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Object of my affections
They fall in love with dolls, talk to plants, obsess over computers, marry monuments and pillows, and experience withdrawal when separated from their inanimate 'partners'. Meet the Objectum Sexuals.
In the world of arranged marriages, first meetings can be intimidating. But when Surpiya, a 22-year-old beautician from Mumbai, was to meet a computer engineer on a date set up by her parents, she knew she wasn't going alone. Guddi, a plump plastic doll with sea-green eyes, a chewed leg and rough blonde hair, had accompanied her everywhere since childhood - to school, to homes of relatives and now to people's homes where she blow-dried her hair and painted nails. At first, the computer engineer found Guddi's appearance on their date cute. But after they got engaged and Supriya started thrusting the doll on her lap and talking to it during movies, Guddi didn't seem quite so cute anymore. "She was so attached to the doll that she felt they were partners. She would get extremely anxious when the doll was not around," says psychologist Seema Hingorrany, who is now counselling the woman after her finance convinced her to seek help. "Obviously, her behaviour stemmed from deep-rooted attachment disorders. One of her parents was extremely critical and dominating in her early years," she adds.
Supriya confessed that she felt that in a ruthless world where people broke her trust, it was her doll that accepted her the way she was. It was the same feeling that made a 37-year-old former soldier from San Francisco 'marry' the steely Eiffel Tower. The former soldier changed her name to Erika La Tour Eiffel and even had an intimate ceremony attended by a few friends. Twenty eightyear-old Japanese Lee Jin-gyu, too, married his pillow, which bore the anime character Fate Testarossa, in a ceremony conducted by a local priest. Both Eiffel and Jin-gyu called themselves 'objectum sexual', a word first coined by Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer, the 54-year-old woman who has been 'married' to the Berlin Wall for 29 years. A network for objectum sexuals explains the phenomenon as "believing objects to have souls, intelligence, feelings, and the ability to communicate".
Some psychologists say that 'objectum sexuality' (where humans appear more hostile than inanimate objects) usually stems from having been treated in early childhood like 'an inanimate, unfeeling object'.
Hingorrany explains that attachment issues, dominating parents or peers and marital discord amplified by the lack of a vent perpetuate the condition. "The challenge is to get these patients to come to terms with the truth, provide adequate trauma therapy and medication, as well as build coping resources and support systems. The biggest problem is, in India, we still try and hush things up."
When Sachin, a young IT professional from Mumbai, started talking to his plant and staying up late in the night to make sure it was all right, his family dismissed it as a quirk. When his mother broached the topic of marriage and he told her that he was already in a relationship with the plant that was perched on their window pane, she laughed it off. Each time she pulled out a photo of a prospective bride, he would shut himself out and his mother couldn't hold back her tears. "He thought the plant was his wife. He would pour his heart out to her and couldn't bear the thought of cheating on his wife," says Hingorrany, admitting that as a psychologist she found it hard to not be surprised. "He was suffering from extreme psychosis, weaving stories in his head and living in a fantasy world."
The psychologist says that after examining Sachin's history, she discovered that he had trouble integrating into his peer group. "He found solace in his own world and was delusional," she explains.
Dr Harish Shetty, visiting psychiatrist at Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital, says the condition can be seen through different prisms. "If you look at this from a Freudian perspective, you will associate it with sexuality. But you can view this from spiritual, ideological and philosophical perspectives too, like in the case of Meera and her idol of Lord Krishna."
Sometimes, explains Shetty, an object symbolises a memory. "A woman might be attached to the Taj Mahal because her boyfriend broke up with her there. There is a bond with old memories," he says.
Dr Samir Parikh, chief psychiatrist at Max Healthcare, says that if a person loses touch with reality, he/she has crossed all borders of normalcy. "If an attachment interferes with a person's day-to-day functioning, there is no doubt that the person requires immediate help," he says. "It is one thing to be fond of your pen and another to speak to it."
A Mumbai-based psychologist, who requested anonymity, says that these cases may stem from fear of rejection. "Objects don't let people down and this sort of relationship might attract someone who has had trouble coping with rejection earlier or is very lonely."
Like this one man, obviously suffering from OCD, who admitted that he was 'best friends' with his computer. He would wake up in the middle of the night to make sure that no one was fidgeting with it or intruding on his space. "These cases are few and far in between, but are an indicator of our increasingly fragmented and unsocial set up," explains Hingorrany.
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