“The Great Wall of China’s attractive, but he’s too thick – my husband is sexier.”
— Eija-Riitta Eklöf-Berliner-Mauer, The woman who married the Berlin Wall
Do objects have souls?
A few weeks ago my laptop’s battery was in trouble and I had to bring it in for a checkup. While the computer was being fixed my Blackberry simply stopped operating. I was frantic.
I felt betrayed by the objects I rely on, ‘love’ and care for. “Why is this happening to me?” was my new mantra.
One of my friends suggested that Mercury was in retrograde; another asked if I had done something to offend my favorite objects. We laughed, recalling a Woody Allen routine where his appliances are on the fritz and he hits them, and when he goes into the elevator the elevator asks if he was the one who roughed up the toaster.
We all have a connection to objects. The more contact we have with them, the more intimate our relationship, the more we ascribe to them human feelings and gender attributes. “The car died – she won’t turn over” and “I love my new phone” are common examples.
But where does it end?
I can honestly say I love the earth and mean it. I want to nurture and protect it and save it, and I’m committed. As the saying goes, good planets are hard to find. But I don’t feel there is reciprocity. I don’t think Earth is in love with me. The relationship is one-way. If I thought the earth was being friendly toward me, I would be engaging in animism, the term used for giving human qualities to inanimate objects. Adding sexual arousal and gratification to the dynamic, we have fetishes or paraphilias.
So, I admit I love the earth. But can you love the Berlin Wall? Psychologists are pondering a new classification, called objectophilia or objectum-sexuals. Outside of a few news reports and a few experts weighing in, little has been written about it. I found no clinical studies. But there is an official website for persons with Objectum Sexuality.
What seems unique to Objectum Sexuals is that their desire, arousal, attraction and love for an inanimate object are amplified through a commitment. I certainly may be wrong here, but commitment to an inanimate object, and feeling a reciprocal response, changes things. This may warrant a different classification. It is one thing to love your favorite chair, or have a sexual turn-on to latex, but it is altogether different to marry the Berlin Wall.
Or, for that matter, the Eiffel Tower.
On April 8, 2007, Erika LaBrie became Erika La Tour Eiffel in a commitment ceremony witnessed by 10 of her closest friends. Prior to getting hitched — an interesting mechanical term used to define human-to-human marriages — Erika had two long-term relationships.
One was with a bow, named Lance. During the height of their relationship she became a two-time world champion gold medal archer with Lance in her loving hands. In a moving description of oneness with Lance, her bow (beau?), she describes the sensation of feeling herself one with the bow and a sense that the molecules pass back and forth between Lance and her arm. In her description I was reminded of a quote by Eugen Herrigel’s classic Zen in the Art of Archery:
“(…) The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull’s-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art (…)”
Erika is certainly talking about something of quite a different order. Before Lance she had another lover, the F-15. Yes, that F-15. Driven by her affinity, she won a scholarship to the Air Force Academy but was ultimately given a medical discharge.
Some love affairs don’t work out.
But if you think Eija and Erika have difficult relationships, consider the quote by Sister Mary Judith, a nun interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in February 2010. Sister Mary Judith spoke about marrying Jesus, the central figure in Christianity. “He’s a hard husband to be married to because if something goes wrong in the relationship, I know it’s me,” she said.
So as human beings we have the capacity to have deep, committed relationships to objects, and even to entities that lack an object’s tangibility.
So how has Erika’s husband treated her?
Not so fast.
The press has made jokes about her husband being the strong, silent type. Its obvious phallic nature notwithstanding, Erika believes the tower is the Grand Madame of Paris, the city of love. Erika senses the tower is female. She relies on her senses because, in her words, “You can’t lift up a leg on the Eiffel and see if she is male or female. “
Behind the obvious tongue-in-cheek smirks the situations’ oddity brings, there is a deeper point to be made. Objects’ capacity to evoke deep feelings because of their symbolism is well known and widely accepted. The Vietnam Memorial in Washington has become a conduit for deep respect, love and powerful, important remembrances. The Statue of Liberty (actually in New Jersey waters of Jersey City) is emblematic of America’s freedom and an activator of deep emotional responses.
Objects, then, can be both intangible and a symbol of something emotionally important. Alternately, they can be a vehicle of cathexes, the psychology term used to identify a concentration of energy on a person, idea or object.
But here is something I hadn’t expected: The two most famous Objetum-Sexuals — Eija and Erika — are friends.
There is a wonderfully interesting, brief two-part documentary on their friendship. In watching this I learned something that I should have reasoned — Objectum Sexuals are polygamous. I suppose when you are involved with a public figure you have to expect it. The second part of the documentary shows their joint trip to the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Eija’s husband for nearly 30 years until he ceased to exist in 1989. While the rest of the world rejoiced, she was devastated.
Erika was in love with him too. On their visit to the Wall, the curator of Checkpoint Charlie — the former dividing line between East and West Germany — was moved to commission Erika to make six new models of the Wall. Where did she develop her skill as a model builder? She learned from her friend, Eija.
Are there more Objectum Sexuals than just these two women? Oh, yes. People have made commitments to a growing variety of objects: Cars, helicopters, the Empire State Building, a guillotine, a fence, bridges, and the list goes on.
One of my academic colleagues doesn’t take all this too seriously. He’s an experimental psychologist and not a warm and fuzzy clinical type. When I told him what I was writing about he stared at me for a long time, then finally quipped: “I’ve had my eye on the Lincoln Tunnel for years.”
But in researching for this article I found a quote by Erika that needs to be highlighted. In a deeply moving interview she explained how the Berlin Wall and she were very much alike.
I feel that the Berlin Wall was built, made, and then later rejected by the people that made it. And I have to say that I feel that way about my own life. I feel that I was brought into this world and then they later regret it, and I was rejected—like he was. I just don’t understand how some people can bring someone into the world like a child, an object, and then not love them. I struggle with that in my own life. How could someone bring me into this world and not love me?
As for me? I used to have a 1952, candy-coat red, 235 half-ton Chevy pickup with a 5-window cab. I wouldn’t say what we had was sexual. We were just very good friends – with benefits. But could it have been more? Probably not. In Erika’s words: “People can love objects. They can love them to a certain degree, more or less for practical purposes. That’s why they don’t see the soul of the object.”
So my ’52 Chevy probably did have a soul. I just couldn’t see it.