Love and Reality

From the movie Her

From the movie Her

I recently saw the movie Her with Joquin Phoenix and it really got me thinking.  Rough cut of the movie line: it’s a love story, about a man and a Operating System (OS).  But past that simple description, it asks us to take a look at how we narrowly define love and on a deeper level, what is ‘real’.  Culture seems to have the job of creating norms and rules about things that aren’t always easily definable.  Love can be simply defined, but it also has intangible qualities that are much more difficult to quantify.  It requires us to put language to feelings.  Reality is equally as hard to nail down.

love [luhv] noun

– a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
– a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
– sexual passion or desire.
– a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
(used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like): Would you like to see a movie, my love?

reality [ree-al-i-tee] noun

– the state or quality of being real.
– resemblance to what is real, a real thing or fact.
– real things, facts, or events taken as a whole; state of affairs: the reality of the business world; vacationing to escape reality.
Philosophy of Reality
– something that exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive.

These are probably good definitions, but are these definitions really the totality of these complex words?  What does love feel like?  Does love happen in reality or is it a construct of our minds?  How do you know it’s a “true love,” rather than a superficial “I’m so in love with ice cream” kind of love?  And who am I to judge if you’re not really so in love with ice cream?  In turn, what is Reality?  What does it mean that Reality exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive?  What are the nuances of a feeling real?  Is there a better way to love?  Or a worse way?  Do we attempt to make these deep philosophical ideas into black and white issues, easily defined, to fit in the boxes we like, so we can be comfortable?  While I understand that our cultural perspective does define these concepts, under what perimeters should love or reality be defined for anyone, given that few of us are from the same exact culture?

In Her, a man falls in love with a computer operating system (OS).  The OS is a learning, thinking, questioning, and growing being.  It has a great personality, but for most of us, it’s not what we think of as a “real person,” and therefore we might wonder, is he having a real relationship?  There were several places in the movie that I felt myself cringe when he talked about his girlfriend, and then explained she was an OS.  Yet the love felt real, at least to the man, and for me, the movie stretches the idea of what constitutes real love anyway?  At what point is love “real,” or valid?  Do we limit other peoples emotional lives when we foist our cultural judgements, our contextual thinking, and perceptions of reality of right or wrong doing, onto their reality?  Who gets to decide for everyone anyway?  Given that so many people are lonely and learning to love is powerful to our lives, why would we stop love from existing in any form that doesn’t harm anyone?

The movie also explores the idea of what make any of us real.  Is the OS real?  As in a sentient personhood sort of real? Is the OS more real than say a Corporation, which in the US we have given personhood and now Corporations have the rights of a real person, even though I’m pretty sure that Corporations don’t have souls. This is a similar question that was asked in the movie Blade Runner, At what point is something ‘real’?  More human than human was the sales pitch for the Replicants.  We could create ‘people’ but they had no rights, no souls, they weren’t real independently from our need or use of them, the Replicants were commodities.  Yet they evolved over time to have feelings, physical and emotional, and memories, and relationships, and they wanted ‘more life’ and to be considered real.  And, even today it’s amazing how many people have cyber relationships going on in virtual worlds?  Real people are behind the avatars, but they often haven’t met in the reality we call meeting ‘in person’, yet they can really know each other and they talk, have friendships, and dare one say even fall in love sometimes.

What if love and reality are big things, so big that we can only ever see a tiny bit and we think we’re seeing the whole thing, but the whole thing is so vast that there is no way from our small place in the universe to see it all?  What about that?  From this perspective of vastness, it may just be that we probably know next to nothing.  And, we create cultural constructs of our knowledge and try and make the whole vast infinite universe fit in our tiny little boxes.  I am reminded of a line from the movie Lion in Winter, “I know, You know that I know, and I know that you know that I know, we are a very knowledgeable family…”  But, the line might have been more true if we just said, “I don’t know, you don’t know, I don’t know what you know and you don’t know what I know, and we are all just making stuff up all the time pretending to be knowledgeable, it’s what our family does.”  That would have been funny.  In fact that’s the only thing I know is true… really.

When you love someone…


Dreaming 2

“When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.”
Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I am not sure exactly why this quote has so captured me.  Especially in the hindsight that Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s husband, Charles Lindbergh, had three other families (wives and kids) in Europe. It’s unclear if she knew this or not. I would find it a little hard to imagine such a smart woman being completely ignorant of who her husband was, and what he was capable of, even if she didn’t know the specifics. So, maybe she did know that he had affairs, and maybe she understood that love is complicated and messy sometimes. That often we are hurt, not by another’s actions, but rather by the idea that we have of who they are and how they should act, instead of loving them in spite of the fact that we feel failed by them, for not being what we want them to be.

There are boundaries that may be healthy for us, for me affairs cross a boundary in a marriage. Would I love my husband less if he had an affair? No, don’t think so, the love can remain. I’m not sure if I would stay in the relationship, certainly if I stayed it wouldn’t be in the same way. I don’t know what the relationship would look like, but it would change as I changed my thoughts about myself, my husband and the new “now” of our marriage. Love can bind us to people and places, it can give us purpose to learn and to move through the fear of vulnerability and stay true to love that is just for love.

Change through time is true in all relationships, family, friends, and lovers, even without traumas and dramas. We are constantly shifting how we feel about other people.  How we think about them, changes how we feel about them.  We do this all the time.  Think about the myriad of ways that we get angry or annoyed with people, even people we love, for much less concerning issues; the kids leave lights on everywhere they go, you ask nicely, you ask sharply, you ask and ask and ask, and still, no matter where in the house you walk, the lights are on. You scream, you rant, you threaten, and in these moments you don’t love in a loving way. Because your love has stories and expectations woven into the core of it. If you loved me, you would turn off the lights because you know and care what that means to me… Or, you would turn off the lights because it’s the responsible thing to do, or it saves money, whatever. Unspoken stories, I love you when you… do what I want?  The weft and weave as I sit in my justified nagging and yelling place, not showing love, because you didn’t meet my expectations. Is this conceivably true? Can I possibly be so self centered and demanding? Having unrealistic expectations of others and then wondering why the relationship feels distant or hurtful. This is the way of severing and ending relationships, this is not loving.

Just where is my responsibility for my needs, my feelings, and my expectations? Why don’t I turn off lights as I come to them instead of being unloving? Tell myself new stories that don’t connect my love for you, or your love for me, to my expectations? This simple shift is probably the hardest thing to do. The fine line between a healthy boundary and an unrealistic expectation. This shift takes courage, because like life, it’s fragile and filled with the longing of wanting to be loved in return, and we cannot control that. It takes the strength and flexibility of a dancer walking on a tightrope with no safety net and also dancing with a partner navigating the same dangerous ground.

Not many of us do this balance well. We may have areas where we sit in Buddha like calm over a topic while the world around us loses it’s collective mind. Yet, there are always chinks in our perceptions, places where we lose our own minds, often to issues or ideas that someone else has no problem with. It keeps us humble, we aren’t so perfect ourselves.  We are all creatures of light, but also of shadow. When we recognize our imperfection, do we then withhold love from ourselves?  Often the answer is “yes.” If this is true, how can you truly love another, with all their messy imperfections, if we can’t love our own self, with all of our messy imperfections? We hide and hate our shortcomings, we drown them and pretend they don’t exist, instead focusing on the shortcomings of others.  Isn’t the idea “to love others as we love ourself” at the core of all world religions? I think “yes.” My very purpose in this life is to recognize the places in myself that need to be challenged, tweaked and tuned, to learn to love myself through the process, and learn to love others in spite of my (mis)perceptions and (mis)expectations of them. Allowing for the ebb and flow, the here and now. Being present to the tide as it dances by my shore.