I owe you, my readers, an apology. I feel like I’ve left you hanging as I sorted out whether or not I would continue this blog. I’ve determined that, since I no longer spend any time–I mean none, zero, zilch–in Second Life, it really doesn’t feel right to continue to write my blog as my avatar. So instead of making a decision, I let the blog languish in the lazy lap of inaction.
But I have good news! After a long hiatus I’ve resurrected my blog but as my real-life self and not my cartoon representation. Although I miss Cindy and her voice, I hope this new blog allows my own real voice to shine through even more.
What’s the blog about, you wonder? Perhaps you can guess. I haven’t really made it a secret that, because of Second Life, my marriage and sex life took a turn toward being open and polyamorous. And I couldn’t be happier.
So do join me on my new blog, where I promise to write more frequently and discuss more openly the unique challenges or experiences that arise from being in an open marriage.
If we had a chance to live life over again, would we make the same choices?
Have any of you seen the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? It’s a great and thoughtful film starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey, who are both phenomenal in their unique roles. The story is about two lovers who go to great lengths to erase the painful memories of each other from their minds. But the underlying question of the film is poignant: if we had a chance to do life over, would we make the same choices?
The virtual world Second Life (SL) often reminds me of this question in its ability to provide a landscape where we might live our slives a little differently than the real ones in which we’re immersed every day. And I am often astonished to see the lengths to which many folks within SL go to recreate their lives so they reflect their real world around them.
Example, you say? Of course I’ll give you an example. What kind of writer would I be if I made assertions without backup? One of the places I find this behavior to be most prevelant is the dance clubs within Second Life. Even in design many of these clubs resemble the high school dances of yesteryear, complete with rows of seating lining the walls where avis line up and…you guessed it…wait. What are they waiting for? To be asked to dance, of course. Few put themselves out there and actually initiate conversation with others even though that’s probably what they’re there for in the first place.
Like real life, we use the attention we might receive from other avis in Second Life to help us feel better about ourselves and bolster our self confidence in our real lives. (Don’t believe me? check out my post that disscusses research on the subject). And, sadly, like real life we probably also experience dips in our self esteem when we are rejected in SL. I guess that’s why we remain reluctant to initiate conversation or put ourselves out there by acting in ways that are a bit different than our modus operandi in our real lives.
Admittedly I used to be unphased by initiating conversation with someone I found interesting at a club or venue in SL. But over time I began to feel like I was always the initiator and I stopped to see if the would pendulum swing back in the other direction. And after repeated (and rather lonely) visits to places brimming with activity where it seemed everyone stood back to wait for someone else to make the first move, I realized SL is just a microcosm of what’s both right and wrong with our world.
So my challenge here is to get off your butt (figuratively, of course) and reach out. Dare to act differently in Second Life than you would in real life. If you find yourself visting an event or social spot in SL put yourself out there. Strike up a conversation. Ask someone to dance. Comment on his or her profile. Flirt a little. Why not? You’re just sitting at your computer; noone but you will know if you are rebuffed by that stunning cartoon or not. And who knows, you might just meet a like-minded soul who was just waiting for you to reach out. If you stay silent, you may never know.
For many of you who’ve read my blog regularly this new post will probably be a stunning break in my somewhat accidental and rather prolonged silence. I promise not to bore you with the “oh my real life is busy” sob story. While true, it is a bit irrelevant to this discussion. Because this particular kink in my Second Life blog author “hose of prose” actually happens to relate to the evolution of my Second Life and its merging with the one I live as an upright, fully-functioning human being. You see, I’ve been actually living my real life and exploring what many of you do “in world” in the flesh and blood (literally!).
So what exactly has torn me from the riveting prim confines of the glorious Second Life grid in favor of the real deal? Well, if you haven’t already, take a gander at my most recent blog post and thus begins our fresh telling of my own provocative fairy tale. I admitted that the seeds of open loving (and sexual) relationships and polyamory I had planted in my Second Life had actually taken root in my real life. In essence –for those who refuse to do your homework and prefer to be spoon fed the Cliff’s Notes version—my husband (of nearly 13 years) and I officially opened our marriage. And…well…since then I’ve been kinda busy ( /me grins lasciviously).
Officially opening your marriage feels a bit like attending those corporate-sponsored events held at amusement parks where all the rides are free; you run around like a kid in a candy store frantically trying to ride all the rides, before the evening is over, desperate to experience all that was previously “off limits.” I realize that sounds rather hedonistic. And there is some truth to that. I admit the coincidental fact that I had multiple business trips that fell on the heels of that official “open” designation was deliciously serendipitous.
All this real life excitement, though, has distracted me from the fantasy Second Life I’ve been quietly cultivating for the past few years. And I’m pretty darn ok with that. After three years of casing the same SL joints, engaging in many of the same conversations over and over, and repeatedly discovering within the first few flirtatious quips with a new “friend” that the depth of their interest in me centered on how cleverly and creatively I could coax them to sexual climax, I realized Second Life was holding less and less appeal for me. And once the opportunity arose (or probably more appropriately was sought out), my husband and I took the next step in our journey and I transferred my already limited energy and free time to finding fun in the flesh as opposed to seeking out romance in Second Life.
So where does that leave me—avatar & blog author Cindy Kesey—now? Well I began writing this blog as a way to verbalize much of what I and many others have experienced as our lives were expanded through Second Life to include new friends from across the globe. And I’ve tried to capture the complexities of what it feels like to be seen by someone else in a new light after years of being glimpsed (and perhaps often overlooked) by many of the same familiar folks—husbands, wives, and friends included. In Second Life many, like me, have found fascinating people we’d have never met in our real lives; people who found us engaging, exciting, interesting, amazing, and beautiful. And that attention was—and is—often more than intoxicating, it can be downright addicting.
I wonder, however, if my alliterative attention and exhaustive explorations might be creeping closer to covering the concepts of open marriage and polyamory in the real world. A lot like Second Life, I’m finding that the Cult of Fidelity (especially in the United States) provides very few if any tools, language, or climate for couples who might wish to explore a different way of life in an attempt to perhaps avoid the staggering rates of failure within the traditional constructs of marriage we as a culture have worshipped and extolled for the last few decades. [I feel compelled to mention here I am not talking about “swinging.” I realize many people find that sexually satisfying, and there’s nothing wrong with that in my opinion. I personally, however, find it hollow and require an intellectual and emotional connection on a deeper level to experience truly fulfilling intimacy with another person.]
This evolution of mine is somewhat bittersweet. I don’t think the challenges many people in Second Life face—especially folks married to spouses dabbling in Second Life romances—have been fully explored. I continue to receive countless email from devastated wives and husbands whose partners have left them for their Second Life lovers. My heart goes out to all of you because I don’t think there are any easy answers here unless you and your partners are willing to be totally honest about the true state of your “affairs.”
So in summary, my wonderful and fully fabulous readers, I’m not exactly sure what the future holds for this blog. I continue to pop on to Second Life, although my appearances are less and less frequent. As you can imagine it isn’t easy to juggle a successful career, motherhood, marital harmony, personal fulfillment, and a budding loving relationship with a new and wonderful person in my real life. Perhaps I’ll begin another blog and continue to write about the nearly oppressive expectations we as a culture have of our marriages, mates, and the “happily-ever-after” elusive fairy tale we continue to chase. For I do think we deserve the opportunity to discuss these issues in a realistic, supportive, honest forum where we can ask the tough questions and discover the real roots of why we do what we do—both in Second and real life.
I guess I’ll just keep you “posted.”
“I blame Cinderella.”
That is the first line of Jenny Block’s amazing and courageous book titled Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage. Don’t worry, I don’t take her words personally. But that’s because her book has changed my life.
What’s so fab about this book you wonder? For one, it is a refreshingly honest glimpse into the evolution of one woman’s relationship(s) juxtaposed alongside her critical analysis of our entrenched and long-standing societal beliefs on sex, marriage, and monogamy. But I think more importantly this true story is told by Jenny herself, and she is someone you’d consider “normal” by today’s standards–if you were judging. It’s delightfully refreshing to think about the issues of open relationships and non-monogamy outside the previously more prevalent “touchy-feely, lets-get-naked-and-massage-each-others’-auras” tribe. In essence Jenny’s story is my story, sans Second Life.
Let’s first back up to the year I got married and was still in hot pursuit of my own real life Cinderella Story. In preparation for my wedding I wrote a poem that I featured as one of my very first blog posts on this blog: True Love’s Toes. The poem captures the perspective I had on the meaning of my impending nuptials: the confident promise, the burgeoning possibilities, and the starry-eyed fairytale presumptions all in place. I am certain it mirrors the myriad other marital musings, love notes, vows, etc. captured by countless brides and grooms across the globe as they embark on their own journeys.
Now fast forward 12 years. The scenes that zip by are as familiar any others: friendly gatherings, Grateful Dead shows, interstate moves, death of grandparents, birth of child, Montessori school, job changes, financial gains and losses, and Second Life. Now here’s where the plot thickens or as I like to say, where I woke up. And then my husband awoke. And our lives have been forever changed.
For many years my husband and I had led relatively contented lives relentlessly pursuing the proverbial American dream together. Although it was thankfully (and by our design) way less Stepford wife-like than many others’, our life together resembled the typical fantasy of true love and marital bliss. Yet several times over the years I teetered on the edge of not just contemplating but committing sexual indiscretions. Nearly every business trip to Las Vegas seemed to culminate in passionate flirtatious connections I’d make with interesting men. In every case I didn’t go through with them. But I returned to my life and my husband and was honest about my feelings. And we both wondered why these experiences happened and what they meant.
Second Life is like Vegas on pixelated steroids. There are fascinating men and women everywhere–yet this time Barbie and Ken perfect –just aching to meet and virtually connect with willing counterparts. And after awhile I was no longer able to ignore both the sexual desires and emotional connections I had for people other than my husband. And thus was the true beginning of our open marriage, which started in the virtual realm of Second Life and soon spilled over into our real lives.
In my opinion and experience, Second Life has a tremendous capacity to be a catalyst for us as a culture to question the existing constructs of marriage and monogamy, and to explore in a relatively safe environment what it might feel like to engage in open relationships. Many people, like my husband and I, are for the first time discussing honestly and openly what it means to love more than one person. We are all realizing that opening our hearts to include more people actually brings greater benefits to our existing relationships, rather than having negative consequences. That goes against nearly everything we’ve been taught to believe about adultery, monogamy, and the one-size-fits-all approach to partnerships we’ve been fed our entire lives. As Jenny points out repeatedly in her book, open or polyamorous relationships actually expand our capacity to love, rather than diminish it.
Yet Second Life also has an alarming potential to reinforce the fairy tale fantasies of monogamy and sexual and emotional fidelity that have dominated our culture through literature, movies, songs, religious teachings, etc. for decades. Isn’t there something bizarre and contradictory about many folks’ tendency in Second Life to meet “the one,” fall in love, host a virtual wedding, and expect emotional and sexual fidelity in this world that is primarily comprised of our own brain dramas? In a world where anything is possible, I find this near replication of real life a somewhat sad indication that we still have a long way to go to free our minds.
As I read this post back I realize this is more of a summary of my own journey to this happy place where I now sit. I haven’t included the statistics (like 40 – 60% of married men and women cheat on their spouses). I omitted a discussion of historical and evolutionary data on how fidelitous and emotional love-based marriages have really only taken hold in the last century, whereas prior to that marriage was an economically-based transaction. I’ve failed to include analysis on the riveting topic of the virgin/whore paradox, whereby men and women perpetuate this idea that men want a vixen in the bedroom but a virgin at the altar. And I’ve left out the opinions of countless experts who agree that monogamy is as natural to the human species as eating our young. So in fairness I owe you that next round. In the meantime, if you’re curious on this topic and want to further open your own mind–and perhaps other things–, check out the reading list below:
- Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray by Helen Fisher, PhD
- Open Marriage: A New Life Style for Couples by Nena O’Neill & George O’Neill
- The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People by David P. Barash, PhD, and Judith Eve Lipton, MD
Yesterday was a good friend of mine’s RL (real life) birthday. We were excitedly discussing all the fun things he’d done and I asked him how his birthday sex was. (We all get birthday sex, don’t we??). He sighed and told me of the ravishing way his wife of 25 years had rocked his mind with his birthday sex–I’m kidding. He begrudgingly lamented on how he’d laid in bed for quite awhile waiting for her to initiate (she’d told him earlier in the day he’d be getting some) and finally, following several awkwardly silent minutes, she sniped “well, are you just going to lie there?”
While this scenario might sound shocking to some of you, it is indicative of a stark reality many married couples face today. Ladies, it appears we have locked our legs closed–and in many cases our hearts as well–and in doing so shut our husbands off from the critical intimacy they need to feel connected to us. And it is this lack of intimacy and connection that is causing husbands to flee into the arms–and legs– of other women, whether in real or Second Life.
According to a study documented in a new book by Gary Neuman titled The Truth About Cheating, it is estimated that 1 in 2.7 men will cheat on their wives or partners. The study also found that 92% of cheating men say sex wasn’t the primary reason for the affair. It was an emotional disconnection, brought on by a lack of appreciation for them from their wives, that led men down that often rocky road.
For many men who are having sex with their wives on a regular basis, they often remain the initiators and instigators of physical intimacy. This also dampens the connection felt by a husband for his wife. Where we may have been sexual vixens before marriage and children, many of us wives are now not the sexual dynamos we once were. Our sexy underwear and short skirts have been replaced by comfortable cotton panties and sweats.
Enter Second Life. SL has evolved for many as a virtual dating and sex chat room, complete with amorous avatar animations that might have even the most liberal of us fanning the crimson heat of our blushed faces. But what it really provides is a playground where people can find new and interesting friends. And often those friendships are evolving into romantic relationships. Why? Simply because these new folks are finding the men and women they meet fascinating. And that is a feeling many married men haven’t felt from their wives in…well…what seems like forever.
In addition to these new lovers lavishing long sought after praise on their new online paramours, in Second Life ladies are also playing the part of new girlfriend–donning their avatars in sexy clothing and speaking sexy phrases men have often only heard from their wives in their fantasies.
So what does this all mean? I assert that if we want to create an environment where our husbands won’t feel tempted to try a tryst in real or Second Life, we women have to get back in the game–the romance game. It’s time we start admiring our husbands for all they DO contribute and stop demeaning them for what they don’t. It’s also time that we get our sexy back and woo our partners into the bedroom, whether we feel like it or not.
We should invest in some scrumptiously sexy lingerie to show him we care. If our sexual drive has diminished to a dribble, we must seek professional help. Because it is completely unrealistic for us to expect our husbands to abstain from sex or to be the sole initiators of physical intimacy. That only serves to breed bitterness and boredom.
Am I saying here that men are entirely blameless when it comes to affairs? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that we women must recognize our contributions to the climate and the power we have to help create an environment so savory our loving husbands wouldn’t want to stray.
I feel obligated to apologize for the slow trickle of blog posts from me over the last couple months. I’m not one to offer lame excuses for my lack of compelling content. But actually this is exactly what I wanted to talk about today. Over the last couple months my real life has gotten astonishingly busy. [incidentally I've thought a lot about the use of "1st life" vs. "real life" as an antonym to Second Life and I feel compelled to continue to use the expression RL, if simply to remind us all that yes, this life our flesh is living is real, the second one is not.] I barely have enough time to squeeze in the normal obligations of life every day, much less to pump energy into a second one.
So my beautiful house stands vacant on the beach, the wind–if there was any on SL–tosses my curtains around gently and the soothing sounds of waves bounce off my empty walls. I’m not there to enjoy the World->Environmental Settings->Sunset. And my mailbox is constantly overflowing with junk mail–I mean important group announcements for events I won’t attend. Has this ever happened to you? You find your free time gobbled up by the daily routine and soon your once smoldering Second Life screeches to a shocking halt.
Or perhaps my schedule hasn’t changed all that much. Maybe I’ve just noticed that SL has lost a bit of its luster. The list of events seems surprisingly similar to the list I looked at last night and the night prior. The little dings of chats that once poured in by the bucketful have dwindled. The mediocrity of some of the SL musicians has me clutching my ears begging to make it stop. And even the farthest reaches of the most fabulous sims seem, well, stale.
Ok, so honestly it’s probably a little bit of both. But what I’ve learned lately is that our engagements in our Second Lives wax and wane like the monthly metamorphosis of our moon–that is, if we’re healthy. Where I was once sad when I found a friend had disappeared for stretches of time I realize now that they were just taking care of business. Real life needs work. And if we’re engaged in a second–or fantasy–life too deeply, we’re most certainly depriving the roots of our real existence of the most essential and rich nutrients required for us to grow and flourish.
I realize there are many of us whose lives are so painful we retreat into our Second LIves to simply give us some room to breathe. I get that. Although I’d like to suggest even those of us in this situation take a long look at some solid steps–even if they are baby steps–we can take to make real changes in the lives we hide from.
So in the spirit of finding balance, why not take this moment to think of five other things you could do besides sit at your computer staring at your avatar as he or she gallops around the grid. If you don’t like TV, find some new books to read, call an old friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile, or make a cup of hot tea and just sit calmly. Because Second Life can be fun, when played in moderation. It can also be dangerously all-consuming. And when that happens, my friends, we run the risk of losing what’s most important to us: our real selves.
Love and loss are central themes of thousands of blog posts peppering the web. And many folks–whether Second Life avatars or real humans in the flesh–use their blogs as a platform to publicly process their parting-of-ways. One of the trends I’ve noticed when witnessing these abrogation of affairs is that many people experience some definitive act–like betrayal or dishonesty–that prompts them to dissolve their previously fantastic flings. And, as painful as these breakups are, those experiences follow a natural grief progression that helps the healing process proceed. Yet there are many other instances when lovers leave their flames in far less salient circumstances. And these situations, I assert, carve wounds that lie exposed to the elements longer and, are thus, harder to heal.
As you know, I’ve promised never to bore you with gory details of my own real or Second lives on these blog pages. But between myself and other friends, I’ve recently observed–or experienced–romantic relationships in both SL & RL that have either withered or been abruptly dismantled, leaving one or more of the partners reeling in the breakup wake. These experiences–or “soul extractions” as my friend calls them–are a bit different from the typical breakup because there is no one person or event to blame. And this leaves the lover(s) stunned and unclear what to do next–and thus unable to move through typical stages of grief.
As I discuss these scenerios imagine yourself, my dear reader, as the subject of the experiences. Now picture yourself in the twitterpated excitement of an intense new romance; your mind curious and thirsty to know him or her better and your heart aflutter at the anticipation of this amazing new person. You blush at the mere thought of them texting you sweet nothings and spend your days marveling at how lucky you are they have suddenly graced your life. Now imagine this goes along for quite awhile…the intensity increasing with each exchange. You may even enjoy real glimpses of your lover; photos emailed or even smiles exchanged via webcam in the darkened corner of your home office. Then one day….nothing. Crickets. Dialtone. You reach out repeatedly with no response. And you feel numb. And confused. And hurt.
Now imagine you’ve met another sweet sweet friend–one who makes you laugh until tears stream down your face and your stomach and side muscles ache in a good way. You forge a close friendship, share details of who you each are and how you each came to be, and begin to care about what happens to them during their days and nights not spent with you. Then, because you are conscientious people, you realize you might care a little too much. And you mutually decide to part ways. Their absence in your life rips your heart open leaving a gaping hole where that joy used to be. And you feel numb. And confused. And hurt.
As I read this back it sounds like a I’m having a pity party. I assure you I hate those and would never attend one even if I was invited as the guest of honor and my favorite band Galactic was playing and Christian Bale was there alone and wanted to meet me (ok, well maybe then). I’m merely curious as to why it seems so difficult to get over romances and the wonderful, provocative people we come in contact with when we do it for the right reasons. It appears to me that, because we can’t logically get angry (since we don’t have real reason to be)–and anger is a very useful emotion in the grief process–it prolongs the pain and compounds the process of healing.
So maybe this means we need to get mad–not at the people but perhaps at the situations. Take a moment in our grief to throw around that blame and rage we’ve bottled up inside. And then move on and look at what we’ve learned about ourselves in the process and through the experience. And, even after that, be grateful we’ve lived life–both real and virtual–so fully and felt so deeply. Some people don’t even get that. And that does leave you feeling numb. And who wants to go through life like that?
Be sure to share your own comments and experiences. Helps us all get through the grief, ya know?
As my blog has evolved over the past year or so, I’ve noticed some remarkable and possibly alarming trends in the search terms used by my readers to find it. Whether this is indicative of my burgeoning bevy of blog posts related to the topic or it’s facilitated by an increase in the preponderance of these personal ordeals, I’ve yet to conclude. But I thought I’d share with you a snapshot of the search terms used to find my blog just today. See if you notice a pattern:
meetup.com wife swapping
the boredom of long life marriages
are you in love with your second life avatar?
husband sl addiction
sl broken marriages
second life divorce
second life friend’s online
believes sl is rl
has second life broken up real life relationships?
For those who have followed my blog for awhile, this may seem like review as I’ve written about this issue before in different context. But I was so struck by today’s search terms that I felt it warranted another look. Because, as you can see from the list, it appears to be an epidemic of sorts: Second Life is having a huge impact on marriages and relationships all over the world. And more often than not people do not view the effects as positive.
So what gives? Why are so many people–men and women alike–falling in love online while still married to others in real life?
Now here is where I’m going to get controversial (bring on your contrarian views, my lovelies…all opinions are welcome here). In my [disclaimer: non professional] opinion it is because we have an unrealistic and outdated view of what long term relationships should bring us. I believe this is left over from the definitions of marriage handed down to us by our churches and our families–from an age when power dynamics and earning potential was distributed very differently.
In essence, in days past men were often the breadwinners (read “hunters & gatherers“) while women stayed home to raise the family and tend to the household. This dynamic favored long term commitments and partnerships based more on function than on the fever of infatuation or romance (aka love). That isn’t to say our grandparents weren’t in love. I’m simply suggesting it was a different kind of love based more on mutual admiration and utilitarian constructs than on weak-in-the-knees, heart melting passion.
So how does this tie back to Second Life? Well I think we’ve come to erroneously expect our marriages and long term partnerships to bring us not only functional families, but romance, passion, desire, and amazing sex “till death do us part.” And how’s that working for us? Clearly, it’s not. When we’re faced with alternatives, like the secretary down the hall or that Second Life honey on the next sim, we are often drawn to options other than our real life partners. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
You may be surprised to learn there is terminology that covers this phenomenon: it’s called New Relationship Energy (NRE). Basically it means the very real, very physical sensations elicited by attractions we have for new people in our lives. In the polyamory community, it is perfectly normal to experience these feelings alongside a longer, more established relationship. But most of us haven’t drank that koolaid yet, although admittedly I have and my marriage–and my self esteem–has never been stronger as a result.
I want to ask that if you’re reading this because your marriage or partnership has been affected by your partner’s romantic escapades in Second Life take this moment to open your mind and really ask yourself what you’re expecting your partner to bring to you long-term. Have you ever complained that “the romance is gone” from your marriage or that your partner no longer makes you weak in the knees? This doesn’t mean your relationship is necessarily over. It probably just means you’ve reached a new phase and have new things to learn and appreciate about your love.
And if you are the one who has found yourself feeling those stomach flips of a new crush, whether in Second Life or real life, try not to mistake that for an indication that you’ve finally found “the one” and you should toss out your long-term partner as yesterday’s garbage. What you’re probably feeling is simply the physical excitement of NRE and you should feel blessed and savor the swagger it adds to your step.
In summary (wow, I never summarize at the end of a post…must be important), use this experience as an opportunity to openly and honestly communicate with your partner or spouse what you’re experiencing. Try not to judge yourself, him, and/or her too harshly. Because all of these experiences are real and valid. They may indicate more serious and irreconcilable problems. Or perhaps they just mean you need to spice up your sex life and bring back the romance. Regardless, talk to each other. If necessary, find a good counselor to help you through it. Because only through self knowledge are we able to grow–and that’s as true for couples as it is for individuals.
Do you love me or do you not?
You told me once, but I forgot.
I don’t know about you, but I spent many of my teen years filled with angst and consumed by a persistent desire to be part of the popular crowd. It was unfortunate I was plagued with parents who thought expensive name-brand clothing was extravagant and unnecessary. I say unfortunate because–probably like many of you–I grew up in an era known for its rampant materialism and shallow definitions of success. Ah the ’80s, when your worth as defined by others was derived from how many Izods you could layer underneath an oxford and what brand was displayed on your butt.
I like to believe times have changed a bit. Sure, there still exist needlessly overpriced clothing like Lucky jeans and Juicy Couture [$200 for jeans? You have to be kidding!]. But kids these days seem a little more focused on personal attributes and less likely to write you off simply because of your Wranglers.
What prompts me to muse on these moments and meander down memory lane you wonder? Well my last post discussed how studies have shown that Second Life can affect our personal self esteem in a positive way. And I mentioned that the opposite is also true; sad situations and suffering in SL can bring a cloud of melancholy and malaise to our real lives. Recently I realized how much my friendships within SL have a direct reflection on how sunny my disposition is during my day. And in that sense, it kind of feels like the terrible teens all over again.
I can’t shake the notion that each time we log into Second Life and our name appears on screen for all our friends to see, it feels like that moment of vulnerability in our youth when we stood before that boy or girl waiting to know if they’d dance with us or not. It’s strange to me how few folks welcome me to the grid when I first arrive. Imagine if a friend of ours walked in to a coffee shop or nightclub in real life. Most likely we’d stop in our tracks and reach out to hug them even if we’d just seen them yesterday. Yet in Second Life, there is no such greeting. In fact, I can go months without so much as a hello from that long list of comrades.
Regardless, my friendships are my favorite reason to be in Second Life at all. I admittedly get a thrill every time I hear the ding that comes when I receive an instant message from a friend; I excitedly look with anticipation to see who’s come knocking on my door. But sometimes I wonder if folks take those friendships in world for granted. I notice when friends partner up I hear from them less often, which is quite sad. And, like the relationship patterns we perpetuate in RL, sometimes we wait for our friends to make contact first–a behavior that also feels like a throwback to the turbulent teenage times.
So to wrap up this rambling post in a nuthshell, here is some advice. See that long list of friends in your upper right corner? When was the last time you picked up the proverbial phone and said hello? Go ahead and make the first move. I guarantee your friend will feel fantastic because you did. And that is real friendship–the desire to make someone else happy just because you can.
One of my very first blog posts asked the the following question: “must avatars look good for us to be attracted to them?” And I still maintain that the way an avatar presents him or herself physically–the eyes, hair, skin, and the clothes we do or do not wear–has a contributory effect on how others perceive us within the walls of Second Life (SL). Yet growing amounts of research indicate that cyber beauty not only affects how others view us, but also has a strong affect on our own personal self image. And in an era where the already staggering numbers of men and women who suffer from poor body image and low self esteem continue to escalate at alarming rates, it’s good news to learn something like Second Life could inspire us to feel better about ourselves.
This week Kristina Dell published an article in Time Magazine (How Second Life Affects Real Life) that explores how the attractiveness of her avatar influences how she behaves when not immersed in the Second Life virtual world. She references Jeremy Bailenson, head of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University where he is an assistant professor of communication studying the way self perception within virtual realms affects behavior.
In an experiment conducted in 2007, Bailenson’s research team studied how an avatar’s attractiveness affected their behavior both on and offline. Thirty-two volunteers received either an attractive or unattractive avatar at random and were asked to admire their avis for 90 seconds before being placed in a group setting where they interacted with other avatars. Researchers found that volunteers assigned the more attractive avatars interacted more confidently with others, stood closer to them when conversing, and even disclosed more personal details about themselves. The volunteers with less attractive avatars basically exhibited “wallflower” behavior–standing farther away and revealing less of themselves in their conversations.
What Bailenson’s research has found, I’m sure, does not astound many of you. For I imagine we all qualitatively deduced that the experiences we’ve had in Second Life have had remarkable reverberations in our own personal lives. Bailenson discovered–as summarized by Kristina Dell–what so many of us have felt: “the qualities you acquire online—whether it’s confidence or insecurity—can spill over and change your conduct in the real world, often without your awareness. Bailenson has found that even 90 seconds spent chatting it up with avatars is enough to elicit behavioral changes offline—at least in the short term.”
I’ll confess that I have enjoyed a personal transformation due to the confidence I’ve gained through my experiences in Second Life. When I began playing SL, I was more than twenty pounds heavier, with shorter hair, and had suffered a minor crisis of confidence caused by a company re-org that orbited my career into a professional planetary tailspin. Yet now, over a year and a half later, I’ve slimmed down, grown my hair to match the length of my avatar and landed my dream job. And I’m not alone here; I’ve heard countless tales of friends who likewise have been motivated to match the model of their online personas by exercising and exhibiting increased confidence in their personal and professional lives. On the flip side, I’ve also suffered from meloncholy and minor depression when I’ve experienced loss, pain, or loneliness within Second Life.
I think it is for this main reason that–like a Pavlovian dog–I keep coming back to SL in search of what helps me get my groove on. SL and the wonderful people and relationships I experience there act as a virtual power suit that I don to help me feel comfortable in my own skin in my real world. And that is terrific news, not just because I like my skin but because–unlike the prim skin in SL–it wasn’t sold separately from this wonderful body and mind to which it is attached.