Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The mystery of love in Second Life

I hold my heart close to me in Second Life.

It's nearly impossible for any male AV to cross the moat and scale the fortress walls around it.

Meanwhile, my heart thus protected, my rational mind also screams in protest at the thought of SL romance.

It just hurts too much.

I've been thinking about this subject a lot lately because I know three couples who recently crossed the border from SL to RL in their relationships. Two stories turned out to be rather fairy tale-like. One turned out to be a disappointment. The guy told me that when he met his SL partner, unfortunately he was completely freaked out and repulsed by her in real life. So I've heard the success stories, and I've heard the nightmares.

More than a year ago, I got close to a guy in Second Life. We finally made plans to meet in real life. I chickened out at the last minute — I made the poor guy cancel his plane ticket and everything. So yeah, even when the opportunity's there, I'm just not brave enough. I didn't want to be one of the nightmare stories. And I knew it wouldn't be as sweet as it was on my monitor.

And that's it, actually. To me, love in Second Life is like a sweet, sweet drug. When I'm with a man I adore there, I feel warm and wrapped in affection. I see his arms around me and I feel it physically. I really do. Countless scientific studies show that the mind cannot tell the difference between detailed visualization and reality. That's why so many psychologists out there urge you to visualize the achievement of your goals in as much detail and as often as possible — to visualize yourself as you'd like to be as vividly as possible.

Think it and think it hard enough and the mind starts to believe it.

So in the case of love, imagine it: You identify closely with your SL AV. You've invested blood, sweat, tears, lindens and all the tools of self-expression that you could ever need into creating this AV who symbolizes your actualized self, your core being, how you'd like to look, how you really ARE. Suddenly, the part of you that the real world doesn't get to see, well, in Second Life others can see it if you let them, because this AV you've created, it comes from your heart, it's crafted from your dreams. Your imagination and your emotions are the life force that runs through its virtual veins.

So here you are, this AV that perhaps in some ways represents you in the truest form possible, and you watch your AV in the arms of another one, being loved, held, protected and cherished. And meanwhile, if you're lucky, you're sharing thoughts, dreams, hopes or, hell, even mundane, "listen to what happened to me at work today" chatter with each other.

When that happens, I believe it hits the heart in a place that's never been touched before. I believe Second Life really is a place where your true self can connect with someone else's true self, and when that happens, well it can be so damn powerful that it makes a realist like me want to run away screaming.


Because when I'm in your virtual arms, for a while it fills me up with warmth and light and everything beautiful.

Then eventually we log off. I turn off my computer. And I'm left staring at this cluttered room, this messy turtle tank, this mountain of laundry, a calendar full of RL obligations, a list of deadlines, a stack of bills, the prospect of a date this weekend with a man who only knows how to send text messages and won't stop talking about his ex-wife.

The fantasy abruptly has come to a screeching halt and I'm left with the cold reality that currently is my life. And wow, does it feel cold.

I want the fantasy. And after an evening of immersing myself in that fantasy on screen, the absence of it can ache like a throbbing tooth. And don't get me wrong here: When I say I want the fantasy, I'm not particularly talking about that SL AV who lights me up inside. Like I said, I'm too much of a realist for that. Plus, I had that chance once, and I learned that meeting a significant-other AV in real life doesn't really appeal to me. The onscreen connection was too perfect. I just wanted to always remember it that way and not ruin it with the logistics and blahblahblahs of real life.

I guess I'm just trying to say that being loved in Second Life makes me want love — REAL love in its physical, mental, emotional and all its other glorious forms — like a crazy junkie in real life. A crazy junkie, running screaming through the streets, begging for a fix.

It's like watching 19 Meg Ryan movies in a row and feeling slightly starry-eyed and brainwashed by them afterward.

So yeah, it hurts. And as you can see from this poorly written blog post, it's hard for me to explain. I don't want to get in too deep in Second Life because the afterglow hurts. And I don't want to seek an SL relationship with the high and statistically unrealistic expectations that it could become something equally powerful in real life, mainly because I want an RL man who's the complete opposite of me, an active social guy who'll drag me out of my sometimes-shell and has never, ever heard of Second Life. I want lots of laughs, sex, frolicking, wine, debauchery, goofing around and no computers anywhere near us unless absolutely necessary.

Nope, beyond that lovely high when we're both inworld, I don't really get the appeal of Second Life relationships, which is why I thought it was ironic when the now-dissolved (*sniff*) CityZen put me on the love beat. Not only do I not get the appeal as it applies to me, but I look at some of my friends in SL relationships and I don't understand them either. I don't judge, but there are questions I want to ask without offending them, like, if you're happily married in real life, why are you partnered to someone in Second Life, sometimes for years and even to the extent where you're throwing anniversary parties? What about your real spouse? Do you still love him/her? Does your spouse know that you're in love with an SL AV? That your AV has a tag that says "So and So's Wife" or "So and So's Husband"? How exactly does that work?

Maybe I'm totally naive, but if I were married in real life, I'd like to think that I'd be so overjoyed at having finally found someone to share my life with that I'd love the hell out of that person. And if I were married in real life and discovered that my spouse was also "married" to an AV in Second Life, well, it would crush my heart. Just crush it. Because I know how true that SL love can feel.

The only relationships I can sort of understand are those people who are hoping to find SL love that'll one day blossom into an RL future. And my hat goes off to those people. They're braver than I am.

So no, I don't look for romance in Second Life. If it happens to hit me like a wrecking ball when I'm not paying attention, well, it's like being on a wild and somewhat bittersweet rollercoaster. When I'm on it, I'm a little scared and I know I should get off because eventually it's going to make me feel a little queasy . . .

. . . but then later I want to get in line and ride it again, just for those parts where you put your arms in the air and gleefully scream, "WEEEEE!"


Alicia Chenaux said...

For the record, if you ever have questions, you can always ask me. I promise not to get offended. :)

Meara Deschanel said...

This was such a great post Em. I really loved it. Some of the things you had to say hit very close to home for me, especially the part about visualization. I guess that's part of why Kal and I work so well together.

Anyway, I believe you'll find love soon enough - be it online or off, It'll happen - you are too awesome and amazing for it not to. :)

*HUGE hugs*

Anonymous said...

Ah SLrelationships... :)

Great post Eme :)

GoSpeed said...

I've had a number of relationships here in SL and have learned that it's only a supplement. Real love is for RL. SL love is there for comfort and companionship. If you realize that SL can never fulfill your desires then you're right to keep it at a distance.

Anonymous said...

This was an excellant post. And as I am a wife to someone that cherishes a SL relationship with someone else... It does really stink and I hate that he invests so much time in this girl. But I try to tell myself daily that if she had met him in RL, then there would most probably never have been a connection. I agree 100% with everything you have said, and thank you for putting this out there for us to think about. Knowing how much this has hurt me over the past year or so, I would probably never pursue an SL relationship. But kudos to those that can.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post.I have only been on SL for 2 weeks. I do know i would never be in a sl relationship. As a wife of someone who did it hurts to know that he found someone that he cared about.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2, I am right there with you. It hurts terribly to see them devote so much energy to someone they have only had contact with on a computer screen, and to give that person a part of themselves that they don't give you. Even though they say it is just SL, there is still a breach in trust that occurs with the RL relationship.

ellie bellie said...

as always, i think you have a wonderful way of expressing thoughts & feelings...i totally get everything you're saying, and even though i've been all around the SL love phenomenon, from all sides, your post still gets me thinking...very nicely done.

Mahala Roviana said...

My last SL relationship was with someone who was married RL. I thought I could keep things compartmentalized in my head (and heart) but I guess I'm just not wired that way. I've sworn off SL love more than once, said "never again" at least twice, but I still end up in the same boat. I envy those SL relationships that seem to span miles of continent and the bleh of RL, and the RL relationships that survive at all.

Emerald Wynn said...

Oh . . . well hello there, nine comments! I just logged on to delete this emo post with the hopes that no one had read it yet.


Thank you for your feedback, everyone. And you can always get some love from me over here. *hugs*

♥ JellyBean Madison ♥ said...

Very good post Emerald.

I'm one of those people who was UNhappily married in RL when I entered SL 5 years ago. In the past 2.5 years I met HawksRock Gunawan (in SL) fell in slove, met him in RL (eep! that was so scary), feel in real love, filed for divorce and moved to his state.

It's a huge step and though it's not very fairytale-esque, most things really aren't, it's life, it's love & it's finally being happy.

Someone told me once not to chase love, just be you & love will find you when you least expect it.

Quaintly Tuqiri said...

Em don't delete it! It's not emo! It's honest. And yes, you're right, the powerful fantasy fades when you log off, and makes RL seem emptier.

But when I was with Karl, I don't know... I carried the knowledge that he loved & wanted me inside my heart, everywhere I went. Even though I knew he didn't want the real me, just the avatar representation of me (since, you know, we couldn't be together in RL) -- because my avatar is still so much "me", as you described, I still walked around feeling warm that somebody knew the real me, liked the real me, and wanted to be with the real me. It gave me hope that I'd meet someone in RL who might be able to look at me the same way.

Prior to Karl, I'd always thought I wouldn't enter an SL relationship unless there was a fighting chance of bringing it to RL. But I don't regret being with Karl, although I'm not sure if I would do it again - get into a relationship with someone who's RL married. Like you said, ultimately, that's not what I want. I want the real thing.

Emerald Wynn said...

Oh LOLOLOLOL - not only did I wake up feeling totally embarrassed about this post and running like hell to the Delete button . . . but somebody must've Plurked this drivel!

Thank you, somebody, for deeming it Plurkworthy.

And omg, Jellybean Madison is all up in here!

I've learned a lot from these comments. Thank you.

And you make a good point, Quaintly. I never really thought of it like that.

Summer Deadlight said...

I'm going on 8 months with Tiago :3 he lives in Italy and I live in the US. We just take it one day at a time, and it works for us. In fact my last three RL relationships including my past marriage were with guys I met online.

I was with my RL husband for 7 years total and we married for love after 7 months online dating. Just things happen that were too much, emotional and physical isolation and breakdown of communication. It can happen to any couple, and when he's too busy working to support you, and you're somewhere isolated with no family or friend support, its hard.

But I do not date married guys in SL, that's a whole different game altogether, one which I do not want to be 2nd in someone's life or wait while he and his wife go cuddle for tv night when I want to do something with my "love."

Yet, I still rather get to know someone inside out, rather than outside in. RL is just the opposite you know, the physical comes first. Sex can really complicate a relationship in the beginning, and sometimes after the great physical attraction, you find that you have very little in common.

Online you can talk about your inner feelings, thoughts, ideas, and we take it beyond SL to other online activites, games etc. We voice when we want and he helped me rent a vehicle when my car blew up on the highway.

Maybe the physical attraction will be weird when we meet, I dont know, but I feel like I have a full relationship with this man right now, and more intimate than I would with someone sitting on my couch playing Xbox.

Anonymous said...

Very well-done, very thoughtful... touching all of us, in all our various forms of love, in both lives.
Thank you....

Milla Michinaga said...

Yet again you manage to put into words (and beautifully at that) exactly what I'm feeling -- and I didn't even know this is how I feel until now! Keep 'em coming girl, Im getting to know myself reading you.<33

SophHarlow said...

I left a very bad RL relationship to be with my SL love irl. Most know that we ended up married and it was the best decision of my life. I wasn't looking for love...but it found me and I treasure it with all that I am. Like JB said, it isn't always a fairytale but it is love..and that trumps everything.

I am from the side that believes very strongly that if you are married in your first life and dating in SL that it is cheating. Reading the anon comments here is heartbreaking to me and should confirm it for anyone on the fence. Poor wives/husbands that are watching their spouse have relationships in SL. If Sky was having those moments with anyone else but would kill me. Those love whispers, conversations about how your day was, talks about future and what you want/need..those all belong to me. Not to anyone else...pixel form or not. are just lovely. I want good things for you. <3

You are a gifted writer...especially when you open up your heart and show us what you have hidden in there.

TeSa said...

Mystery is the right word for this subject, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this topic, even before I came to SL. I have had many viewpoints and have come to the conclusion that it is too complicated and depends VERY much on the persons involved, how clear things are presented to all parties, etc.. I will not say to anyone that what they are doing is wrong or right because there are many things I may not understand not being in their shoes. I know couples in RL that have found SL and open relationships within only SL to spice up their RL and knowing them for over a year and seeing them still very strong together made me realize that I cannot put everyone into one basket. What is wrong to one may not be viewed in the same way to another so I try not to press the things I was taught to be the only way for everyone. pff hope that made sense lol

Emerald Wynn said...

Thank you and I need to emphasize that I love my friends, and if they're married in two different places, you're absolutely right, TeSa -- everyone has a different situation, a different story, and there's no cookie-cutter rules we can apply to this kind of thing.

I can only speak to how my own heart would feel -- which would be broken -- if I learned that my (currently imaginary) RL husband was cuddling and sharing hopes and dreams with someone besides me — AV or not, he'd be sharing his mind intimately with another woman. But then again, I am a woman who loves to dig down deep and have lots of "mind sex" so to speak in my RL relationships — for me, talking and sharing is a huge part of the big "lovemaking" picture. So see, that "infidelity" in particular would really wound me.

There are real wives out there who may be AWESOME in the sack but not big on deep discussions, so this melding of the minds thing with someone in SL might not be a big painful deal to them.

And for example, I'm not a dominatrix dungeon master in RL. And if I tried it, I'm pretty sure I would suck at it. So if my imaginary RL husband had a Dom in SL that helped him get his rocks off in that arena, well hell, maybe I'd just be grateful that I didn't have to do it anymore -- and also be grateful that he wasn't doing it with a REAL woman. So who knows? Maybe I'd be cool with it.

I can't really speak to the whole marriage thing -- nor do I feel like I have the right to even have an opinion on this topic -- because I've never been married. I can only speak to how I'd feel. And I'm just always curious about how dual marriages in dual worlds work.

Amie Adamski said...

Great post You need to stop having writer's remorse.

When I joined SL I didn't realize that it was almost like a fancy, so many people get together. While I think that's great it's frustrating because so many people want to be in relationships. I don't know what it is about me but I have been better friends with males and it is also happening in SL. Two male friends have stopped talking to me after I made it very clear that there is no way I would have a SL relationship.

If two people can meet in SL and have it form a RL relationship well I think that's great and in my mind who loves a great romance story finds it very romantic.

I also don't understand how people can have a SL partner and a partner in RL and would die if my boyfriend has a sl partner-someone needs to explain that to me.

Verona Valentin said...

Great post. :)
This one definitely brought up some old memories that I thought I had tucked away safe where I wouldn't have to remember them ever again. In a way, thinking back on my experience with an SL relationship was somewhat therapeutic.

I'll spare you my story and just say thank you for posting this.

Shattered said...

Please, don't delete your post.

I'm one of the horror stories. And trust me, it's way up there.

Every once in awhile I contemplate what it would be like to be in an SL relationship (currently my av is partnered, but it's strictly for RP reasons). Then I remember that I can't guarantee the guy will be single, that I'm not making a mess of another woman's RL relationship, that I can trust him at all....

I tried going from SL to RL and it nearly destroyed my life, but I have a hard time starting in RL in the first place, so I'm single and I accept it. Right now, it's better than the possibility of another horror story.

Anonymous said...

Great post Ms. Em and not emo at all.
I agree with 99% of what you've written. The small exception is your description of 'real love'.
To me, that is more of a description of attraction and lust.
You did write about "sharing thoughts, dreams, hopes or, hell, even mundane". That's more like real love imho. My sl/rl love and I have that component in our relationship. We are far apart in rl for now, making rl visits sporadic. SL is a way for us to stay connected and have high end mutual masturbation.
I had to LOL having TP'd you to my sl wedding a few weeks ago. I can imagine you gagging and making hand signals to ward off the evil. ;-).
Love ya,
Luna Rang

Emerald Wynn said...

Luna, I was so honored to be at your wedding and I thought it was a truly beautiful thing. I am remiss in that I didn't thank you later for letting me share that moment with you.

This blog is just a reflection of my own angst -- I don't expect everyone to share my perspectives or standards. When my friends find joy, I celebrate with them, even if it's not the path I personally choose. (Well, as long as it doesn't involve kids, barnyard animals or something completely twisted.)

As far as my dashed-off description of real love in this post, well yeah, I don't have the space or anyone's attention span to elaborate on my concept of love or how I'd like it manifested in my life. I will say that I DO need to share a physical dimension with the person I love, not all the time obviously, but it's gotta be there for me. But I have a helluva lot of admiration for people like yourself who are more cerebral than I am about it.

I just really love to put my hands on men. ;D

Anonymous said...

Amen Sista!

Since I only get to have my hands on my Guy in rl a few times a year, I have to settle for what I can get for now in sl.

He's moving back to Nawlins next year. weee! Let the good times roll!

You're wise beyond your time Gal. Don't ever doubt that.

Hugs & a smack,


Talismere said...

Loved your post alot...
Being a RL single (happily single hehe) I still can not grasp the "falling in love with an avatar who's probably married or partnered in RL with someone else and would never survive a day next to me in RL" thing.

I do enjoy harmless and rather superficial flirtings though, since it boosts my ego. Let's be honest, everyone loves to get some honey around the mouth, and that's what makes SL so attractive too I guess ;).

Of course, if one feels lonely, it's nice to see an Avatar together with another Avatar, it's the "Awww" Effect, mixed with a bit of bittersweet longings perhaps...

But heck, if I see the drama some relationships have (in RL and SL), I still tell me over and over again "Damn're so lucky to be alone after can hang out with friends, in both lifes, there's always one to talk too in lonely moments" :D

Emerald Wynn said...

ROFL @ ". . . and would never survive a day next to me in RL"

Amen. I love you, Talismere. (But you know, in a purely bloggety way.) I think that all the time.

There's a man I adore in SL — he's the only one I really talk to. It's a purely innocent relationship, but yeah, on really bad RL days, his words can sustain me. So I get the honey around the mouth thing.

Thank you for swinging by. All of you, actually. ♥

I was sort of taken aback by the attention this post got. It started with me whining to my keyboard over a late-night glass of wine. I guess sometimes wine = whine. :)

CyFishy said...

I always wondered if I was the only one who felt that way, seeing myself dance on the screen with my partner, seeing the locked gazes, the embraces, the tilts of the head and having that swooning romantic feeling wash over me.

Then I click to the other screen and see the same dance through my partner's eyes and it's almost as if that love is flowing back.

No, I guess not everybody has that other part. But that's what I treasure about it, really--that I can trust my partner to heights and depths that would be impossible to find with another. She's always there, always understands, always trusts me.

Perhaps someday I'll meet someone in the physical world to be my companion. But I don't think I'll break up with myself should that person choose to join me in SL. I'll reincarnate as yet another alt to partner with him before I'd do that.

Botgirl Questi said...

Great post! Loved the mix of angst, humor and introspective insight.

Scarp Godenot said...

The trouble with SL love relationships for those of us not involved with them is the major havoc it wreaks on community groups of friends.

Two members of a friend group 'fall in slove' then later break up, and now it is like a divorce, one of the friends is forced out of the group or others have to 'take sides' and after enough of this, the whole group just falls apart. I just hate the whole drama dynamic of this super common occurance.

I have had this happen around me more than once and I just want to ask all the sl lovers out there to think about your friends too and not just yourself only, for a little bit.

Just how can you LOVE LOVE LOVE someone one minute and then HATE HATE KILL KILL REVENGE them the next, when you don't really know them that well at all?

So unnecessary. But I guess that is how it works.... sigh (just venting)

Capt. Red Llewellyn said...

Great Post..i did see it on Plurk.... and i agree with most of all you said...i've tried it, i've avoided it.. i have rules against SL dating marrieds just out of respect for the RL gal in his life, even if she knows i would still feel it is... i've been single in SL and i date in far, so good..but yeah.. SL love is heady!
~Capt. Red of New Babbage

Emilly Orr said...

I didn't come here via Plurk, I came via another blog that linked to the New World Notes mention of it, so there's another place you're getting eyes from. :)

I'm going to go out on the limb and say you're monogamous? If that's the case, then yes, knowing your (even if currently fictional) RL husband was seeing someone else--even in a virtual world--would hurt, and terribly.

I can't say I feel the same thing, but the fact that I'm polyamorous doesn't mean I'm immune to all the romantic pitfalls.

Of the four people I'm currently involved with:

* my RL spouse also plays SL; we love each other dearly, I adore her, she is my other half; she also has romantic entanglements in world.

* one of my SL partners is currently planning (this year, in a few months) to move in with us. She has spoken with both of us extensively, she has met us in RL; and while we may have emotional jaggedness, just learning each other, I believe it has every chance of working out.

* another of my SL partners is also polyamorous in world; as far as I know he's not dating anyone RL, but I am all for him finding the love he needs outside SL. If this results in our breaking up, that will hurt terribly; but I'd rather he have someone alive and there, in his arms, instead of me, so far away.

* another SL partner is married, and from everything I know of his wife, she is fine with it as long as it's kept reasonably low-key. My open honest poly self has a few qualms over not being completely honest, but by the same extension, I'm not the only one making these emotional choices. If I get the chance to meet him, I will take it, but I will take it knowing I am then interfering--in a non- virtual way--in a non-open marriage. I am not comfortable with that; but I also cannot turn down the future opportunity, if it comes. (And it's a big if as to whether or not that's ever happening, at all.)

None of these people are listed on my profile. Because there's only one name that can go on at any time. To some people, this means I don't have a real relationship, and I say to them, define real.

The fellow who sent me here looking said that--in his opinion--real and alive and present is better, any day of the week, to distant, virtual and across a glass screen. I don't agree, but I am able to find happiness with virtual and real people, and people, plural, not singular. I don't think if I were not in an open marriage, with another poly individual, things would work out quite so well!

Emerald Wynn said...

Hi Emily! :)

You make an excellent point in that yes, I wrote this post from a monogamous perspective. Thank you so much for sharing a polyamorous perspective. I didn't even think in that direction, and so this is yet another example of how SL can open us up to different viewpoints and cultures.

Um, yeah, I was sort of shocked to see this post mentioned in a few places. Sheeesh, I need to chug three glasses of red wine before writing more often. Apparently soul-searching is good, but the "hey, look at my chickens!" posts don't go over as well. :)

Joonie said...

Emerald, I'm a bit late to this, but you really hit the nail on the head with this post. So glad you didn't hit the delete button. Call me a wimp, but I can't handle it either. I do miss it, tho. But not worth the pain knowing it will only be in SL and will eventually end.

Thanks! *hugs*

SLurchin said...

Here it is the end of November 2009, and I keep coming back to your blog.
What great writing! Oh if I had your talent in expressing my feelings, maybe I would not make such a mess of my RL and SL.
I have passed your URL to many others, hoping they can appreciate you as I do :-)

Anonymous said...

Here it is 2010 before I get to read this...

VERY well put! I thought you painted a perfect picture of SL "love". I am currently struggling myself with an SL relationship. Funny, the more I'm "in it" the more I learn from others that most guys in SL really can be jerks. But... the big picture I see is that we're getting something from an SL relationship that we aren't getting in RL. I'm married, happily so and I'm in an SL relationship; although supposedly not an exclusive one... figure that one out... I've since learned just what it is this guy is sooo into it. His home life sucks! He's miserable. And after learning this, all of a sudden my heart just went out to him and I feel, well, sorry for him. Here I am with my husband who is aware of what I do in SL and on occasion joins me; and I have a happy marriage. When I turn off the lap top I'm not alone. I have real arms that wanna hold me. So I guess I'm lucky in that whatever I see on the screen I get to carry over to my RL. The problem is where are my emotions? Now
THAT gets tricky. Because I have to admit I do love this man in my monitor to some degree and I believe he loves me. But even he has said and I agree, we can never meet. He's holding onto his marriage with everything he's got. But if it's so precious to him... why even risk it? Oh back to my point... sorry I do that... He's in SL because as he put it he "thrives". He's successful, liked, recognized, and even loved and when he's with me gets at least some form of sexual fulfillment. Sooner or later it'll end I know that and I'll probably be the one to end it and most likely for HIS own good.