SL is a strange place. You can get immediately and intimately connected with people you barely know. Now I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, and lord knows I am not likely to give up doing so myself, but I read a post a while ago on Salon.com that reminded me of what the unintended consequences could be for SL relationships.
Salon.com has an advice column (generally witty, always interesting) written by Cary Tennis. This offering is "Lately I've been kissing women I'm not married to," a lament from a married man who finds himself wanting to act out his fantasies of making out with strangers... here's a small piece:
My situation is this: I think of myself as happily married. My wife and I have a good relationship. Our sex life is just fine. Why have I done this? My recurring fantasy is going out with a woman from work and we end up at her place after drinks, fooling around. Pretty vanilla, I know. But that's me! The situation this week followed my fantasy to a T, which I clearly found exciting. But my fantasy always goes further than what actually happened this week. I/we stopped it in its tracks because I/we knew it was wrong. But why wasn't I smart enough to stop it earlier, when we were having drinks and were both giving clear signals to each other? I would understand if I was unhappy in my marriage. That is why I find my behavior so stupid. What is my problem?
Dear Serial Kisser,
What is your problem? Your problem is that if you continue to kiss women you are not married to, soon you will no longer be married. That is the usual outcome with the kissing of attractive women you are not married to. You are evidently aware of this in some dim way. That would be why this hobby of yours is not bringing you unalloyed pleasure but instead a pleasure tinged with a dollop of piquant dread. . . . I mean, it's understandable what's been happening. Get a few drinks in you and you want to kiss people. It's natural. Nothing wrong with that per se, except you're married. You know the rules. You knew the rules when you signed up. Nobody forced you to sign up. You signed up on your own. There are a lot of people you don't get to kiss now. It's tough, I know. But those are the rules.
If Cary is correct, well, there are a lot of us breaking those rules by our actions in our SL lives. So the ultimate question becomes: is having a relationship in SL a threat to an RL relationship? I personally know of at least 2 RL couples playing in SL who have come close to the brink of separation/divorce and may yet tip over it. These are RL married couples who play separately in SL and have SL relationships with SL partners other than their RL ones. And in both cases each partner has one or more SL sweetie, someone other than their RL one. It should also be said that in each case the RL relationship was in someways dysfunctional before anyone got involved with anyone else in SL.
There are also cases of people getting involved with SL partners to the exclusion and alienation of their RL spouses. An August 10, 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal, "Is this Man Cheating on his Wife?", tells the story of one guy who has in effect traded his RL for his SL, spending full days on the computer in SL with his other wife, an SL partner. Andrew Vogel's response, in his blog Spunlogic, tells us:
According to family law experts and marital counselors, though, the Hoogestraats’ deteriorating marriage is not an isolated case. The article cites that an increasing number of marriages are crumbling because of “virtual infidelity.” This begs the question, if virtual marriages are causing real life marriage trouble, are the virtual marriages all that virtual?
And there is the crux of the issue. Secondlife isn't just a game anymore. There are real people and real feelings on the other side of that avatar. Just like you can pick up a one-night stand in a bar, you can pick one up in SL. And just like that one-time good time in RL can lead to something serious so can an SL relationship become serious.
So what is the answer? Telling everyone--telling ourselves--"Hey! Don't do that!" Oh yeah, that'll work. Look. Let's face it. There is a huge divorce rate in this country. And why? Because Americans throw something out and get a new one when it doesn't work anymore. Here's a notion. Maybe the SL relationship can save the RL one that isn't working? Don't get enough sex at home? Have an affair or hire an escort in SL. No diseases, no mess, not expensive, not illegal. But don't expect a full time SL relationship AND a full time RL one. I'm not saying you can't have both--just that you have to be able to balance what you want with what you can realistically have. And be really sure, if you find you have to choose between the two, you are making the right choice--in full understanding of the effects of your choices on you, on the people in your real life, and on your SL lovers.