply and have shared a life with that person.

      Warmest regards, and thank you again for reading and commenting,


  4. Reblogged this on Search 4 a Soul Mate and commented:
    I found this such an incredible post… Just had to reblog it. Kudos to a fantastic writer, a scholar and a romantic. Thanks John. To all my readers… hope you enjoy!

    • John says:

      Hello Cadence, thank you for the reblog! (And the very kind words 🙂 But I couldn’t find the reblog from the link above. 😦 But I am very glad that you have found much that is thought-provoking and substantive in my post and that you decided to share it with your readers!

      Warmest regards,


  5. janeadamsart says:

    Thank you John for the Rilke. My much loved grandmother used to say “What will you do God, when I die?” and I didn’t know where in Rilke this was, and it is wonderful to read and reflect on the poem. An enhancing post as always. When we push the boat out into each other, there are steep waves. Later on when the waves have past, there is ocean. Thus is love.

    • John says:

      Hello Jane,

      Thank you for the very kind and wise comments. And I’m glad that I helped you find that poem from Rilke. (And you’re grandmother used to quote that line of Rilke? Did she quote other lines from Rilke or from other poets? Sounds like a very wise grandmother!)

      Warmest regards,


  6. Pingback: Mature Love v Immature Love (Reblog from John) | Spiritually Inclined

  7. benrolnik says:

    Beautiful. I have always been very influenced by the work on Passionate vs. Companionate love — featured in this article on lasting love based on my favorite love poem of all time! Thank you for your post and enjoy!

    • John says:

      Hello Ben! And thank you for the very kind words and I will read your post when I have more time (the time your post deserves). But at first glance, I love the poem–what a wonderful poem!

      Kindest regards,


  8. Laila Shares says:

    Reblogged this on Laila Shares and commented:
    Finally i understand what Eric Fromm meant 🙂

  9. AW says: true love really happened in the old days just like our family members had it since that was a very easy time for finding love altogether.

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