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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8 Comments

  1. neverpoor07 said,

    good

  2. Trow said,

    Wow…some staggering numbers there…and some wonderful questions…and insights. All the more reason to proceed carefully in SL with complete honesty…I’m sure no one enters SL in hopes of destroying there RL or anyone else’s for that matter.

    The one that freaks me out is your second bullet, since my spouse and I are both single in SL…makes me wonder…is an online affair an affair if it’s open and parameters set and agreed upon? Or is it a playground to foster your collective needs, and enhance your RL relationship…

    Well, I guess I’ll keep squinting, but with my eyes wide open now. : )

  3. stephane zugzwang said,

    Hi Cindy,

    Fascinating post, as always… What prompted you to post it, I could almost feel the urgency behind your words?

    Online affairs are often like pressure valves I feel – and it’s true both ways: Both partners use the other as a relief and holiday from “the weight of mortgages, taxes, and the daily grind of real life” – it’s just great as long as they agree on that.

    I’ve seen a few RL marriages come out of SL. In all cases, the former RL union had gone catastrophically wrong BEFORE the 2 partners ever started talking about wedlock.

    I wonder whether experienced onliners as a rule learned more maturity or distance from their virtual affair or if they should be considered immature slackers spending time in a fantasy world? Maybe it depends on the person?

    Steph

  4. Ero said,

    Picking up on what Trow said, I must confess that SL is absolutely the most flirty place I have ever encountered. That is a grand thing, IMHO, but with it comes the sticky stuff of life. I am sure no one enters hoping to ruin a good thing, but the dance is intoxicating and the hangover minuscule. I am also hard pressed to answer what words like “single” and “honest” mean in this environment. After all, is love less real online? Need to mull that one over.

    Regarding Cindy’s blog per se, I would only take issue with the line: “A RL lover has no chance in this unfair fight.” For my money, if the two are competing with each other in the first place (and duh, of course that is going to happen–I know, I know) the user is playing with fire indeed. A RL lover has EVERY advantage. After all, all the warts and pimples are manifestations that this person is real–standing there before you. You know what you are getting, and isn’t that all anyone can ask.

    Many of us don’t frankly know what our goals are with our SL relationships. They are blissful and challenging, ripe with epiphanies and obstacles; however, at the end of the day (or the wee hours of the morning), we should all look in the mirror and be responsible for our own faces. SL doesn’t create temptation not does it solve self-loathing. It does, however, expand surface area deliciously well.

    Thanks for all that you do Cindy.

  5. Joonie Jatho said,

    I’m conflicted. As I was reading Cindy’s post, I felt myself mentally agreeing; the equivalent of nodding my head. As I read Ero’s comments, I agreed again.

    I don’t know what SL is. I do recall the magical wonder I felt when I first went in game..and it awoke that place inside me that had been dead for so long, as Cindy alluded to. But that didn’t last as long as I wish it had.

    What happened? As someone said, SL is a flirty place. Having been in a relationship for the past 11 years, I was susceptable to the flirting and flattery. My ego got involved. And a need was being met that cannot possibly be met by my RL. Not anyone’s fault…just the way it is. I have been told I’m beautiful and loved by the same person for the past 11 years. And I consider myself one very lucky person. But when an avi has many other hot avis telling her these things, what’s a girl to do? Say oh no…don’t say that? LOL Not this avi!

    And then one thing leads to another. Therein lies the rub. I have a choice to make at this point..do I continue and encourage more? Or do I step back? I’ve never been one to step back.

    Currently I am partnered with someone I probaby will never meet. I’ve never seen his pic. He could be a she for all I know. Weigh a jillion lbs…and have terrible body odor. But in SL, he is extremely good-looking, as we all are. But much more than that, he is sweet and kind and treats me well and we have a blast together. We laugh a lot, go exploring and do things I probably wouldn’t do in RL. And he’s new to my life. Nice, shiny, and bright. Just like my RL was when we first met.

    Perhaps I am just in love with love. Do I love my RL? Absolutely. Would I ever leave? Maybe. But certainly not over a pixel person. I am totally committed to my RL relationship.

    Thanks Cindy for such a thought-provoking post. I’m sure I’ll change my mind as time goes by in SL. I learn as I go.

  6. Abreojos Barbosa said,

    Like all relationship issues it takes two! If one is growing and the other is not or in an entirely different direction then uyou have problems. I happen to be married to someone who thinks you all are cartoon characters in SL, and will never understand anything said here. I have grown and found out that not all women feel that way and what marrage has tought me, has been learned by others. Twenty years ago we might have been siliently wondering alone if there was something wrong with us! Sl is the perfect venue to explore different kinds relationships, fantasies and if you are talented, you might even make some money here too!

  7. marilyn VanGogh said,

    Wow. Cindy Thanks!
    I shall write from the ‘other side of the coin’s” perspective ,.. that is – instead of being the one who has slipped into the sticky realm of Sl intimate relationships without you RL partner ” I will address this incredibly complex ‘development’ from the standpoint of ” the R/L partner” ;^). AS one who actively and enthusiastically embraced the SL realm as potentially loads of fun [FOR US BOTH]

    AS Im writing I am realizing there is so much to our story that I will need to compose this off line and post it here. I offer it simply as a RL/SL experimental object lesson from the first hand POV of the RL partner who finds themselves sacrificing too much in RL and SL for the “greedy needs” of their partner.

    Hence I do beleive this is a very complicated and often mine laden situation that has appeared in the SL world of evolving relationships and the consequences of compartmentalizing SL/RL as so many are wont to do. I think that is a serious mis-step.One tha the SL world will eventually see an impact from.

    Quite frankly you cant have one without the other- so they MUST find a way to co-exist. This will take much more effort and struggling than simple rationalizations and justifications being tossed around.

    More to come on this sublect as I literally process the profound affects and shifts in our RL and SL realities! It is never dull but it is often heartlessly and mindlessly pursued as something ‘not harmful’ until it is too late.

    Time spent here in SL is time that you arent spending with your RL partner. WHY IS THAT OK for you? This question can and must be answered fully and HONESTLY before anyone goes into a virtual world to engage with other avis.

    Avoidance and denial only makes it worse and usually only confirms that the ‘avi relationship is already more serious than admitted to.

    And if the relationships are being sought and pursued entirely at the exclusion of the willing RL partner – thereby negating what was agreed to beforehand, then there is even furthre questions that need to be answered – and in my opinion THIS is cheating, and it is seriously challenging our already difficult married life existendce – since he is in Iraq for the third year.
    HONESTY and openess is VITAL in my opinion to maintaining a HEALTHY Rl/SL balance! PERIOD!
    I’m cureently struggling with an amazing number of issues and consequences of my RL Hubby’s on line antics. It would be amusing if he hadnt managed to completely destroy every sense of intimacy and honesty we’d had between us in doing so. \

    I feel like SL has managed to threaten if not destroy a decade of RL love and commitment . I’m still processing and proceeding with caution as I dont wish to lose him or myself anymore to the insanities that SL can present as “innocuous” and “safe”. WE are the responsible parties and we need to come to this table with some very basic and RESPECTED boundaries and ground rules. This takes an effort that many men avis dont even consider.

  8. Mark keenan said,

    All the internet has done has taken what went on at work and in the pub and in clubs onto a new level. Although the internet has made it easier to stray, it takes a person to do the straying and not a PC or some virtual reality like SL. I believe that people would not turn to these fantasy worlds if everything was rosy in the garden at home. What about the majority of people who are using SL who do not stray? No one ever talks about them?

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