This reply of mine is going to come in the form of a point by point response to Rohan’s article, I’m going to treat this as conversation with the film ‘Her’ providing a back-drop and foundation. So, if you haven’t already, you’re going to want to read Rohan’s article, ‘Why Pete Needs To’: Watch Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ first.
OK let’s get in to it.
Rohan makes the point of being worried about how an obsession with online relationships makes it difficult for men to vocalise their emotions so allows them to live a lie online that we can not in reality by hiding what we really feel or think. There are definitely people in the world who this applies to. These kind of people are called ‘catfish’ and they really do pretend to be something that they’re not in order to attract others. In the film, ‘Her’ these people are the people for whom Theodore writes his letters. They do try and pretend to be something that they’re not by using Theodore’s letters. However, Theodore himself in his relationship with his Operating System (OS) is nothing but sincere. He voices his own feelings and emotions and doesn’t try to pretend to be anything more than he is. Theodore doesn’t live a lie, the letters he writes allow others to live a lie. Similarly with myself, I don’t lie to my girlfriend about my emotions or feelings. The only way to sustain any relationship, is to be utterly open and honest. This is especially important in long distance. When you can’t read the others persons body language, the only thing you have is words. If you try to hide all your feelings and emotions, then the relationship will always be built on lies and that simply can’t work.
The next point is about hiding behind the facade of the online world. My girlfriend and I weren’t matched together by a computer on a dating website or dating service, we didn’t read a description of each other and thought we’d get on well, we simply got to know each other organically after a chance meeting. I’ve known her now for 6 years, and even if one of us had lied, it’s just not viable to sustain that pretense for so long. Of course there are people who will use a facade online by lying about what or who they are, but most of these people will either just be looking to get naked pictures of people (apparently porn isn’t good enough anymore) or are just looking for a bit of fun. However, you can say exactly the same about people in ‘offline’ relationships. If I want to pull a girl, I can say that I have an 11 inch penis and a Mercedes Benz, and it might work for a little while. But once she sees me packing a hopeful 3 inches and a Fiat Punto, the facade collapses. Any long term relationship, offline or online, has to based on honesty.
As for Theodore loving the computer because it is an uncomplicated entity, I couldn’t disagree more. Of course, he doesn’t experience the physical complexity, but he does experience the emotional complexity, and it’s this that he falls in love with. He falls in love with how she learns, how she empathises and creates. It’s obvious in the film that the lack of anything physical is not a source of relief, but a massive burden on them both. The only reason that the relationship is able to survive the lack of any physicality is because there is a such a strong emotional connection. Similarly, with my girlfriend we understand that we do miss out on the physical part of being in a relationship. It is maddening beyond words to not be able to provide a comforting arm or a shoulder to cry on. But the reverse of that is that it gives us a very close relationship. If she gets angry, I can’t follow her out of the room, give her a hug or take her out for dinner. We have to talk about it. We have to confront any issue openly and honestly. You can’t just show the other person that you’re sorry or frustrated, you have to vocalise it. But it means that we both have a very deep understanding of how the other is feeling and thinking.
I’m hoping that people understand here that my girlfriend is a real person, not an operating system. Even if I don’t see her, the conversations that I have with her are no less real than conversations in real life. Furthermore, we both have lives outside of each other. It seems here that Rohan has forgotten all our talks in pubs. The bastard. The most important part of any relationship, platonic or not, is the emotion, not the physical. If I faced a disaster, and I phoned Rohan to talk about it and get advice, would we say that wasn’t engaging with reality because I hand’t talked to Rohan in person? Would it be any less meaningful so long as it provided me with the comfort I needed? Of course we should cherish those who are around us, but the ones we should cherish most are those who are there when we feel like we can’t talk to anyone else. It doesn’t matter if they are 5 or 5,000 miles away, all that matters is if they can listen, understand and help.
I’ve been in physical relationships before with varying levels of commitment, some just drunken flings, others, more serious, so I don’t consider myself having missed out on that side of life as a whole. I do think that I miss out on that with my girlfriend, and I think she’d feel the same way – I’m sure she hates the fact that she can’t slap me sometimes. But at the end of the day, it seems that this can be tailored down to one question; what should be the foundation of a relationship, the physical or the emotion? For me, it’s the emotion, after all, when it comes to the physical aspect, I have a right hand that performs wonderfully. Moreover, I could go to a bar tonight and after getting a girl drunk…OK, probably very drunk, I’d be able to experience all the kisses, sex, and probably slaps that I miss out on having with my girlfriend. But to find someone that makes me feel comfortable, where I can feel I can lay all my thoughts and emotions on the table without being judged, someone who makes me want to improve myself, someone who cares when things go wrong and who wants to help, someone who makes me laugh, that’s incredibly difficult to find. And if ever you’re lucky enough to find someone who can do that, even from thousands of miles away, don’t trade that in for just base physical contact.
In the film ‘Her’, Theodore has got a problem which I fortunately don’t. Despite his deep emotional connection, he’s faced with the reality that he will never get to physically be with the ‘person’ he
loves. However, if you watch the film, his love for her is still so genuine and the connection he feels is so strong, and I think that everyone, Rohan included, would want to have a relationship that made us feel that way. For me, I have that relationship already, and I know that, in time, I’ll also experience the physical aspect.
I’m perfectly happy to wait.