Love (in Absentia)

by kangcuzzi

After two good friends of mine suggested Spike Jonze’s Her as an enchanting way to spend an evening, I had no choice but to dig in as a fine way to kick-off the season of merrymaking and movie binging.

Simply put (and bluntly so), Her is about a man named Theodore who falls in love with Samantha, his operating system. The movie, set in a futuristic version of LA, follows their relationship as Theodore questions what it means to feel so close yet so detached to someone at the same time. (Note: I’m sure I’ve butchered the synopsis, but I’m sure there’s a more nuanced, more justice-giving summary elsewhere in this vast thing we call the internet.)

Sure, the movie deals with the contemporary themes of technology, and, as an extension of that, what it means to forge a human bond over our devices. When two people connect on a non-physical basis, can they possibly love one another? Is this love as equally legitimate, say, as a love of sight, smell, taste and touch, or does the chasm of space bring with it more than a frequent and uncomfortable silence?

To a certain extent, Her has us believe that love can exist even without physicality. It is the transaction of ideas and thoughts that stream between one person and another that can bring them together. However, the movie simultaneously reaches the conclusion that such love, however brilliant at first, is ultimately unsustainable; that after the initial rush and buzz of a newfound romance, the inability to properly connect with another individual in person slowly rusts the high.

A few months ago, I came across an article written by the brilliant Maria Popova over at that deals with a similar situation; essentially, a situation in which two people try to kindle a love without actually being there in person. In an article entitled The Science of Love: How Positivity Resonance Shapes the Way We ConnectPopova writes about the theories of a psychologist named Barbara Fredrickson that deal with the idea of ‘positivity resonance’, which is allegedly the way people can truly connect. Fredrick claims:

“True connection is one of love’s bedrock prerequisites, a prime reason that love is not unconditional, but instead requires a particular stance. Neither abstract nor mediated, true connection is physical and unfolds in real time. It requires sensory and temporal copresence of bodies… physical presence is key to love, to positivity resonance.”

Although Theodore’s world — the world of Her — can come off as being too fantastical, many of us are undergoing the same kind of relationship that Theodore has in the movie. This kind of relationship has a name, and it is commonly known as — you guessed it — the long-distance relationship.

In this day and age, LDRs are executed through late-night Skype calls or Facebook chats, bringing with them the ultimate requirements of sacrifice and huge helpings of patience. I’ve never been in one myself, but the poet and romantic in me does try to understand how the grandiose pictures of globalization and love fit together in what is undeniably an impressive feat.

Anyhow, positivity resonance in a LDR can only go so far. Sure, there are nights during their days when you’re just happy to see them with you, even if the moment is fleeting and the pressing demands of life (be it sleep or work) ultimately have their way. Sure, the confines of technology don’t stop us from having the most brilliant conversations of our lives with the most brilliant people we’ve ever met. Sure, it is possible to feel loved and deeply appreciated even by someone you cannot see; perhaps you may feel even more so, when you create for yourself the perfection of fantasy.

But it is in the moments of crises when one requires a living, breathing body to be a reassuring force. And when life can often come off as a string of crises put together, this immediacy becomes a greater necessity. Thus, in the great gaping hole of time and thought and shared experiences that exist between two people who live very, very far apart from one another, relationships can fray. And in the silence of a near-fantastical loved one, it is tempting to seek the noises of those closer by and more readily available. Thus many are led to believe that, contrary to the saying, absence, in fact, does not make the heart grow fonder.

Obviously the poet in me finds this regrettable; o how many a love story featuring the adversity of distance! O how we weep for resilience despite the vast and endless seas!

All silliness aside, it is a somber thought. It is so easy to fall in love, but, in the face of distance, it is so difficult to maintain that first, beautiful spark.

For now, the wayward message will have to do.