Which came first Second Life or the messed-up marriage?

April 16, 2008 at 9:34 pm (Communication, dishonesty, Life, Love, Marriage, Relationships, Second Life, Sex) (, )

Did you hear that? It’s the sound a movie makes when you play it in quickly in reverse. It’s the same sound you heard when you played those old Ozzy and Led Zeppelin record albums (yes, record album…look it up kids) backwards to hear their supposed secret messages. But that sound has a new meaning. It’s now the sound you hear when someone uninstalls Second Life (SL) from their computer. All their experiences–the love affairs, explorations, live music, poetry readings, amazing conversations, drama, and discovery–played in reverse as their virtual world is sucked back into the void. And it just happened again.

Sadly the person who erased the existence of his virtual life this time was a good friend of mine. But I hear the sound more and more frequently as people struggle to come to terms with the ways in which Second Life is affecting their real lives.

Like the story of so many others, one ordinary online day my friend’s unsuspecting spouse stumbled upon his up-till-then secret Second Life romance. Shocked, she stood and stared at the computer screen, mouth gaping, silently soaking in what she was seeing on the screen: the sensuous embrace between her husband’s avatar self and his avatar sweetheart. What ensued, according to my friend, was a spat of monstrous proportions complete with sinister accusations, insufferable demands, and blanket ultimatums.

Sound familiar?

The sad thing about this scenario is that, because my friend was caught in the proverbial act so to speak, he seemed compelled to shoulder the weight of the blame for the state of the relationship he and his spouse shared. But that is just too simple and life is never simple, is it? For there must have been something that led him–and many others like him–to land and linger in Second Life in the first place.

What I’ve found is that people from all walks of life are floundering in uninspired and sometimes even loveless marriages, then flocking to Second Life in search of something to fill the void. Most of them don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing; they themselves foster the illusion that all is well on the homefront. (Ah, if I had a dime for every person I’ve met in SL who, upon first meeting, told tales of happy marriages later fessing up to the reality of their fizzling real life connections.)

My point is that for every person engaged in what many would deem “cyber-cheating,” there is usually an untold tale of marital strife that led them to seek out online diversions in the first place. In essence, it’s the same familiar chicken-and-egg cycle: the relationship is broken so we seek solace somewhere else. Then the virtual adventures cause partnership problems. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

So if you find your partners engaged in online relationships that you don’t understand, don’t simply slam down your gavel and thrust your verdict upon them just yet. Talk openly and honestly with him or her about why they are in Second Life.

And for those of you running from your real life and into the arms of your online loves it’s time to get real. Stop torturing yourself and those around you and make some decisions that will have a positive impact in your real life. It may mean that, like my friend, you must uninstall SL for awhile. Or perhaps you can get to the root of the problem with your partner and patch things up without saying goodbye to all the great things SL has to offer.



  1. butterflies1985 said,

    I was intrigued with your post. I am also on second life. I am very happily married and my spouse gets on second life as well. I enjoy talking to others and meeting new people. I however can see how some can take second life too far, having it actually appear as though it is real. I believe you can be in a happily married in real life and still enjoy yourself in second life, all in good fun. But you do need to keep both worlds separate. I have seen many that fall trap to this virtual world. Loved the post….

  2. momochacha88 said,

    Cool post. I lean more toward putting the responsibility on the cheater’s shoulders.

    When a marriage is broken and you have no options, you either fix it, accept your misery, or get out. Irresponsible and disrespectful people look elsewhere for relief, whether it’s extramarital affairs in real life, or in this case, Second Life. Those affairs then serve as excuses to put off fixing or leaving your marriage.

    When a person cheats, emotionally, physically or virtually, THEY are the ones responsible for neglecting their responsibility to figure out why they’re unhappy and either doing something about it or communicating that to their partner. I think slamming a gavel down is actually a very reasonable response. If you caught your husband or wife in a ‘real’ life bed with someone else, would you sit and ponder the reasons why you drove them to it? Sure–but AFTER you pack their sh*t up and kick them out, because no matter how badly your marriage was going, you deserve better than that.

  3. Zippora Zabelin said,

    You’ve put in words, what I’ve been thinking unconsciously: it’s the chicken-and-egg cycle indeed.

    It was never my intention to look for love in SL, but I was overwhelmed by the emotions that hit me. Despite the “I’m happily married”-note in my profile – which I deleted for obvious reasons -, I ended up cheating too. I am the only one responsible for that, not my FL husband.

    Nevertheless, my current SL-relationship also has showed me what I’m missing in my FL-relationship, and I think that has a positive side too: it gives me an indication how to improve my marriage, where I’d otherwise would have lingered on the same, uninspired, level for years.

    Thank you for this insightful post.

  4. Malignant Narcissist said,

    Did you really say “…all the great things SL has to offer.”?

    Within the context of this post, it’d be hard to come up with many, at all, that don’t involve some sort of relationship outside your marriage. If you do happen to come up with any, the boredom would be painful, and to that I ask… what’s the point?

    Education? The “only” thing that I can imagine that might not be a prelude to an extramarital relationship (however “virtual” it may be)… yet, the only thing that the educators and students are learning is how bad Second Life Sucks. Oh yeah… did I mention boredom?

    Even a recent article in the NYT (I think) showed a picture of a “class” in Second life. They were getting ready to learn about the Gorean side of SL. That’s what learning’s all about, I suppose. Wonder how many stayed behind and became slaves.

    While I do actually agree with what you’re saying, I think there are much better things for married adults to do, than to hang out in Second Life (even if they are together).

  5. cindykesey said,

    Thanks for the great and thoughtful comments. I agree with much of what has been said, even by “bored w/ SL.”
    @butterflies1985: my RL husband is also on SL and we’ve used it as a tool to bring our marriage into greater harmony.
    @Zippora: I couldn’t agree more that initially SL showed us what our real life relationship had been lacking.
    @Malignant: yes, SL can be many things including boring. But then again so is life. If I have to sit through another predictable episode of American Idol I might fall over dead. But that’s the beauty of life too. If I’m bored, it’s my choice. And I can look elsewhere, even SL, for the antidote.

  6. Ero said,

    I have been an avid fan of Cindy’s blog since day one, and I must say I have had my role in commenting on, as well as experiencing first hand, so much of what she has written about. As an educator myself, I initially had thoughts of teaching my online and hybrid classes in this new sandbox, but for reasons obvious to those who have already commented, I didn’t see this as a viable medium in the end. It isn’t just because I tend to crash 5-6 times a night…and it isn’t because of the boredom either (though that plays a part to be sure)–ultimately, I suspect SL might be the loneliest place on earth. Perhaps it is because I cut my teeth on the flirting scene here, and went through all the parts of the ritual only to find, in the end, that I come back to myself. If I have love and confidence, that is what I find, and if I am needy–it will be a long lousy night in deed.

    So I don’t think that SL creates and itch, or satisfies an itch…it rather extends the surface area wherein that itch might be felt and/or scratched. But scratching an itch only makes it worse IMHO.

    I also feel compelled to chime in on the “cheating” subtext of this blog. I am married and my spouse thinks SL is both stupid and fake. With that said, she has told me that she doesn’t care what I do on it. We have a bit of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” going on, but nonetheless, I do feel a bit transgressive at 1am with the family asleep and I in the basement.

    To uninstall SL is like shedding the porn or burning the love letters…it is symbolic and superficial. Talk to your partner—own your own part—and love them harder.

    With all this critical analysis, I would also like to confess that SL has opened my heart in amazing and unexpected ways. I have found love and friendship, joy and pain. I have learned to expand my RL relationship through trying out some things in SL first (sorry, but I am too shy to provide details here).

    Cindy, you remain my muse and the siren for our current zeitgeist. Thanks for singing some more.

  7. Joonie Jatho said,


    Reading this post made me extremely sad. I’m not sure why….I think it forced me to look at both my RL and my FL and see ….my reality.

    When I think of uninstalling SL and leaving my SL love behind, the emotions that come up are so excrutiatingly painful. And yet, I am drifting away from my FL more and more with each click of the SL icon. The majority of my time is spent in a virtual world.

    Love your blog, Cindy, and your insight.


  8. Second Life Virtual Coach | Adultery in Second Life said,

    […] The sad thing about this scenario is that, because my friend was caught in the proverbial act so to speak, he seemed compelled to shoulder the weight of the blame for the state of the relationship he and his spouse shared. But that is just too simple and life is never simple, is it? For there must have been something that led him–and many others like him–to land and linger in Second Life in the first place ….MORE…. […]

  9. Mag said,

    As I’ve always said, any married person who seeks out romantic relationships in SL, yet claims to be in a “happy marriage” needs to take a long look at themselves. Anyone who says that it’s not cheating because it “isn’t real” also needs a reality check.

    Leaving compromising snapshots (or chat logs) on your hard drive is tantamount to taking the family camera and snapping photos of your extramarital affair. We don’t do it unless we WANT our spouse to find them.

  10. Loki Popinjay said,

    Cindy, I started writing a comment on your, as always, very interesting post but I’m afraid to say it got a bit too long and not just a reaction to what you’re stating so I made it into a post on my own blog. Feel free to comment. 🙂

  11. Freda said,

    Great article. Great writing. Great observations. I think so many people find themselves looking for a way to fill the void and second life seems the most practical and safe way to engage in “love” from a distance.


  12. Abreojos Barbosa said,

    When you are suposidly cheating in Sl on your partner, if you weren’t you would be cheating yourself. This whole posessivness thing is nuts. Love is love and sex is sex. People need take a good look at what marrage should be and not what somebody dreamed up centuries ago and society had just accepted since. Relationships take 2 people at least…and marrage has taught me that u just can’t get everything u need from 1 person. Doesn’t make me love them less and it doesn’t have to smear having a little romance on the side with someone else by calling it cheating. This world be a much better world if we all loved more people. When you aren’t getting all that you need from 1 person, it should be fair to get it from someone else you care about in a different way and if u really love that person and are secure about yourself it should make u happy…maybe even turn u on….and what’s wrong with that??? Unfortunatly not everyone is ready for that…years ago I did not understand it and made a fool out of myself over jellousy enough times to finally understand how poisonous it is.
    U can use this experience to make your life and your relationships better or u can waste it away and learn nothing. The choice is yours…

  13. Serious said,

    Hi there Cindy,

    Long time no see. I’m not sure one size fits all here. I am in a happy relationship in RL right now. Things are getting better in fact. I turned to SL when my RL relationship was not as fulfilling but only because of time constraints and busyness.

    My partner is working her full time RL job but also getting her PhD. That’s a huge investment. It left me with lots of free time on my hands as she is locked onto her computer, a book, a reading, posting to blackboard, publishing articles, going to conferences for presentations. This is just a part of our reality for now.

    We talked about it and realized the kinds of sacrifices we both had to make. I even quit a full time job, got a PT one and now cook most meals and clean house. I finally get to see what our relationship was like early on when she had the PT job and 90% of the household responsibilities. Oooo life was not fair to her.

    Having laid that groundwork, when your partner has her head on the pillow and is out at 9 PM or before SL looks like a good alternative. Have I found others to fulfill my emotional needs..yes. Have I found another person at this who is there for me when I need her?.. yes. We have made a commitment to be there as we both have similar situations in RL.

    My RL is now getting better as comps are soon and her school life will not be as demanding, at least until the thesis gets hot and heavy. The trick will be for me to pull away from SL, gradually I hope, and share more in our RL relationship. I’ve certainly had a taste of this, as her class was not very demanding this semester.

    As always Cindy, you provide an interesting post, as it makes a starting point for a discussion.

  14. Roisin said,

    I know quite a few people in SL who are, unfortunately, hiding their SL activities from their RL partners. They’re heading for trouble, clearly. I also know a fair number who are able to be in SL, having online relationships with others, with the full knowledge and approval of their RL partners.

    These are people who recognize that no one person can meet another’s entire list of needs and that marriage will go through cycles in which it feels uninspired. That doesn’t mean the marriage is broken, necessarily. If all involved parties (including spouses) recognize and accept the online relationships as a combination of friendship and roleplay which allows a person to express and learn things they can bring back to the marriage, it can work to have auxiliary relationships in SL.

    As for flocking to SL to fill a void, many of us landed there first out of curiosity, with no inkling of the potential for social interaction, and have been surprised to find friendships in our second lives that make our first lives better. Do some people need to uninstall SL and fix what’s wrong in their first lives? Sure. But others are able to strike a balance between the two worlds, given honest communication with both their first life partners and their SL sweethearts.


    Well being on SL myself and my wife is as well… but she was the one that started having the affaire, telling me it was alll sl, but people a emotional affaire is still a affair
    and wether the marriage needs work or not it takes two to work a marriage and three
    just dosent work, rl life is work and can be wonderful, add in 4 kids, and it can also be taxing, but if you decide to turn to something else in sl thats your choice and dont blame it on something you gave up on.
    i do blame the other guy by the way, and a1 from sl i hope karma bites him in the ass.

  16. SL's enemy said,

    Load of crap!
    Nothing exists in a vacuum, but that is not a justification for betraying one’s spouse.
    We can look for the reason anybody ever does anything wrong, but it’s still wrong.
    The thief doesn’t usually do it for the thrill. He may be poor or hungry.

  17. Zander Kiranov said,

    I found love in Second Life- a love far stronger than I ever imagined was left in me after two failed marriages and a third that is on a steady decline despite my best efforts. However, as I am daddy to two beautiful children I have no intention of abandoning them for my SL love, and my SL love and I are in accord with that. Does my SL romance take anything away from my First Life marriage? No, nothing that wasn’t already lacking, or on the decline. My SL love is in a similar situation, minus the children, though. We know we each have our separate First Lives to deal with, for better or worse, yet we know in our hearts that we are meant to be together someday, somehow. To that end, we are prepared to keep our love under wraps for the long haul and when or if, in the future, we find ourselves in a different personal situation we will come together then and only then. The love I feel for my SL partner is far stronger than I ever imagined it could be, and if it comes to pass we are able to act upon our feelings for one another- in a legally and morally clear manner, that is- we are more than ready to give ourselves a chance to see where life takes us. Love- the kind that takes your breath away and makes you feel sick when you’re apart- is hard enough to find in today’s world; we are lucky to have found it in the most unlikely place and each and every day I thank my lucky stars to have someone in my life as wonderful as she.

  18. Sam said,

    There have been a lot of posts regarding Second Life and how it has had in impact on people’s real life. In most cases, it appears that people are engaging in more open and honest relationships on Second Life than in their real lives. Some people have been able to take things that they have learned and apply it to their real lives, other people have taken their relationships on Second Life to a very greater level. People tell of affairs and cheating on Second Life. People tell of finding a better love and experiencing a better, if not an entirely new expression of that love. So people are finding that they relate more to their lives on Second Life than their lives in their real life.

    Okay, so what is also being said is that these people relate better to a stranger that they have never actually met or actually seen… than the person they once thought may be their significant other. Then perhaps there is a lack of ability to communicate on one or both sides of the real life relationship. Maybe in a place where one doesn’t have to be one’s self entirely, it is easier to speak about one’s personal life. Perhaps in a place where people are only the pixelized version of a real person, it is easier to speak of deeper emotions. What is being said is that people can’t achieve the same essence of love in their real life as they can on Second Life.

    Is that a true statement? Is Second Life a place where people can achieve more than they ever could in their real life? I hope your response to that question is the exact same and precisely definite response as mine. It’s true that Second Life offers much more oppertunity and wealth and substance and affection and effection, than most peoples real lives could ever hope to offer. But is that a reason to continue investing the money (Actual, real money) and time into Second Life… Or is it a reason to finally start taking the initiative in one’s REAL life.

    So you have trouble making friends, go to a place where REAL peole are.
    Well, I don’t know where to go… Try a place where there is music you like, people you think you could like, and food you like (I hate to insinuate bar’s where drinking takes place, so going to church activities or community activities are an alternative 😉 )
    My significant other doesn’t like/want to talk to me… Well, give communication a couple more tries, then GET OUT of the relationship or get some counseling.
    Get involved in your REAL life in the REAL world. It truly is yours for the taking.

    A couple more questions for you to ponder, sorry for the length of the post 😀

    Would Second Life be as appealing if it was like a gameboy game or a mario game in format?
    Can you obtain anything on Second Life that one’s parent’s or grandparents would be proud of you for?
    On Second Life can you have kids with the other person in your relationship?
    Are you filling a void with Second Life that you should be filling with God?

  19. Anonimo said,

    to your 4 last questions:

    For sure not.

    Well, some people, few, make real money in second life and can live with the money they obtain.
    I particulary have learn a lot of things using second life, the challenges are hard but not the kind of challenges of other games, instead, to compete in doing something good you must learn other softwares, I did learn a lot about photoshop, incredible things, motivated by second life, and it can really make you use your brain as for certain things you need scripts, etc..

    hehe, only in sl but I particualry think this is stupid.

    Are you filling a void with Second Life that you should be filling with God?

    I dont think so, but something is missing in live to make people go in a Second Life.

  20. Anonimo (edited) said,

    to your 4 last questions:

    1)Would Second Life be as appealing if it was like a gameboy game or a mario game in format?

    For sure not.

    2) Would Second Life be as appealing if it was like a gameboy game or a mario game in format?

    Well, some people, few, make real money in second life and can live with the money they obtain.
    I particulary have learn a lot of things using second life, the challenges are hard but not the kind of challenges of other games, instead, to compete in doing something good you must learn other softwares, I did learn a lot about photoshop, incredible things, motivated by second life, and it can really make you use your brain as for certain things you need scripts, etc..

    3) On Second Life can you have kids with the other person in your relationship?

    hehe, only in sl but I particualry think this is stupid.

    4) Are you filling a void with Second Life that you should be filling with God?

    I dont think so, but something is missing in live to make people go in a Second Life.

  21. Sweetpea said,

    I stumbled on this site while looking at my EX-hubby’s web history. I was an SL addict. I met lots of interesting people…a few were very dear friends. I spent a great deal of time playing SL. As most people I entered SL out of curiosity after seeing a segment on GMA about it a few years ago. I quickly learned my way around SL. I learned creative things there. I learned about different lifestyles. I met people from all over the world. It was so much fun..I compare it sometimes to playing with Barbies because i was able to dress and make my AV sexy and beautiful. I could be or do anything i wished in SL. At different times I was a vampire, a Gorean Mistress, A slave, A lycan, a Biker, a builder, a model…I did skydiving, bullriding, surfing, hanggliding dancing,visited amusement parks, went to concerts, visited sims that were amazingly beautiful. My marriage was NOT good years before I found SL, but my EX insists that SL ruined our marriage. I stayed in SL because I was definitely lacking attention and support in my real life. Since I left my hubby I have entered into a very fulfilling relationship and no longer have the need to be in SL. I do miss a few friends I met there, but my relationship now is so good I don’t need it now.I think people that have never experienced online friendships can’t understand that they are as REAL as physical friendships.

  22. David said,

    I happen to be a single (in RL and also in SL) who goes to SL. I seperate my RL and SL as much as I can. I clearly state this on my profile, yet you would not believe how many unhappily married house wives come after my ass asking for my personal information. They ask things like if I were single, what I look like in RL, etc. Why the hell can’t they respect someone’s wish not to get invloved online? If I wanted to find a partner, I would be searching for her in my REAL LIFE.

  23. Dee Dee said,

    This same scenario happened to me. What your post doesn’t address is the almost cult like quality and addictive nature of second life. What started out as curiosity is very easily led to affairs….and part of it is the expectation and acceptance of affairs within the second life community.

    I’ve been married 20 years and we have three children. My husband who is self employed and works at home decreased his income 10% by each year. His “friends” on second life encouraged him to his entitlement of his fantasy, and the “innocuous” nature of online adultery because it “isn’t real”. The hypocrisy in this second life world is amazing, as is the total lack of morals or ethics (which exist so that we don’t hurt each other).

    My husband is at fault for making the choice to cheat and for not seeking help sooner. I am at fault for not seeking counseling sooner….problem is I had no idea what I was facing.

    It took him 2 months to fully disengage from second life. We are six months now from the date he left.

  24. Angel said,

    when i entered second life in june 2008 it was simply to visit a virtual world, I met friends and learned to camp and earn linden$ (not that i spent them) i dressed my avatar, went dancing, made friends, many good friends (some i am still in contact with) one person i met became very close to me and we would exchange msn messages and talk for hours every day via cam… i was going on holiday with my daughter and offered for my ‘friend’ to join us with his daughter… weve not been apart since and married in RL last year.
    If it was not for sl i would never have met my husband as we were thousands of miles apart and probably would never have crossed paths. we rarely go on sl now but on occassion log on to see if ‘our friends’ are on and just to see how everyone in our second life are…

  25. Rebeca Fernandez said,

    My husband, Mark Sivy, is not loveless or sexless. There is nothing wrong with me or our marriage. Somehow he was able to do something like this with several women at once on Second Life. http://img162.imagevenue.com/img.php?image=55368_marksivyaffair2_122_365lo.jpg

  26. Lore said,

    Messed up marriage!

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