Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When Fantasy Meets Reality - long answer

My second life lover and I have quite a dilemma .. even though we pledged that our relationship would just be SL and not first/real life an opportunity has come up for us to meet in rl. What if we are not as attracted to each other in rl as we are SL?

Yes, indeed! What you face, my friend, is the old Virtual to Actual crossover. Will the fantasy survive the reality? Before I answer let me first congratulate you on having found that special someone. It warms this old tiger’s heart to know that two souls have come together in such a wonderful life affirming way. Thus grows the measure of positive energy and light in the universe.

Let me also assure you that you are not alone in this predicament. I would venture that there may be thousands of couples faced with the same question, and not just in Second Life® either. In this era of more or less anonymous communication, via chat rooms, forums and virtual communities of many sorts, people often make strong connections between on-line personas. I have had one or two close relationships in SL myself and can speak to the validity of the emotions involved. Here is a link to a rather insightful commentary on the subject from Wired Magazine's Regina Lynn: Don't Dismiss Online Relationships as Fantasy

For the sake of this discussion I am going to assume that neither of you are married or otherwise encumbered in 1st Life as that opens up a whole different set of questions about whether you should even meet in the first place. Such questions are a separate issue and beyond the scope of the current topic.

Now, I must be totally honest with you, often meeting the physical person behind the digital persona does not turn out well. However, there are also many on-line relationships that continue just fine and even deepen. I don't have any numbers at my fingertips to give you for the likelyhood of one or the other; however, I would venture a guess that the former is more likely. The reason for this is simple. No matter how much we think we may know someone in SL, there is still a vast gulf between the parts of ourselves we project onto the virtual world and our true selves. People by and large do not partake in virtual communities as full reflections of themselves. Our public faces in SL are crafted to a much greater degree than they are in meatspace. Furthermore, there are many factors that go into physical attraction which are only imperfectly simulated in SL, if at all.

I'm not saying that all is lost. Far from it. But, one should take precautions and not set ones expectations too high. I will take a moment now to urge you to consider your own safety when meeting with your paramour. has some good lists of tips for online dating and for taking the relationship from the digital to the analog. Here are a couple as a representation:

Part 3: Online to Offline - Taking the Leap

Online Dating Safety Tips

These lists have a few common elements. First, the meeting should be in a public place where there are other people nearby. Second, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Third, arrive at the rendezvous using your own transportation. These few simple precautions can mean the difference between a mere disappointment and a tragedy.

OK, with the safety issue covered, what about the expectations. In this tiger's opinion perhaps the greatest single contributing factor in 1st Life crossover failure is surprise. There are things we can do to peel away some layers of the SL persona that will minimize this surprise factor. First, the two of you should have had voice communications by now, either via SL's Voice feature or some outside application like Skype. I like Skype because the sound quality is good and it is as convenient as a phone call without revealing ones actual phone number or even ones geographic location (another safety consideration). My Skype profile shows Caledon as my location. Verbal communication is important because there are many nuances to the spoken word that simply cannot be conveyed with even the most elaborate emote or gesture. To take this a step further, visual communication via web-cam will essentially eliminate most of the potential surprises. This is another good feature of Skype.

From the tone of your question, I would guess that you have not had video conversations. Initializing those can be every bit as chancy as meeting physically. I will suppose that you may have shared still pictures, however. What, then, to do if upon sitting down to lunch with this person you just don't gel as well as you had hoped? Well then, my friend, you have a choice to make. You can either continue the SL romance in the knowledge that it simply will not work out in 1st Life, or you can decide to discontinue even that. You must decide for yourself whether the mental, emotional, and sexual stimulation you share with the other person is worth preserving. If you think that it is, then there is no reason in the world for you not to continue the SL romance. If your perception of the other person is not seriously tarnished by meeting their actual selves, then by all means, carry on. You have lost nothing and have gained the serenity that comes from no longer wondering "what if". Just because the relationship is infeasible in meatspace does not mean it must end in metaspace.

On the other hand, if the fantasy bubble has irreparably burst for you, then at least you had a wonderful time while it lasted and are free of the uncertainty. I pray for the best for you, but want you to be aware of the risk and prepared to deal with the possibilities. May the Builder bless you, my friend.

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