Should I Stay or Should I Go: Living & Loving (Openly) On & Off The Second Life Grid

March 13, 2009 at 10:59 am (Divorce, Infidelity, Life, Love, Marriage, Polyamory, Relationships, Second Life, Second Life addiction, Sexuality)

which-way-to-goFor 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.”

Permalink 7 Comments

Beauty Isn’t Just “Prim” Deep: The Effect Second Life Can Have on Self Image

May 17, 2008 at 2:57 pm (Beauty, Communication, Life, Love, Relationships, Second Life, Sexuality) (, , , )

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.

Permalink 14 Comments

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.

Permalink 2 Comments