In 1956, The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm became an international bestseller as the first real guide to understanding love. Decades later, the book became out-of-step with contemporary thinking and fell into obscurity. Even so, Armin Zadeh, a cardiologist and professor at John Hopkins University saw a need for a book that would define real love, plus offer a deeper understanding of this complex and often misunderstood emotion. He revisited Fromm’s concepts, eliminated some of the Judeo-Christian filters, added contemporary research and biological science, and wrote this compelling new book for twenty-first century readers.
What’s most important about The Forgotten Art of Love: What Love Means and Why It Matters is its examination of the age-old question: What is love? Zadeh distinguishes love from emotions that seem like love: lust, affection, and infatuation. This explains why so many marriages fail after a few years and why other seem to endure even though the partners may seem mismatched or barely tolerant of one another.
In Fromm’s original work, he pointed out that “falling in love” is different from “true love.” This was controversial. His notion thwarted beloved icons of love at first sight, such as in Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella and her prince. Such unions he deemed as “infatuation,” which could develop, over time, into attachment or even love.
Medical science now seems to prove Fromm’s theory. Zadeh shows in his book that when contemporary researchers studied the blood levels of hormones in people who’d just fallen in love, they had higher levels of cortisol than those people in long-term relationships.
“Cortisol is also released when we are stressed,” Zadeh adds, “which explains why falling in love also has some uncomfortable effects, such as anxiety and sleeplessness.”
Medical studies also show that the brains of those falling in love look more like those belonging to people with compulsive behavior than those who have been in long-term relationships. He calls this “infatuation,” which lasts three or four years. From an evolutionary perspective, that’s long enough for procreation.
Zadeh defines real love as “the urge and continuous effort for another person’s happiness and well-being.” In fact, he goes on to explain that with true love, one’s own happiness is intrinsically dependent on the other’s happiness. Those experiencing true love appreciate the beauty, goodness, and unique qualities within another person.
“Love does not ask for love in return,” Zadeh writes. “Relationships, in general, do. If we keep giving love and don’t receive any in return, the relationship will suffer.” The point is that true love gives without demanding something back.
Of course, parents know this—they love blindly in hopes that love will be returned…someday. If not, they love anyway, believing in the goodness and special qualities of their children. This is sometimes that’s often called unconditional love. As Zadeh points out, this requires mature and well-grounded thinking.
The Forgotten Art of Love is written in an authoritative, but conversational style—the reading is easy, the points clear and well-supported. Zadeh covers a vast territory, from defining true love (distinguishing it from lust), to examining how love factors into our health and happiness and our interactions in society and the world. Many ideas are supported by scientific facts, such as how the hormone oxytocin is released when one experiences true love. This counteracts depression.
The book’s strength definitely is in the first half, where he defines real love and charts how love and attachment grow over time—just the opposite of sexual attraction and passion, which plummets within a few years.
Some people may be curious as to how this book compares with Fromm’s, which was reprinted in 2006. That book contains some good points that aren’t in Zadeh’s. However, readers might find it a bit stodgy, academic, and certainly not as scientifically enlightened or open minded when it comes to gender issues.
A lot can be learned from this book, and certainly anyone contemplating marriage or having children would find it enlightening, if not essential reading. In fact, all or portions of this book should be taught in every middle or high school—though youth will most likely cling to their notions that a sultry gaze, words of devotion, and a tryst under the bleachers are, in fact, true love. This book may not change that, but it might help in the aftermath.
The Forgotten Art of Love: What Love Means and Why It Matters
Armin A. Zadeh, M.D., Ph.D.
New World Library
Softcover, 244 pages