“True love can be a sweet harmony if you do the best that you can”
-Billy Brag, The Tatler
Last Friday night, I made a solo trip to the movies. I decided to see “Her” featuring Joaquin Phoenix simply because it featured Joaquin Phoenix. Only knowing that it was about him falling in love with a computer, I really had no expectations.
I think this is one of those films that might make you feel a different way depending on where you are in life when you see it. Maybe it wouldn’t have stirred the same emotions or ideas or string of thoughts if I were in a different place. But I’m not. I’m here. And it was extremely deep and metaphorical and philosophical and beautiful. If you have not yet seen it, I would highly recommend you stop reading and go see it so you can develop your own perspective separate than mine. And then return when you are ready.
Phoenix’s character Theodore, who indulges in melancholy and heartache, is clearly depressed about the end of his marriage. He has yet to sign the divorce papers because, as he admits, he “liked being married.” Early in the film, he appears eager for connection to something or someone. He purchases an operating system that promises to make life easier. The OS sounds like a real person and is able to communicate just like a human, continuously learning and developing through its experiences with the human that owns the OS. Think of it as a futuristic Siri.
Theodore’s OS names herself Samantha, who is “played,” very evidently I thought, by Scarlett Johansson. She’s cool, calm, collected, intelligent, non-judgmental. Theodore instantly takes to her and slowly they build a deeper relationship, moving from assistant OS to friend and to eventually lover. For those that didn’t take my advice and go see it: Yes, an operating system becomes his lover. This whole idea seemed very weird to me before I saw the movie, but it is executed extremely well so that it feels as though it isn’t so preposterous of an idea in the somewhat near future.
Samantha, new to the “world,” begins to experience life with Theodore, learning from him along the way. He brings meaning to the world and shows her things she has never experienced before. Likewise, she lights him up with a new burst of energy he hasn’t felt since his marriage. Suddenly Theodore is brighter, lighter. He seems happy. The fog has lifted. He dances, he frolics. He laughs. Together they become alive in the way we all have felt in those first stages of romance, when we find another person that seems to illuminate every piece of our existence. We become more cheerful and energized and ambitious. Each foot forward is our best one. Theodore becomes the best version of himself with Samantha in his life. And all is peachy. Rosy, rather.
It would appear that he is falling in love. He goes places “with” Samantha, who is “present” with him. She’s another consciousness that is able to experience what he is experiencing, just not physically. So physically, it’s just him. Physically… he’s still alone.
There’s a point in the movie when Samantha and Theodore spend the day together. At a crowded beach, Theodore sits in the sand while Samantha plays soft music and they stay until the orange sun closes in on the horizon. It’s peaceful, indolent, contenting.
Yet physically, Theodore was alone, so as I watched him enjoying these moments, I found myself thinking he’s learning to love again… but… he’s not learning to love Samantha. He’s learning to love himself. And not just himself, but life itself. Everything. It just seemed so obvious to me. Samantha is a catalyst, perpetuating Theodore’s discovery of the world and himself. And I kind of think there is something to that. What if the real reason we like another person is that we like who we are with that person?
I have often contemplated the idea that a romantic relationship with another person is really more a relationship with one’s self. Relationships are mirrors, reflecting all of the good. And just like real mirrors do, they also reflect the bad. These intimate relationships are opportunities to get to know our self further, and through them we are given the chance to love that self. It doesn’t always happen that way, but it should. We all know we can’t love someone else unless we love our self because that’s what everyone has always told us. I have heard that saying so often and for so long that somewhere way back when it became a truth, a given, that I just assumed without ever really allowing myself to think about its meaning and whether or not I knew what it meant. But it seems the more I move forward in life, the more it resonates with me and the deeper the meaning becomes.
Romantic love, at least these days, almost seems to be conditional. We invest romantically based on attraction, circumstance, even happiness levels. Pure love, though, pure love is unconditional. It’s the kind that needs no explanation, nor justification. It just is. It’s often the love felt between siblings, parents and children, friends. It’s the glimpses of marvel that give way to gratitude; marvel for the beauty of what is and gratitude for being given the chance to experience it. It’s the love we feel for a newborn baby. Or even the peculiar feeling that strikes when we learn of the unexpected passing of someone we knew. I’ve always mused at how us people will immediately drop any and all animosities or annoyances with someone when that someone passes away, like what does it all matter now anyway? There’s no judgment, only acceptance. Appreciation. Pure love is a love that is bigger than us.
And it is amazing, which is why we seek it through as many sources as we can. We move through life searching out what we “love,” which is really just finding what brings about that sense of pure love. It explains my love for walking, especially amongst trees, mountains, waters or open spaces. I love these things because they instigate that marvel and gratitude. They instigate that peace; that love. Isn’t it amazing how a tiny, brand new human being can be placed in our arms against our beating heart and instantly the world dissolves into nothing and everything at the same time? Of course we love those entities that trigger that feeling.
But I guess it would be wise to diversify our sources, instead of depending on just one source, especially when that one source is a person. With romantic love, it’s tricky because it is so easy to be swallowed by the amazing feeling this one person prompts. Perhaps it is easy to confuse the source of those feelings too. For Theodore as he is resting on that beach in the warmth of the sunlight, maybe he felt stronger for Samantha because she brought him to that place. Maybe it wasn’t Samantha that was sourcing those feelings of love he was feeling, and rather she was just the source to bring him to the place where he could feel those things. Again, she was the catalyst to finding pure love. Maybe we love others simply because they are the catalyst for our realization of a larger love.
Someone once told me that if he were to summarize my life in a few words, it would be that I have a way of finding love in all things. I thought this was a beautiful description, and also a great compliment. Yes, I am easily marveled. Easily inspired. It has always been very easy for me to grasp that pure love feeling. But, as is so often the case, our greatest strengths seem to also be our greatest weaknesses. I think Theodore is a lot like me. It’s almost as though my heart is a magnet, and once it finds one of those sources of pure love, it connects to it and only it. Meanwhile, there is a whole world of other places or people or things that could just as easily stir the heartstrings, but I don’t even pay attention to them.
I have thought many times in my life that maybe I just love too much. When we love so much that we lose our self, we end up, often unconsciously, building our worlds around another person and their needs. Thinking that we are only doing something good, because after all it’s love, we are confused when things go wrong. While thinking I was only loving, and how could loving be bad, I was creating my own imbalance.
I think we lose sight of pure love sometimes, simply because we lose sight of our self love. We enter relationships with that best foot forward and are conditioned to feel amazing around that person, so we almost depend so much on that person to create our happiness, to create our life, to create our world. They become the sole source of that pure love feeling. We focus on how our partner is making us feel, how they are making us not feel.
But if we can learn to find our own sources of happiness apart from our partner, we can challenge our dependencies on that person. This would result in no longer feeling disappointed or let down or hurt when they don’t follow through with the expectation we have created for them. No one owes us anything.
There is something to be said about each partner in a relationship taking responsibility of themselves in order to continuously grow, progress and evolve as a person. No one is ever done being the best they can be. There is always room for growth and to become the best version of our self. This idea of change and growth is constant throughout Her, acting as a metaphor for the constancy of change and the importance of growth in life. Theodore says of his ex wife “we grew up together.” There is no indication that they knew each other when they were young and literally grew up together, as each flashback to their life together shows them as adults. From this, I personally concluded this was a reference to the idea that they grew together, learning from each other and changing with each other. Growing. He mentions that he had helped her, and I got the feeling that they both made huge impressions on each other. But somewhere along the way, it stopped working. Perhaps Theodore loved too much that he lost himself in her, no longer bringing anything to the table. Maybe his wife no longer felt inspired or happy or content. Maybe they both stopped trying to make themselves happy that in the end, they blamed each other for their own unhappiness. It seems they outgrew each other. Or maybe it’s not that they outgrew each other, but instead they stopped growing themselves. For whatever reason, the love source was tapped out.
In Theodore’s relationship with Samantha, it starts beautifully and together they are alive, but gradually Samantha starts to explore on her own and develops new interests and new ideas. She makes new friends. Now that Theodore feels happy again, I think he starts to realize all of the things Samantha cannot give him. She doesn’t even have a body. And again there is discontent in the relationship, like each is inhibiting the others’ progress when just previously they had been the catalyst. It was almost as though their purpose together had been accomplished.
Love… it waxes and wanes. Comes in and then fades out. We seem to always connect love to a fixed entity that mustn’t ever change. But it does change. We change. It’s the only constant, and sometimes we don’t change together. People come into our lives, inspiring us and opening us up to the world so much that we become better people. And that’s the whole point of these relationships. The connection. To learn from one another so we can better ourselves. Sometimes it is only for a brief period of time, other times it is for an infinite one. The measure of time is not a measure of importance. I would not be where I am if it weren’t for the relationships of my past, and I am grateful for each of them. I got the feeling the writer was touching on the question of whether or not one life-long relationship is the best approach in the midst of this constant change. I don’t think I have been alive long enough to formulate an opinion on that. But I do know that we can’t stop change, nor would we want to. There is no control over that. We may outgrow or be outgrown. Some relationships will work, others will not. Change is inevitable, and all we can do is be our best.
I think the reason we are first attracted to people is for the way they inspire us to be better; the way they make us grow. The way they challenge us and open up our world, just like Samantha did for Theodore and vice versa. This is what connection is. In order to participate in this connection, we must have an inner light to pass off to the other person. This requires practice, cultivation.
In past relationships, I focused all of myself on loving and supporting the other person that I lost sight of myself, and resultantly I was no longer bringing anything to the table. It is entirely possible to be giving every ounce of yourself to someone and still not be giving them anything. Clinging only to someone else’s progress and growth will lead to feelings of let-down. It is so crucial to develop your own interests and passions separate from your relationship.
This idea of finding self, loving self and maintaining self in a relationship has been a common theme in my life lately. At the beginning of the year, Jon went back to school. His life completely changed, so naturally our life together changed too. He left his job in Seattle to focus on school about 45 minutes outside of the city, and we don’t see each other as often as we used to. Last minute trips to the woods are basically not possible right now, and that’s been hard for me to swallow. At first I was nervous that it wouldn’t work. I think we both were. So I think we were both surprised when our relationship seemingly improved, despite not seeing each other as often or being able to do all of the fun things we used to do.
I have come to realize the reason. Jon is finally doing exactly what he has wanted to do for a long time, so in his own personal relationship with himself, he is happy and content. He is being the best he can be. He’s now working towards something he is passionate about and spends his days doing it. I noticed a change in him the first week of school. He was alive. Not because of me. Not because of anyone else. But because of himself and his own work to get him where he was.
Meanwhile, I am working on my own self-progress and passions. My work has become extremely rewarding and I couldn’t be happier with my career. I am getting closer to finishing the motorhome and cannot wait to get on the open road. There are so many other elements to my life that bring about a sense of appreciation and happiness, and I feel balanced. When Jon and I do come together, we each bring the excitement from our individual lives to each other, showing and teaching and inspiring and discussing.
Sometimes though, I will be so in the moment with him and I won’t want it to end and it’s hard to say goodbye even when I know I will see him the next day. I think this is Hollywood’s version of love. But then, as soon as I am alone and walking or writing or doing something else that I love, I remember he is not the only source of wonder in my life. It took me a while to find those other wonders, but now I can surely say I have many different elements in life that bring me internal peace and love and harmony.
Often I think of this relationship with Jon as an opportunity to constantly practice nourishing the relationship I have with myself; to not lose myself, but to blossom myself alongside of another person. This is how he inspires me, challenges me. This is one of the wonderful lessons I have learned from him, and am still learning.
In the end of Her, Theodore comes to a place of peace. I think he discovers this idea of pure love. He resolves the issues with his ex wife that he had been holding on to, and he realizes he loves her in a way that is unconditional. He loves her for what she is, what she was, what she will be, even though she will no longer be alongside of him. He loves her being. Not because of how she makes him feel or doesn’t make him feel, but because they were both able to ever feel at all. Because he no longer needs her to love himself. This allows him to love her for her, not for him. This is acceptance. This is pure love.
If I can take anything from this film, it’s the idea that we are all here for such a short existence and the relationships we have in our lives are constant opportunities for growth to become the best version of ourselves. I think through romantic love relationships, we are able to discover ourselves so that eventually we are able to love ourselves, regardless of who we are with or not with. And this sense of self-love in turn allows us to love others fully. It took me a while to get here. A few relationships actually. But now I see the need to nourish my self relationship so that my romantic relationship will work.
Today, on this day that symbolizes love, let us not get lost in the idea that love requires something of us. Instead, let us remember that one day we will all be gone, every person we love and have ever loved. In the end, it’s not about the roses we receive (or don’t receive), whether or not we have a special someone or how loved we feel. It’s accepting and appreciating all that we have in each moment, and finding love in what is. Unconditionally. Purely. It is discovering those sources that stop you in your tracks all by your little self and stir the buckets of happiness and love and peace and gratitude inside your soul.
Things happen the way they happen. The one thing each of us does have control over is our own self, and being the best that we can possibly be. If each of us takes care of that, the universe will take care of the rest. Trust it.