Meet the woman whose emotional needs are met by a 1,000ft iron monument - and the other unlikely lovers giving new meaning to the term 'solid relationship'
Imagine a world in which people seem hostile while inanimate objects appear friendly - even affectionate. Imagine dreading the touch of another human but longing for a passionate encounter with a large public structure. This is the strange world of the "objectum sexual"- a group of people, mainly women, whose intimate lives revolve around objects with which they say they share romantic and sexual love.
As a documentary film-maker passionate about exploring psychological aspects of human nature, I have made films about bigamists, domestic violence and co-dependent anorexic twins. Modern society is a never-ending source of these stories. It is still exceptional for a father to lock up his daughter for 24 years in a cellar, but scratch the surface and it seems that good personal relationships are rare. To fill their emotional needs, people are increasingly turning to a variety of substitutes: from internet virtual reality and food to... well, objects.
On first meeting, Erika La Tour Eiffel appears extraordinarily ordinary. An ex-US Army soldier, the 36-year-old lives in San Francisco. She is also a former world champion in archery - propelled to success, she believes, by her love for Lance, a bow. She now claims to be married to the Eiffel Tower, following a ceremony with friends last year in Paris, at which she promised eternal love to the iron monument and changed her name legally to reflect the bond. "There is a huge problem with being in love with a public object," she says sadly. "The issue of intimacy - or rather lack of it - is forever present."
Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer, a Swedish woman who has taken the German name of the Berlin Wall as her surname, coined the phrase "objectum sexual" (OS) 30 years ago and documents her love for, and "marriage" to, the wall at www.berliner mauer.se. Berliner-Mauer, however, disagrees that OS is a recent phenomenon, saying that "while unusual in Western society, in Eastern cultures people routinely believe objects have souls. It is perfectly normal." Though the OS members' group run through her website has just 40- odd members globally.
Emma (not her real name), 43, the only British member of the community, suffers from Asperger syndrome - a condition which seems to be shared by around half of OS people. Asperger sufferers often have difficulties forming relationships with other people, and Emma's fixations are radios and hifis. When I met her, she was in love with a hi-fi system which she called Jake. Jake, she says, is "solid, reliable and beautiful". She repairs "him" whenhe goes wrong, and "makes love" to him on average twice a day. "This is the way I communicate with him."
Aside from her electricals, Emma leads a solitary existence. "I would like to meet more people and to have friends," she says, "but I just think it is too difficult now. I am scared they will reject me."
Jerry Brooker, from New York State, one of the psychotherapists I talked to during my research for the documentary, explains: "It is not that an Asperger person does not long for human relationships; they do, desperately. But someone who falls in love with objects can control that relationship on their own terms. Their objects will not let them down. That is extremely attractive for a person who is otherwise often desperately lonely. …