Is The Grass Really Greener?

September 25, 2007 at 11:19 am (dishonesty, Divorce, Infidelity, Life, Love, Marriage, Polyamory, Relationships, Second Life, Sex)

When I was a kid I possessed an active imagination that colored my life almost perpetually. It was as if I looked at my atmosphere through a fantasy lens that cast my rainbow vision in different directions like a crystal prism. One of my favorite games was to squint my eyes at night, especially on rainy nights, and view my backdrop as a twinkling, blurry dream scene.

Second Life is a remarkable adult version of this sparkling dream world. For the grown girl whose imagination has been lost under the weight of mortgages, taxes, and the daily grind of real life, SL provides a fantastic virtual playground with the power to help her rediscover her connection to the wonderful world of make believe. And lest you forget, that is exactly what SL is: a world of make believe. For, despite what it seems on the surface, reality in SL is just as blurry as the one I viewed in my childhood game.

I have a sad fear and sinking suspicion that a large number of the people who “play” SL are missing this point. Alarming stories abound of people who’s real lives are being cataclysmically and irreparably disrupted because of the growing prominence of their fantasy online relationships. Just yesterday, for example, I learned of yet another woman who had decided to dissolve her RL marriage in pursuit of the promise of illusive paradise she feels she’ll find with her SL love.

So what’s the big deal, you say? Why shouldn’t she toss out the old and trade it in for a newer model if she’s convinced it will bring joy to her RL? Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to begrudge anyone the opportunity to pursue happiness. My struggle here lies not in the pursuit, however, but in the faulty foundation upon which these new realities are being built.

You see, when we meet someone in SL, we are only exposed to the person they choose to share with us at any given moment. It’s like he or she wears a metaphoric mask to conceal characteristics he or she desires to keep hidden. We don’t realize this because–perhaps subconciously–we all too often fill in the gaps we have in the image of our lover with features we project onto them. In essence, we mistake the idea of our lover for the real person themselves and become captivated by this new hybrid of who they are and who we want them to be.

A RL lover has no chance in this unfair fight. Since we live with them day in and out, we experience first hand the good and bad attributes our RL partners exude every day. From flatulence and fevers to pimples and PMS, our real life partners are just that: they’re real–complete with unsavory idiosyncrasies and all. But at least when we construct a foundation of a life with real lovers, we do it with the full knowledge that the grass, however green, will not always be a bed of roses.

So before you cast aside your current partner for that captivating Casanova or hair-raising Helen you met in SL, consider some of these staggering statistics:

  • Divorce rates among those who married their extramarital lovers is 75 percent. The reasons for the high divorce rate include: intervention of reality, guilt, expectations, a general distrust of marriage, and a distrust of the affairee. source
  • One-third of divorce litigation is caused by online affairs. source
  • 60% of remarriages end in divorce. source

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Sticks and Stones

September 18, 2007 at 2:02 am (Communication, Life, Love, Relationships, Second Life)

Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs. – Pearl Strachan

When my parents suggested I pursue an undergraduate degree in Communications, I doubt they envisioned I’d use it to the extent that I have. I think they thought it a good stepping stone to a law degree. Yet I’m struck by its growing relevance as more of my communication migrates online within social networking communities like Second Life, Facebook, & MySpace. I guess I should take this moment to thank my mom and dad for their foresight, for I now have little doubt that those skilled in the art of communication will increasingly come out ahead (rest assured, all innuendo, sexual or otherwise, is deliberate and intended).

In my scholarly pursuits I learned that successful communication only happens when “the recipient receives the message intended by the sender.” As we know, both online and off, this too often doesn’t happen. At least when we interact offline–whether face-to-face or by voice–we enjoy the added benefits of facial expression, tone of voice, and other nonverbal clues to help us glean the sender’s intended message. When we communicate online, however, words are the real currency we employ to relate to one another. And I’m not sure we truly calculate the magnitude of their worth.

That said I think there are a few simple guidelines we can all follow when trying to minimize our propensity toward the pervasive plague of foot-in-mouth disease. First, except for the ubiquitous acronym (brb, ttyl, lol, etc.) recognize that one-word answers to questions posed in chat have no place in online communication. Ambiguous responses like “fine” and “ok” are notoriously exposed to negative interpretation and should be used sparingly. If we soften our replies simply by adding other words (as in “sure, fine” or “ok, no problem”), we diminish the likelihood that our friends will decipher our discourse erroneously.

Another practice we can perpetuate to help ensure conversational harmony is to be generous with our statements and our filters. When issuing utterances to our loved ones, remember to opt for the most loving or giving option. For example, instead of barking “couldn’t you have at least called me?” consider cheerfully rephrasing to the more delicate “I missed hearing from you.” Likewise, when your conversation cohort chats you up, bestow upon him or her the benefit of the doubt and graciously guess they mean the best. If you’re confused about something they say, politely ask for clarification.

Lastly, be aware of how deep and damaging hurtful words can be. Because, like a fierce fist that delivers a powerful and painful punch in the stomach, cruel words can harm our hearts and cannot be taken back. So before throwing poison arrows and launching into that vicious tirade of epithets, take a deep breath and consider the energy you expend to throw those foul fumes. For, while sticks and stones may break bones in RL, words can slice more skillfully and severely than the sharpest sword.

Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall. –Oliver Wendell Holmes


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The Unscratchable Itch

September 14, 2007 at 1:59 am (Love, Marriage, Polyamory, Relationships, Second Life, Sex)

The question on whether it can be called cheating for a married person to enjoy Second Life (SL) relationships with people other than their partners has been tossed around the internet airwaves nearly ad nauseam. Articles in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and even a recent blog post in Wired tackle the subject of fantasy vs. real romances in SL. All this chatter points to the fact that, despite what Dr. Laura might like to believe, SL sex and romance is a persistent and pervasive practice.

I’ve written openly about my own professed penchant to cultivate love affairs with men online while enjoying a loving, committed, and completely open relationship with my real life (RL) my husband of 11 years. Most of my SL relationships grew organically, sprouting from the seeds of mutual fascination, sexual curiosity, and palpable attraction to the way that person made me feel about myself. Never did I embark on these journeys with the intent to meet and marry my next man.

So what then is the destination that I, and the thousands of others like me, traverse toward? When we jump on this train to tryst town, just where do we expect to get off (Freudian pun intended)?

Sadly, many of the married friends I know who pursue SL relationships are merely groping for a happiness that does not exist in their real life marriages. Several feel obligated to stay in these unfulfilling relationships to provide a comfortable and secure environment for their children. Others simply haven’t made the effort to fix what’s broken and turn to SL to give them what they’re missing instead.

Interestingly, most SL friends I know don’t realistically aspire to meet their online lovers in real life, given the myriad constraints that exist. This is especially true of those who foster flames from afar, as I did when I cherished a beau from Europe who lived a minimum of nine hours’ time difference away. And sure, we may all fantasize about taking our erotic avi sex to the realm of the Hilton at that conference in Halifax. But few of us actually do it. So you gotta wonder, why do we willingly–vociferously, I might add–engage in the pursuit of a plan that prompts us to feel an itch that will never be scratched?

The only explanation that exists for us to find friends we’ll never physically feel, love online partners we’ll never pursue, and make virtual marriages we’ll never consummate is that the adventure in itself feels so damn good. Because we all know in the backs of our minds that these relationships rarely have a chance at surviving beyond a certain point. I argue, it’s not their survival we strive for. It’s just the joyous journey that we seek. And, when that trip is over, we’re first in line to take the next tour.

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How do I Love Thee?

September 8, 2007 at 7:39 am (Love, Relationships, Second Life, Sex)

Love seems a prevalent theme in my blog posts; my curiosity about the innerworkings of relationships spans from the grid of Second Life to the grind of real life. And, in my effort to deconstruct how the fabric of our relationships is sown together, I’ve learned much about how men and women believe, behave, and befriend. However, one of the questions posed to me recently had me befuddled. How do you keep the love alive in the setting of the virtual stage?

Well first I think the question itself deserves some exploration. What exactly does it mean to keep love alive? To me new love sizzles and sparks like an electric current, sending shockwaves from our brains to our balls (and the female equivalent). The sense of wonder and excitement elicited by new love truly gives one the feeling they’re always on edge. And the intoxicating brain chemical cocktail served during this phase is as potent as Kentucky moonshine on an empty stomach.

So what goes into keeping this edge as new romance settles into the comforts of a relationship? A really really really smart lover told me recently what he thought the recipe was for keeping the edge:

  • Find someone out of your league. To create a strong magnetic pull between you and your lover, find someone you think is unattainable and woo till the cows come home. If you feel lucky to have snagged him and he thinks himself fortunate to have landed you, well that’s enough of an attractive draw to keep you pining the days away and coming back for more .
  • Try harder. When passions begin to fade, my loverboy suggests you inject your romance with a little humor and wit. Dig deep to find just what will penetrate your partner’s shell and pull them along. Learn what they like and make references to those things when they least expect it. And scour the romance novels and Shakespearean literature to find different ways to tell them you care about them. [For more on the notion of “trying harder,” see my blog post Try Just a Little Bit Harder].
  • Own your own shit. None of us is perfect so do your part and take responsibility for your role in the messy parts. Toss around with your partner ideas on how to make things better. Never be satisfied until you reach full agreement on a sticky issue. And don’t ever go to bed angry with your lover. That’s only bound to let frustrations fester and resentments remain.

Now if you follow this prescription, does that mean you’ll be walking down the path of bliss with your partner for the rest of eternity? Hardly. If I had the recipe for that elixir, I’d be sunning myself on a beach in St. Lucia while letting the royalties role in. But I do think there is something to be said for making the effort to keep the sizzle and the spark alive for as long as possible.

AN OPEN INVITATION: A friend recently suggested I open my blog up for others to submit posts on topics they found interesting or worth exploring. I concur. So here it is: the broad invitation to get a taste of blog fever. Got an idea just itching to find an audience? Send it to me and I’ll post it here as a guest blog! C’mon…it won’t kill ya!

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Siren or Slut?

September 2, 2007 at 11:33 pm (Adolescence, Female Stereotypes, Movies, Relationships, Second Life, Sex, Sexuality)

american-beauty-photo.jpg

Back in junior high and high school, defining a girl by her sexuality seemed an accepted norm. Did she or didn’t she? Would she or wouldn’t she? Even today, hallways all over the world are lit up daily as the rumor mill chews and spits out women’s mangled reputations for an audience of her “peers.” These rumors–which can be derived from facts (she did it), fiction (she didn’t do it but folks say she did), or merely by how a girl carries herself (she exudes sexuality through her manner & dress so she MUST have done it)–unfortunately carry the grave potential of clouding a girl’s entire school experience. Or at least it seems that way at the time.

As women mature, we like to think we evolve to be defined less by our sexuality and more by our professional accomplishments, our roles as wives and mothers, or by our stunning intellect and graceful beauty. Yet, in Second Life and in real life, I hate to admit our sexuality seems to remain one of the co-stars in the storyline that defines who we are.

I recently experienced evidence of this predilection with a couple of male friends in SL. Each situation began with assumptions being made about my level of desire, followed by attempts to lead me down the path to intimacy. And only after very awkward conversations did the roots of these messy plotlines become clear: both men had—perhaps somewhat unwittingly or subconsciously—assigned me the role of hyper sexual seductress because of my blogs about sex and the tendency I have to flirt openly in world, and not because I had outwardly indicated I was interested in sex at that moment.

Is this an undeserved label? Probably not entirely as I admittedly wear my sensuality pretty close to my skin. Therefore I should not be surprised when men respond. Perhaps I should instead be flattered (which I am). However, it is also worth recognizing that we often make assumptions about others that influence how we feel about and interact with them. And many times these assumptions are not always right on target. Who we think they are is not necessarily who they really are.

As I explore this idea, I’m reminded of two movies that vividly capture the emergence of female sexual identity and the definitions assigned to girls who will and girls who won’t. The 1980 movie Little Darlings, and the more recent American Beauty, both explore the dichotomy of the vixen—who turns out to be all tease and all talk—and the more introverted, less overtly sexual virgin. In the end it is the virgin who goes all the way, while the vixen loses her nerve. And while this is hardly indicative of an overwhelming trend, it does speak to the propensity we have to mistakenly assign girls the role of slut or siren based on limited information.

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