Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On Tiptoes Along the Balance Beam

There are probably as many reasons for ‘living’ in Second Life as there are residents. Some come for creative opportunity, others to try to make a buck. Henrik Bennetsen has boiled down SL residents into four basic Archetypes; most of us seem to fit into some combination of these. Although I have some creative aspirations, I am mainly a Socializer with a smattering of Philosopher (hence the blog). My friends in SL are the most valuable part of being there; all the cute virtual shoes and Juke Joints in the world wouldn’t make up for losing my closest in-world friends if they disappeared.

That said, SL friendships are different from Real Life friendships, right? With a few exceptions, we don’t know what our SL friends really look like, whether they make eye contact, or if they have bad breath or annoying tics. Ideally those things shouldn’t matter; after all, we’ve made what feels like a real connection based primarily on our words and minds. We know the sexy avatars we’ve made are idealized, even if some people have attempted to make their avis look as much like their RL selves as possible. Would we be friends in RL if we met? Would the sexual attractions we feel still exist?

Speaking of romantic attractions, I hadn’t planned on having any. My first six weeks or so in SL I was adamantly platonic, to the point of stating it in my profile in hopes of discouraging a few overly persistent suitors. If you had told me in June that by now I would have had romantic encounters with three different men I’d have thought you were several cards short of a full deck.

I’m not alone on that path, either; several friends who initially did not come to SL in search of love have found themselves in full blown SL relationships, with all the attendant longing, excitement, laughter, arguments, pain, lust, guilt, and jealousy. Even those of us who are happy with our RL partners find ourselves immersed in infatuation with someone in SL who shares our interests or seems to understand us in a way our RL partners don’t.

Of course, if two people who meet in SL are single in RL, there’s no reason, once they’ve established some trust, to keep the relationship strictly in SL. But what if both parties have RL partners? What if only one of them is partnered in RL?

My first such liaison in SL was with a man who is single in RL, and desperately wanted to find someone to share his life. He was dismayed to learn that I am married in RL. Any mention of my RL partner sent “Adam” into a funk. On good days, he talked of meeting in RL, despite the 2600 miles between our respective homes (not to mention my marital status). It was turbulent and frustrating, and not what I came to SL for.

The dissolution of that relationship, discussions with friends, and the evolution of a very special friendship with a man I’ll call Sparky (who is also married in RL) have led me to a short set of guidelines for SL relationships, not only for happiness within SL, but especially for balancing SL romantic relationships with RL.

First, both parties should be either single or partnered. If one person is single, he or she is far too likely to want to connect with the SL partner in RL. When both parties come from the same RL status, they are closer to equal footing as to the line between RL and SL.

Second, both parties should be in agreement as to how much time they can spend in SL and how much of that time is together. Adam had an SL girlfriend with whom he ‘lived,’ but when I met him she wasn’t spending much time in world and he claimed she didn’t always answer his IMs. Of course, that excuses neither of us for what was, essentially, SL infidelity; but why be in a monogamous relationship with someone who can’t be in world with you on a regular basis?

Third, your SL relationship should be an addition to your RL, not a substitute for it. Don't take the risk of replacing your RL partner's affections with those of your SL squeeze.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far. Obviously, that isn’t comprehensive….and I haven’t even touched on the ethical issues of online romance, or of polyamory within SL. As always, your mileage may vary. And if you have any guidelines you’ve developed that help you keep your balance, feel free to share.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My dear friend,

I think you are so right in what you say.
First of all : SL can never be a replacement for RL. It can only add to RL.
And secondly : once one of the SL partners is replacing his/her feelings with the RL feelings, the other one should get off asap; it will NEVER work !!
I value you as a soul mate; we have the same thoughts.
We met in SL and I do hope we will meet again, because you and me have a lot in common !
I LOVE you for your thoughts !!!

Many kisses,