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I Married The Eiffel Tower

I Married The Eiffel TowerMeet 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 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."

Amy Wolfe is a confident 32-year-old American who also lives in New York State. She too has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, and has been in relationships with models of spaceships, the Twin Towers, a church organ and a banister, though her main lover – since OS people believe in polygamy – is a fairground ride called 1001 Nacht, located at Knoebels, an amusement park in New York State.

When we filmed her at Knoebels visiting 1001 Nacht, we witnessed Wolfe kissing, caressing and talking to the austere, crane-like machine, and I began to feel both uncomfortable and a little frightened. Wolfe truly believes the machine talks back to her. As I watched, I wondered not for the first time whether I was crossing the line from a documentary film-maker to a voyeur. Should I have left her alone? "No, no – show our love for the objects," Wolfe insisted. "Give us our voice. People must understand we are not fetishists." And so I stayed.

Why people really fall in love with objects is a controversial issue. The OS members believe it to be metaphysical but most of the women I interviewed had serious difficulties in early childhood, from severe sexual abuse to abandonment and rejection.

David Morgan, a senior psychoanalyst at the Portman NHS Trust for sexual dysfunctions, believes the condition usually stems from having been treated in early childhood like "an inanimate, unfeeling object, so the person forms a psychic retreat by taking refuge in a world where objects are idealised. In other words, when your parents or carers let you down badly, you might turn to more reliable bonds: objects, food, virtual reality..."

La Tour Eiffel has been diagnosed with a chronic post-traumatic stress disorder due to abandonment and sexual abuse she suffered while growing up. But she is also a talented, charming person – and a survivor. "My objects have helped me through," she says. She has not been in therapy since her teenage years – a great shame, says Morgan. "At 36 she is too young to give up on human love and I am sure her wounds might still heal."

But, for better or worse, La Tour Eiffel does not want to experiment with any changes. "I do not wish to be fixed," she says. "If it is true that all that has happened to me in my childhood made me the person I am today, I am fine with it. I do not want to change."

The Woman Who Married the Eiffel Tower airs on Five at 10pm on 4 June

Breaking down walls

'It's unconventional but we don't care'

Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer, the pioneer of "objectum sexuality", who is "married" to the Berlin Wall, also describes herself as an animist.

"Animism is the belief that inanimate objects are sentient beings," she says, "that they have intelligence, feelings, and are able to communicate. Animism is the foundation of objectum sexuality. If one can see objects as living things, [one] is also pretty close to being able to fall in love with them.

On the subject of her "husband", she says: "We have been together now for many years, spiritually if not physically. Like every married couple, we have our ups and downs. We even made it through the terrible disaster of 9 November 1989, when my husband was subjected to frenzied attacks by a mob. But we are still as much in love as the day we met. It may not be a conventional marriage, but neither of us cares much for conventions. Ours is a story of two beings in love, our souls entwined for all eternity."

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