Her And The Reality Of Online Relationships

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HERbodPhoto: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Set in the future, Spike Jonze's latest film Her tells the story of a lonely letter writer who falls in love with his operating system, Samantha. Voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha and Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) begin a relationship that's as real as any "IRL" relationship, except one glaring difference: Sam does not exist. She's a sound that fills the air, yet she's alive in her thirst for life and knowledge. Most importantly, to the viewer, she brings the conversation of Internet relationships to the big screen — in an entirely modern way.

Here at R29, we've covered the world of online dating with a gimlet eye, but the stigma of finding love online — and keeping it online? That's still taboo. Platforms like Tinder, OkCupid, and Grindr almost always take the digital relationship offline and into real-life encounters, where bodies meet bodies and voices talk to one another over coffee and cocktails. With Her in the ether, notions of "intangible" relationships, like the one the writer Fiona Duncan wonderfully recounted for The Cut, The Cut, are beginning to enter the zeitgeist. Is it, in our permanently plugged-in world, possible to date another user and leave it all in 2-D?

Duncan seems to think so — or, at least, she gave it a spin. Duncan's story of her digital love life with M. touches on everything Her touches on. There is sex (well, more likely mutual masturbation); there are late-night talks of the future, dreams, and regrets; there is bickering over opinions; there is everything that many would add up and surmise as an honest relationship, but no physical interaction. "There was always the potential we’d meet IRL, we still talk about it," Duncan writes, "but for now, the premise of not meeting is more seductive."

Amen to that. Perhaps it's the Gemini in this writer, but giving myself to someone in a limited way (i.e. everything but the body) has, at one point or another, felt more tingly than really getting it. Andy Warhol said it best: "The most exciting thing is not doing it. If you fall in love with someone and never do it, it's much more exciting." From where I sit (and where Duncan likely sits), digital relationships with another human, behind a screen, can be as real as the one you have with the physical person sitting next to you. Just because you're texting, FaceTiming, Skyping, and GChatting doesn't mean your ideas and feelings are any less valid than if they were exchanged face-to-face.

Duncan writes, "My relationship with M. is the longest-running and most sensuous one I’ve had in this city, and I’m sure that’s because of its constraints." To which I utter a resounding "Yes!" with a sharp clap added for emphasis. I've had real-life relationships — ones filled with physical intimacy — end because one or the other was sharing his life with someone across the nation. Is that considered cheating? I don't have the answer to that, but the cold reality was disconcerting. But, that's just it: The golden idea to Her, Duncan's story, and my own life is the idea of sharing. Sharing your life with another being — digital or physical.

Rooney Mara's character in Her, which is essentially a bitter ex-girlfriend, calls Twombly out for always wanting "to have a wife without the challenges of dealing with something real." To me, that statement feels cheap. I stumble on the word "real," because who is to say that friendships made online aren't as real, if not more real, as physical ones? Just like Twombly, I, too, have friendships outside of the virtual sphere. I date, I interact with others, and I make myself available to all those close in my life no matter the platform we communicate on. It's a complicated topic, and one that is only just beginning to take hold in our daily conversations. The abundance of Her-like relationships is likely higher than we can fathom — and that's exciting. In fact, it's downright radical, and a surefire sign of how humanized the Internet has really become. (The Cut)