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The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm Read Online (FREE)

Another aspect of sentimental love is the abstractification of love in terms of time. A couple may be deeply moved by memories of their past love, although when this past was present no love was experienced—or the phantasies of their future love. How many engaged or newly married couples dream of their bliss of love to take place in the future, while at the very moment at which they live they are already beginning to be bored with each other? This tendency coincides with a general attitude characteristic of modern man. He lives in the past or in the future, but not in the present. He remembers sentimentally his childhood and his mother—or he makes happy plans for the future. Whether love is experienced vicariously by participating in the fictitious experiences of others, or whether it is shifted away from the present to the past or the future, this abstractified and alienated form of love serves as an opiate which alleviates the pain of reality, the aloneness and separateness of the individual.

Still another form of neurotic love lies in the use of projective mechanisms for the purpose of avoiding one’s own problems, and being concerned with the defects and frailties of the “loved” person instead. Individuals behave in this respect very much as groups, nations or religions do. They have a fine appreciation for even the minor shortcomings of the other person, and go blissfully ahead ignoring their own—always busy trying to accuse or to reform the other person. If two people both do it—as is so often the case—the relationship of love becomes transformed into one of mutual projection. If I am domineering or indecisive, or greedy, I accuse my partner of it, and depending on my character, I either want to cure him or to punish him. The other person does the same—and both thus succeed in ignoring their own problems and hence fail to undertake any steps which would help them in their own development.

Another form of projection is the projection of one’s own problems on the children. First of all such projection takes place not infrequently in the wish for children. In such cases the wish for children is primarily determined by projecting one’s own problem of existence on that of the children. When a person feels that he has not been able to make sense of his own life, he tries to make sense of it in terms of the life of his children. But one is bound to fail within oneself and for the children. The former because the problem of existence can be solved by each one only for himself, and not by proxy; the latter because one lacks in the very qualities which one needs to guide the children in their own search for an answer. Children serve for projective purposes also when the question arises of dissolving an unhappy marriage. The stock argument of parents in such a situation is that they cannot separate in order not to deprive the children of the blessings of a unified home. Any detailed study would show, however, that the atmosphere of tension and unhappiness within the “unified family” is more harmful to the children than an open break would be—which teaches them at least that man is able to end an intolerable situation by a courageous decision.