Friday, February 1, 2008

The Nature of Love in Second Life

Recently, there was a post on a forum about SL, that asked the question, "Is it ok to tell someone I love them in Second Life". Which of course got me thinking about it - lol. I guess that my mind can't help but complicate things - I am a complicated person! It was a simple question, and the answer that popped into my head immediately was, "Yes!" Of course it is ok to tell someone you love them on Second Life! I do it all the time!

But then I stepped back and thought about it a bit more, and wonder if it is really something you can say... When I was a few years younger, before Second Life, I met someone on a chat room, and we started talking all the time. He was witty and clever, and I really liked him a lot. Of course, he was quite a bit older than I was, but that didn't really bother me - we chatted and chatted in text, until it seemed just natural for one of us to call the other on the phone. Once we started talking, things seemed to move even faster - he was just as witty and clever, and we traded some pics of each other - and we began to grow really close. We shared everything with each other and talked ALL the time - which was quite expensive, I can tell you! Eventually, things started getting intensely personal, and we moved into a more, ermmm, intimate friendship (as much as you can on the phone, anyway - lol). Our phone calls with each other were special - they were hot and steamy, but also filled with talk of dreams and aspirations, day-to-day stuff, basically everything. I started to feel like i was falling in love with him, and I think it was true for him as well.

It only seemed natural that we arrange to meet - we already shared everything, and we knew each other really well. Neither of us was attached at the time, and so in the end, I arranged to fly down and meet him in a city near where he lived. Such was the nature of our relationship that we actually booked a hotel and agreed to meet and stay together - we had been so intimate on the phone, that the prospect of finally getting to TOUCH this man was quite thrilling. So, I flew down, and he met me at the airport. And then... nothing... I don't know quite how to explain it - he was the same person, of course - but he was.. idk... not the same too. And he felt it too. The electricity that we shared long distance was just not there when we actually met. It was an intensely uncomfortable couple of days, and I ended up leaving early to go home, basically crushed and disheartened. It had nothing to do with looks (he was quite handsome actually) and nothing to do with deception - both of us had been really open and honest with each other throughout out relationship.

I have thought about that experience a lot since then - I thought I had found love, and it all just disappeared in a wisp of smoke when we finally met. I wondered, how could i have been so wrong about him? I wondered, what exactly was it that made it work so well right up to the point that we met in the flesh? I wondered what it was that I had expected that wasn't realized?

People have asked me many times why I am so guarded in Second Life - why I rarely get personal with people, and why I simply don't let myself get very close to anyone there. There have been a very few people with whom I have let my guard down and it has been for the most part wonderful - i have met some amazing people and shared secrets and details of my real life - but it hasn't happened often, because i just haven't let it. I think that the experience I had with the long-distance phone-lover is at the root of it, and it taught me a few valuable lessons about love, expectations, and the nature of feelings in a place like Second Life.

Basically, I think we all have many layers - mentally, emotionally, and physically. And I think we decide which pieces of ourselves we want to share. this is true in whether in RL or in a virtual world. But, Second Life makes this even more evident to me - we all create a persona in here (based on ourselves of course - i am not talking about role-playing here). I often used to joke that the person people met in Second Life, was ME, just more so. For example, I am much less shy in SL - there is no real risk I guess, so i am more outgoing and open. I am MUCH more of a flirt in SL - in RL I am quite reserved. It's not like it is being done on purpose - I am not really conscious of acting differently there than the rest of the time, but I think we all basically protray ourselves in the way we want to be perceived - which is much easier in a virtual world without all of the subtle cues that we have in RL. we can basically create a new "us" in Second Life wothout the fears and hangups and issues that we all carry with us every day.

And on the other side - the people that we interact with - I think that we all perceive them through our own filters - our own set of expectations and wants and needs. It is easy in SL to project onto others what you want them to be, and then see everything that they do and say fitting into this perfect little image of them that you have created. This is especially true when two people begin to "fall in love" - we create a perfect image of the other person, as hot and funny and reliable and wonderful - because that is what we WANT them to be. Now - this happens all the time in RL as well - as we all know, but I think it is particularly magnified in Second Life - with the veil of anonymity, the gestures and animations, the decided UNrealness that is a big part of SL.

Things seem to move much faster in the virtual world than they do in real life - people meet and fall in love, partner and break up in weeks - but with all of the intense emotion as if it had happened over a year in RL. It's almost like teenagers at a summer camp - everything is so intense and dramatic! I used to think it was all silly - until it happened to me! hahaha. Fact is, there are no such things as virtual feelings, and virtual worlds are new enough that we don't all have experience in dealing with the intensity of feelings that this crazy "game" can bring out in us. How many people have we all heard of who have left Second Life because of a bad breakup with a partner, or a broken heart? it happens all the time! Second Life affects the way I feel all the time - it makes me feel love toward friends, it makes me sad, angry, amused, joyful - on a day to day basis. I think about things that happen here - I think about them, reflect on what they mean. I have learned from Second life - about myself and what I am capable of, about others and how they interact and what they think.

No, Second Life is no game. And love in Second Life is not a game either - i think you need to be very careful here, to be aware of what is going on in your head and your heart - to keep some perspective on things and not get swept up in the intensity of the moments... But on the other hand - it can be that very intensity that makes SL so special - it is possible to have some truly special moments here, and to develop some really close friendships. And yes, to fall in love - we have all heard of a FEW people who have successfully taken their SL relationship into RL - where it has been everything they hoped it could be. Personally, i know two couple like this - and I am thrilled for them.

But for me - I just remember the sinking feeling I had when I met Mr Phone, and I just can't bring myself to let myself go enough to fall in love here. My loss, perhaps, but there it is...

lol - sorry for the rambling blog - i just wanted to share what was on my mind. :-)