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Can virtual relationships replace real ones?

This weekend I went to see the movie “Her” which is a movie about a man falling in love with his computer’s operating system. Basic synopsis is ‘Man installs new OS. OS becomes self-aware. Man falls in love with OS. Man deals with social stigma of falling in love with software.’

While the movie was in my opinion rather poorly done, (there were many ways they could have explored some very real moral and ethical issues surrounding the premise – yet the producers refused to head down any meaningful path) it does raise some very interesting relationship issues that people have to deal with every day.

The biggest issue the movie dealt with was “What if you are in love with someone you can’t have a physical relationship with?” This happens all the time. You can have a relationship online. You can have a relationship long distance. So the question is, “Can you have a meaningful, fulfilling SUSTAINABLE relationship with no physical contact?”

As humans, we get so much comfort and communication and consolation from the simple act of touch that I can’t imagine doing without. Or at least on a permanent basis. When I was dating my wife, we were apart for about a year and a half out of our four year relationship prior to getting married. We were in separate countries in Central America where there were no phones, no internet (this was way back in the stone age of the 1980s) and the only communication we had were letters. Now we had been together in college so we had had a wonderful physical relationship prior to the separation. But it was still extremely difficult. And if we’d known that our situations were not going to change I am certain that we would have eventually drifted apart.

But what about relationships that are entirely virtual? If you met your perfect mate online, your best friend, the one person in the world that completes you 100% emotionally, intellectually, etc. could you spend the rest of your life never being touched romantically again? I for one know I could not because I’m a very touchy-feely kind of guy. But I’ve known both men and women who just don’t seem to care that much about those parts of the relationship. If you’d been abused, if you were physically handicapped or paralyzed or had other health issues that would prevent you from having a normal healthy physical relationship (this includes sex, but isn’t the only factor) could you stand to never be touched again if you were able to communicate freely with your soul mate?? Or would the yearning for that touch destroy your ability to stay in the virtual world?

My mind keeps drifting to the veterans of our wars who leave their families happy and whole and come back with terrible, life-altering injuries. What is it like for their spouses and families? How do they cope? My heart goes out to them for sure as I am not sure I’m strong enough to go through what they deal with.

I certainly don’t have the answers and believe that individual circumstances determine whether this would work or not. It’s too bad the movie didn’t explore these important issues. What are your thoughts?

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