Spike Jonze’s Her made us all look at technological relationships a little differently. Sure, the concept was interesting and not entirely unlikely, but still, we say that would never happen. We say I would never fall in love with a computer. But haven’t you?
Internet dating and chatting platforms like Snapchat dominate almost all romantic relationships today. College students find their next date on Bumble, and high schoolers meet their significant others through mutual friends on Snapchat. Most conversations start out as back-and-forth selfies, and even if the chat begins, it’s usually not more than “wyd” followed by another photo.
Somehow this is enough for us, and we even go as far as saying we’re “talking” with someone online. We tell our friends that we “have a thing” with this person before we even meet them. Developing feelings spill over before we hear their voice in real life. We’re spoken for before we’ve even spoken to each other.
In the film Her, the lonely and newly separated Theodore finds himself in a relationship with his advanced operating system. It’s less unbelievable than it sounds. He’s not in love with his monotonous computer screen; he’s in love with the bright-voiced, sensitive, and funny Samantha—the chip in his ear that seems to see, feel, and touch just as any human would. He falls in love with the way she laughs, the way she jokes, and even the way she sings. She seems to care for him, and he cares for her.
It’s easy to think we’re different. We’re not crazy—we wouldn’t fall in love with a chip in our ear. But how is falling in love with someone online any different? I once found a guy’s Instagram through a mutual friend. The first attraction was obviously looks—I won’t deny. I stalked the account all the way down, probably added the Snapchat in his bio. I searched through Spotify accounts until I found his, and there were a few songs we had in common. Obviously, I added the songs to my story so he would see and DM me. You know the process because you’ve done it too. I convinced myself we were meant to be together just because I saw some similar interests. But when I met him at an event, he was completely different and the crush was over in a split second.
When I asked my friends about their experiences with online relationships, each of them laughed with a hint of embarrassment—but they all had a story. Halima Jibril, a 19-year-old and fellow obsessive teenage girl, looked back at her hidden relationship with a friend’s housemate. She bonded with him over memes about capitalism and white supremacy and spoke to him on her friend’s phone about Love Island. She described her feelings toward him with the smiling emoji surrounded by hearts, saying that she thought he was her future husband. She soon found out that he had feelings for her friend and quickly ended the historical memes relationship with a slightly broken heart. She reflected on the relationship saying “such a silly story,” but haven’t we all experienced it?
In Jonze’s film, Theodore’s romance ends when he finds out Samantha (his advanced operating system) has been talking to other people at the same time as him—8,316 other people, to be exact. He’s heartbroken. He doesn’t understand. Because the whole time, she was there with him, talking to him, seemingly present. Just like the Instagram DMs, the Snapchat selfies, and the chats we obsess over. Have you ever thought about what these people are doing in real life while they’re sending them?
You could say that falling in love with someone online is different than falling in love with a computer. But really—how well do we really know someone from seeing their face in 10-second intervals on Snapchat? Or stalking their Spotify to see that they like a Tame Impala song? How can you really love when you’ve only seen the good parts of someone? How can you know if the meme-sending relationship you have means as much to them as it means to you? How many people are they sending memes to???
That’s what’s scary about online relationships—we know nothing, really. And sometimes it works out. Sometimes you do meet the love of your life over DM. But it’s still dangerous to develop feelings through a screen, and we do it every single day. We’re all Theodore; we’re all lonely people looking for an easy way to feel loved. To feel seen and wanted. We Snap the people that give us attention, text the people who compliment us, and fall in love with the people that are always there. Because everyone is available to you on the internet, whether they know it or not.
Theodore wasn’t in love with Samantha. He was in love with the idea of her, and the fact that he didn’t have to grieve the end of his marriage anymore. He was in love with having someone who would never leave, hate him, or really know him. At the end of the film, Theodore writes a letter to his ex-wife. He accepts his heartbreak. He accepts the fact that it’s over and is thankful for it. He sends her love. He climbs to the rooftop with his closest human friend. He looks at the city, at the world, for the first time in a while. He looks at his friend. They’re looking at each other—two real people close enough to touch. They smile. They look out at the city. She rests her head on his shoulder. You can hear his inhale, then his exhale. They’re alive.
The relationships we have online exist. And in this era, in this world, they always will. But sometimes the best thing you can do is shut it all off. Send a text and send them love, but take the chip out of your ear after. Climb to the rooftop with your best friend. Look at the city, at the world, for the first time in a while. Look at your friend. They’re here, they exist. Smile. Look out at the world. Rest your head on their shoulder. Inhale, then exhale. Because you’re alive.