Integrity is not a 4-Letter Word

August 28, 2007 at 3:50 am (dishonesty, Integrity, Relationships, Second Life, Sex)

Is it me or do some people who step into Second Life abandon their scruples at login? I’m not just talking about the newbs who wander aimlessly, pathetically begging for sex or the uber villains in Waterhead who act out their demonic fantasies through their pixel weapons. I’m talking about real people, like you and me, who seem to lose their marbles when they embody their avatar selves.

I’ve seen first hand the most upstanding individuals in RL–parents, professionals, religious devotees, and other self-proclaimed citizens with deep moral fiber–act in manners unbecoming of even the lowest of low. From lying about their RL age and physique, to blatantly spreading sim rumors, lies, and trash talk, Second Life at times seems full of more drama queens than a sorority during rush.

So what’s behind this phenomenon? Why is it that the anonymity of a virtual world seems to inspire even the meekest folks to don a cloak of perceived power which apparently gives them full license to manipulate others and act as dishonorably as an architect in the Bush administration?

Forgive me for seeming naive, but I prefer to believe these composers of commotion don’t set out to purposely harm others in their midst. On the contrary, I think what possibly happens is a deep and severe instance of miscommunication–complete with spoken and unspoken expectations and assumptions–spirals out of control. Others are then pulled in, truth is stretched, and low-and-behold you soon have a full-fledged soap opera. And, unlike real life, where kludgy communications like these may evolve over a period of several days, the nature of the grid somehow alights the drama-chain like a brush fire in southern California.

I think what’s more important than the emergence of the unfortunate but inevitable drama in SL is the way in which the person deals with it once it’s happened. I once had a boss tell me after I had totally screwed up that it wasn’t what you do in life, but what you do next. Everyone can have a miscommunication, but it takes a person with real integrity to admit fault, apologize and work to fix it.

What I’ve seen in SL is that, just like RL, there are people who are evolved and there are people who remain immature. Folks who are generally self-aware in RL tend to extend that skill into their SL experience and either let the drama roll off their backs or take steps to minimize the damage when it does happen. And, unfortunately, there remain individuals who continue to claim they are victims of some grid-wide conspiracy, never once looking in the mirror to find any culpability.

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Try Just A Little Bit Harder

August 23, 2007 at 6:53 pm (Love, Marriage, Relationships, Second Life, Sex)

He tried harder

I think I need to come clean about something. After looking back at several of my blog posts I realize I’ve painted a pretty rosy picture of my home life and marriage. And, while it is generally satisfying and solid after 11 years, it is not without its share of problems. Just such a challenge arose this week. I decided, a bit to the chagrin of my hubbie, to write about it here in hopes that you, my dear readers, might find fragments of your own stories in ours. And because these challenges encompass an amalgamation of many of the topics I’ve written about over the last several weeks.

Like most things, it began with one seemingly innocuous comment about something inane like house chores [don’t fear, readers…I would never dream of boring you with the tedious details of my marital squabbles]. But the comment opened a door where I’d been storing some pent up frustrations that came pouring out by the bucketful. In essence, all of them boiled down to one thing: inertia. He–like many of us in long term relationships–hadn’t been carrying his share of the load in many ways, most importantly in the way of the woo (I swear I’m going to trademark that word!).

I wrote about the woo a couple weeks ago, but merely alluded to the definition at the time. (See my blog post The Art of Woo). So what is it? Put simply, woo is the energy and effort one puts forth in an attempt to gain the affections of another. This often happens during the initial phase of a relationship, when each person is on his or her best behavior in an attempt to seem somewhat perfect and unblemished in the eyes of their target.

In real life this phase could include behavior like wearing sexy matching underwear (c’mon ladies, you know you do it), shaving legs and faces on a regular basis, getting regular pedicures/manicures, showering more often, opening car doors, calling ahead for reservations, etc. In Second Life this phase might include writing love poems in your profile, studying the dictionary and thesaurus to brush up on witty words, and scouring erotic literature to discover myriad ways to refer to the male or female genitalia and other sexy speech. Whatever your approach, the art of woo is all about the details; it’s about simply trying harder to win the heart of your beloved.

So why is it that we seem able to muster the energy to put woo to work in the beginning, but become complacent in long term relationships over time? Perhaps we get comfortable in the idea that we have already “won” over our lover or mate and that no more work is needed. If this is your philosophy–expressed or subconcious–you’re probably missing the boat (and a lot of other things). Relationships take work, and to keep your partner or spouse interested and engaged you have to practice the art of woo on an ongoing basis. In essence, you just need to try harder across the board to keep your partner wanting more.

Don’t take my word for it, however. See it in action. Today try just a little bit harder with your lover, spouse, partner, or mate. Stop on the way home from work and pick up something nice for him or her to show you are thinking of them. Plan a date–ALL the details–and surprise them at the end of the week. Or even simply write down something you love about them and post it on the mirror in the bathroom. Then see if you don’t notice a change, in both you and your sweetheart.

Oh, and honey….thanks for the roses!

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Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

August 20, 2007 at 4:12 pm (Love, Masturbation, Relationships, Second Life, Sex)

Kama Sutra Erotic Statues

Lately I have marveled at the growth in traffic to my blog. At first I was flattered, thinking it was my brilliant repartee and ability to coalesce ideas into interesting blog fodder. But upon further inspection into the traffic drivers, I realized I had made a slight but critical change; I added the tag “sex” to the categories. The traffic has grown steadily since then.

So this got me wondering: what’s the deal with all this interest in online sex, Second Life or otherwise? (To come clear, discussing this also gratuitously heightens the likelihood for even greater blog traffic, but I digress.)

I recall upon my arrival in SL being a bit shocked to see all the focus on sex; the sex clubs, pose balls, erotic clothing, the seemingly constant proposals for sex, and endless offers to make money as an escort. That was of course back when I was a SL newb and the idea of watching cartoon sex seemed rather silly to me. My original impression was echoed recently when I met a new SL inductee who likewise balked at the idea of sex between avatars as he struggled to overcome the seedy, nefarious impression he had of it.

All of the skepticism I had around this topic vanished the moment I enjoyed my first sensual/sexual experience in SL. My partner at the time (another relative newcomer) and I used the sexual pose balls we found in someone’s vacant and well-appointed house. And to our surprise we found it astonishingly titillating to watch our naked cartoons going at it. However it was really the erotic prose that was the driving pulse behind my arousal and it literally knocked my socks (and other, *cough*, clothing items) off. I was in awe at the physical reactions my body experienced as a result of the descriptive words my partner and I typed on the screen.

Ok, so I was hooked. I was thrilled to discover a new totally safe and extremely intense form of sexual fantasy that heightened my own personal and private sexual experiences (um, yes Fox News…I’m talking about masturbation). Yay for me right?

But this is not where the story ends, thankfully. Because, you see, an interesting bi-product of this discovery was that my sex in RL got better too–WAY better. I found that by descriptively typing and literally having to break down every provocative step along the path to climax, I became much more aware of the sexy and subtle–albeit critical–little details that were needed to produce intense arousal and impressive foreplay. And I realized somewhat sadly that I had been missing this level of attention to detail in my sexual experiences with my husband for several years; I’d been going through the motions and wondering why sex had become boring.

I’m happy to report my SL and RL sex life is alive and kicking and I couldn’t be happier about it. But I’m curious: is my experience unique? Have others out there noticed your RL sex lives improve because of your SL sexual escapades?

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For Your A”muse”ment

August 18, 2007 at 4:44 pm (Love, Marriage, Myth, Relationships, Second Life, Sex)

Muse, Felice Ficherelli 1605 - 1660

O Muses, o high genius, aid me now!
O memory that engraved the things I saw,
Here shall your worth be manifest to all!

-Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

The desire to discover one’s purpose in life is not a new tradition, but a lofty and long-sought goal for men and women the world over. This pursuit of purpose has been immortalized in countless books, movies, songs, and poems throughout history. I personally began my quest to unearth my unique raison d’etre when I was quite young and continue this journey even today.

Despite knowing this theme remains so prevalent in real life, I was surprised to notice recently my propensity to question and seek my purpose within my Second Life. Why am I here, I wondered most broadly. But more specifically, what do I bring to my lovers and friends here and what do I receive in return?

As I examined them with greater inquisitive scrutiny, I realized that each of the relationships I have enjoyed since I began my SL journey share a common thread. It seems I have met the most incredible men when they needed me most; each at a time when he hungered for his own unique dose of inspiration, love, and support to help lead him back to the light of his own life (real and virtual) and loves (yes, including RL partners and wives).

I discovered that my role as lover and muse is to listen and lavish upon my beloved the gifts of love, acceptance, self-discovery, and great sex to help him recapture his mojo and gain the strength to take that new-found radiance back into his real life so that all who surround him can enjoy his brilliance once again. I guess you could say I’m a modern-day Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee for relationships, called upon to help my men find their way back to the selves they lost, the selves they thought they were, or the selves they aspire to be. Or maybe I just simply help them get unstuck.

Now I realize this sounds like I think I’m all that. But I promise I’m not basking in the glow of my own professed self importance. On the contrary, this role, although immensely rewarding in itself, comes with its own price. Because the nature of this “work” is temporary. And like Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee, I too must someday fly with the shifting winds onto the next who needs my nurturing.

Despite the costs, however, I assure you this is not a one way street. My life has been truly enriched through the friendships I have formed with my SL loves and friends. I’m proud to say I remain friends with ALL of them to this day. And each of them in their own ways have inspired me to dust off the self I once was, find the self I want to be, and let the glimmer of my own radiance shine through. And that, my friends, is as priceless as any gift.

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Life Would Be A Choice, Sweetheart

August 16, 2007 at 7:41 pm (Love, Marriage, Relationships, Second Life)

Leo Buscaglia, popular university professor and author of countless books on relationships, is famous for saying “If you’re bored, you must be boring.” His statement eloquently captures the powerful idea that we are all responsible for the state we are in at any given moment. Our human tendency is to blame others for our predicaments, playing the role of victim with academy award-winning aplomb. But it all comes down to a choice: we choose how to be and how we react to certain situations. [This concept of choice is a prominent theme in my life. I have a tattoo of the Chinese character for choice on my foot to remind myself of my own power to choose my reality.]

As I read last weekend’s Wall Street Journal article on Second Life, this concept of choice, or the responsibility we have for our own lives, rang in my mind. The article titled “Is This Man Cheating On His Wife?,” chronicled the triangle of a married man, his RL wife, and his SL partner (ie wife).

As you can guess, the author’s microscope was squarely aimed at this gentleman’s dual life, and the effect it was having on his RL wife and marriage. The author reports that the man’s wife is basically a widow living alongside her husband as his attention is diverted to the life he’s leading on the computer screen. The wife continues to serve him meals, clean up around him, and spend her time watching TV.

Through the portrayal of her as a victim, we readers are piloted to feel sorry for the wife whose husband has deserted her for a perpetually beautiful and thin pixelated partner. Yet something is very wrong with this entire picture, and the husband–while certainly sharing some of the blame–does not own the problem entirely.

From what I’ve seen first hand, married men and women are flocking to Second Life and finding “companionship” with people who see them differently than perhaps their spouses see them or differently than they may even see themselves. And–like I’ve heard from my friends in SL and as mentioned in the article as well–the spouses for the most part do not care to venture into SL to see what their partners find so appealing about it.

Husbands and wives alike are expertly playing the role of victims; blaming the other and then tuning out to the television, computer, poker game, bag of Doritos–whatever is going to fill them up–instead of taking ownership of their part in enabling the state of their relationship.

So I’d like to issue a challenge to my fellow married men and women. Take control of your relationship. Meet your partner on their territory once in awhile. Men, would it kill you to sit down with your wives for an occasional stroll down Wisteria Lane? And ladies, venture into Second Life and check it out. Who knows? You might just meet your own prince charming in there!

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Blurring the Boundaries

August 11, 2007 at 1:37 am (Privacy, Second Life)

This week was rather momentous. I was in San Francisco attending a conference and, for the very first time, I met a SL friend in RL. Although I knew what he looked like from the photo in his profile I admit the moments leading up to the initial meeting were filled with palpable anticipation. Would his impression of the real me match that he’d built in his mind? Had I been honest about myself enough for him to paint an accurate picture of the flesh and blood me?

This experience and several conversations with other friends this week led me to wonder about the differences between openness in SL and personal privacy in RL.

In both SL and RL I tend to be an open book, often sharing too much about myself too soon. Yet I’m also a believer in the idea that friends should love me for the true person that I am. And, if I feel they don’t see the real me from the outset, then what’s the point?

But when does the sharing of personal information become TMI? Or–said another way–when, if ever, is it dangerous to share personal information in SL? Moreover, is this growing propensity to blur the boundaries between SL and RL through crossover technologies such as the new voice-chat, Skype, ooVoo, telephone, and Webcam a bad thing?

Although I personally know of no specific instances of avi-stalkers in SL–and the real-life counterpart to those deviants–I have heard rumblings of these shenanigans. I’ve certainly never experienced them myself. Perhaps (and some friends I know argue) I should consider myself lucky as I’ve shared some pretty significant details about my home life, work life, and personal life (including photos) with friends and acquaintances alike. But my tendency to share details about myself extends into real life as well. And I don’t walk around feeling perpetually paranoid or creeped out that a potential stalker or identity thief is lurking around each corner.

Adding complexity to the situation seems to be my growing need to extend my SL relationships into the flesh. It’s as if, after awhile, the avi:avi dimension isn’t enough and I yearn for some physical connection to the real individual behind the screen. I don’t think I’m alone here since nearly everyone I meet already has an email address or Skype screen name with their avatar’s moniker.

So what does this inclination to divulge our most personal details to folks we barely know say about us or our trust in the individual on the other end? And does the seemingly inevitable evolution of Second Life interaction into real-life connection help or hinder that trust in the human spirit overall?

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The Art of Woo

August 4, 2007 at 3:40 am (Love, Second Life)

Remember your first time? It doesn’t really matter what I’m referring to, the first of any experience often leaves an indelible impression. For some the drug of the newness factor is as intense as any forbidden by Nancy’s nefarious war. And some–like travel junkies, sexual “playuhs (you know who you are!),” and serial relocation artists (um, people who move a lot)–go to great lengths to recreate the experience of their first time.

In my last post I explored the idea that intense sensations were elicited during the get-to-know you phase of a new relationship. I still believe this to be true as I’ve experienced it on a number of occasions. But what happens in a relationship when you’ve learned all there seems to learn? Is someone drunk on the the art of woo to end a relationship solely to pursue a new one in search of their next fix?

In RL, long term relationships bring with them the glorious foundation of deeply held mutual knowledge. You become grounded in the roots of paths intertwined and the comfort of being truly known by another person. And these long term loves, like spouses or partners, help us go to the inner folds of our own psyches so that we may truly do the work necessary to become better people.

But what about SL? Relationships tend to spark and fizzle faster than birthday candles on a cake. I know a friend who seems so addicted to starting and ending flings, he has a new one every other day! I’ve often wondered if he is merely addicted to the woo.

I guess I feel rather unique having my first SL love affair last 7 months. I’ve been told that was unique anyway. But I guess I just hadn’t gotten enough in that period of time. Because, although the woo was as sweet and delicious as anything gets, again it was the real person I wanted to know. And I still had some getting-to-know-you to do.

So, once again, I put it to you my dear readers to answer: Is the landscape of online romance destined to fade as we march off seeking newer and more interesting horizons?

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What is love anyway?

August 1, 2007 at 11:47 pm (Love)

Ya’ll must be wondering why I’m such a slacker and haven’t posted after the initial flurry of activity. I won’t give you the standard “I’ve  been busy” response (although I have). The truth is I’ve been struggling with the question I’ve posed here. Love is such a huge topic to tackle. But hey, I’ve never shyed away from a challenge. So here goes.

In previous posts I’ve referred to the idea of love as an emotional connection, stomach butterflies, being magnetically drawn to somone, or being “weak in the knees.” defines love simplistically as “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.” But what does all that really mean? And why do we experience such physically intense reactions at the onset of love? Furthermore, why do these intense feelings seem to wane or cool over time?

I propose that love is essentially the joy we personally feel when we see ourselves through the eyes of others. And new love feels so intense because it brings us a fresh glimpse at the attributes we possess, but perhaps have forgotten or lost touch with.

Let me share an example of how I’ve experienced this with a recent relationship. Because ours was a new and blossoming relationship, my sweetheart and I spent considerable time sharing the details of our lives and marveling in awe at the amazing features of the other person. It was an incredible and somewhat addicting feeling to visualize myself through his eyes. Suddenly I felt more beautiful, smarter, and funnier than I had in years.

In contrast, my husband has been rocked by my beauty, intellect, and witty sense of humor for a number of years. But because I’m so familiar with his reaction to me and I’ve seen myself through his eyes for so long, I suggest–whether right or wrong–that I react differently to his attention. Perhaps this is the reason the intensity of new love appears to subside over time.

I realize these may be thought-provoking notions. Again, I don’t claim to have the right answers. Mine is simply a perspective. Although I did find a delightful quote that implies I may not be the only one who looks at love this way:

“Perhaps love is the process of my gently leading you back to yourself.”
                                                                   – Antoine de Saint, Exupery

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