This is what love is

PREDICTIVE SEXT: Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from Spike Jonze's film Her.
PREDICTIVE SEXT: Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from Spike Jonze's film Her.

Love was in the air. It was there in his text to tell me he was outside my office.

He wasn’t quite. But this way I wouldn’t keep him waiting as I usually do. This way our night wouldn’t get off to a crappy start.

It was there in the cheese board for two, which teetered so precariously on the arm of our seats in the chilly cinema. It was there in my leaving the havarti for him. It was there in his cutting the three dried figs in half. And it was there on the big screen.

It was a preview of the wonderful new film Her. It sounded appalling. A science-fiction romantic comedy.

I couldn’t think of anything worse. But watching Joaquin Phoenix play Theodore, a man who wears high-waisted, woollen pants and falls in love with Samantha, the voice of his computer operating system, made me think.

About the outlandishness of love. About how love of family is instinctual, but romantic love is a choice. The nuttiest of choices. Amy, Theodore’s best friend, says, “Falling in love is a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.”

It’s true. It’s madness. And it’s maddening. Why do we love who we love? A friend recently started seeing a much older man. At first I was shocked. Grossed out even. And then I thought about life’s very fleetingness. About love’s slim pickings. And I wondered who I was to judge.

When you watch a man grow entranced with a computer, it is, initially at least, difficult to suspend disbelief (even if it does have the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But if we can fall in love with each other, fellow humans with all our contrariness, then why not with a computer?

In one delightful scene Theodore and Samantha go on a double date. While Theodore and the bloke take a walk, Samantha (who is embodied in a machine the size of an iPhone) and the woman kick back on a picnic blanket and chat about life.

When I was falling in love with my husband, it was seeing his easy way with my family and friends that confirmed my fledgling feelings were correct. Falling in love is the most exclusionary of acts. Yet if a couple is to function, it is critical their union is endorsed in a wider sense, that they find acceptance outside of each other.

It made me think, too, about the highs and the lows, the very cyclical nature of in love. How it is possible to fall in and out of love with the same person over and over again. Over the course of a day, a year, a lifetime.

A picture of Theodore’s previous relationship is built up flashback upon flashback. You see how eventually the outs eclipsed the ins. You bear witness to his and Samantha’s every up.

And their every down. How even when in a relationship it is possible to be deeply lonely. Sometimes weeks go by during which my husband and I are so far from being on the same page he may as well be reading James Joyce and me Barbara Cartland.

It’s not that there is anything wrong, we don’t necessarily doubt our love, it’s just that we are not particularly in love at that point in time. But then I will see him gather our children in his arms, hear him greet our
puppy as if she were a long lost friend, feel his gaze upon my skin, and fall in love with him anew.

A counsellor once told me not to mistake passion for true love. That passion is a flame that burns bright, but by its very nature is wont to fizzle out once routine – the inevitable arguments over how best to make a bolognaise sauce, whether to stump up for pet insurance, whose turn it is to read a bedtime story – sets in.

Love was in the air. It was there in our decision after the movies not to bother with a restaurant.

Not when the wind was up and the couch awaited. It was there when I moaned about the blandness of my takeaway noodles and he zhushed them up with a slosh of soy and a squirt of sweet chilli.

And it was there on the telly. On a rerun of that Hollywood rom-com Crazy Stupid Love. At first I was thinking we were like the young couple, dizzy with lust. But no, I finally understood, we were actually the middle-aged couple, ebbing and flowing.

My God, I thought, how did we get here? And then: thank God we have.

Fairfax Media