(If you’re not having an affair, by the way, I hope you’ll find something interesting in this post anyway!)
There probably aren’t as many people using Second Life to have affairs as the mass media articles would like to suggest, but from what I know of Second Life, it’s not uncommon. One of the reasons I shied away from this subject for so long is that I have at least one or two friends who are doing this, good people who don’t need to be hassled by buttinksy winged people. Another is that I don’t like it when people assume that all virtual sex is people who can’t get sex in First Life and/or are cheating on their spouses (which I do my best to address in my post defending virtual sex). Another is that it took me a long time to figure out something I could possibly say to anyone who’s using Second Life for infidelity. Now I think I have something to say.
I don’t claim any moral authority or special knowledge, but I’m hoping that some of the things I write about here may help people who are having affairs and feel they are wrong but don’t feel like they can stop. And by “help” I don’t even necessarily mean stopping…there are a several things that could happen from there, as I talk about a little later.
Night Morrissey posted only a few weeks ago that she felt she was cheating in Second Life but didn’t feel she could stop. I wanted to link to that post from this one, but I was a little shocked (though on reflection this isn’t one hundred percent surprising) when I checked today and saw that Night’s blog was gone. My guess is that Night and her First Life husband are talking…and whether he accidentally found out, or Night accidentally tipped him off at the urging of her subconscious, or she went to him, or he went to her, or if something completely different that maybe has nothing to do with the cheating happened, I may never know (and I’m very curious!). But it’s interesting to me that Night’s blog vanished (making me think she has vanished from Second Life as well) so soon after she came forward with a post with a lot of bravery in it (but not quite enough, at that point, to do anything about it). I would like to guess that she found some more resolve and decided to bring things to a head.
Night and friend
Anyway, Night defined infidelity this way: “for me [those are Night’s italics]…Cheating is whatever my RL partner would be hurt by.”
I think that’s a good start, and a better definition than “cheating is having sex with someone when you’re in a relationship with someone else”, but it’s not perfect. For instance, what if I had former lovers who would be hurt by my taking a new lover today? Or what if I had a repressive husband who would be hurt by my wanting to get a job instead of stay home and be a housewife for him? While we can influence people and give them things or try to take things from them, in the end everyone’s responsible for their own emotions and reactions. It’s impossible for us to never do anything to hurt anyone, because then we have to act according to everyone else’s desires, however misguided some of those desires may be…and sooner or later some of those desires conflict.
Here’s a different idea: infidelity is anything that’s breaks the agreement between two people in a relationship. By that I mean whatever it is that both understand to be acceptable behavior. Most couples, it seems to me, have roughly the same idea between them of what the rules are, and usually that includes the idea that neither gets to change the rules without telling the other person, unless the other has already broken the agreement. If the two people don’t have the same rules in mind, that’s a special problem, and it means that they may not agree on whether there’s even been any infidelity…in which case even before the problem of the infidelity (if there is such a problem), they have to deal with that difference of opinion, or be willing to get past it and to the important stuff.
I’m talking about definitions, but you probably don’t need a definition: if you’re in a First Life relationship and have a Second Life relationship or a Second Life sex life in addition to that, you probably know whether or not that’s OK, in your gut.
But someone who has decided that what they’re doing is wrong may not necessarily have a solution, especially if there are extenuating circumstances. For instance, what about the all-too-common situation of a marriage in which the wife feels completely ignored by the husband? In that kind of situation a Second Life affair may feel wrong, but it would also feel wrong to end it just for the benefit of the slacker husband. Fortunately, there are several options. And options are good! Before we get to the options, though, let’s try to figure out why this would happen in the first place.
In my earlier post directed to people whose partners were having affairs in Second Life I talked about affairs being driven by needs that weren’t getting fulfilled. I hope you won’t mind my repeating that here, because it pretty much explains the whole issue: why do people have affairs in Second Life? Because there’s something that they aren’t getting in First Life. It could be as simple as variety or excitement, but in cases where it continues, it probably has more to do with something deeper: a need for respect or admiration or affection, for attention or for understanding, to express yourself or find the good in yourself or feel strong or beautiful…or something else. It could be just the need to have some good sex if a person isn’t getting enough of that in First Life. The need might even be something to do with the First Life relationship itself…a way to eventually bring things to a head, or to draw the other person’s attention, or to have another relationship to compare it to and see if it’s really a good one.
(By the way, I’m very grateful to my friend Lucas for sharing his ideas about the role of needs in people’s lives….we’ve had some great talks on the subject over a few years. I’m also *very* grateful for his volunteering to help with Meetaverse, but that’s another subject.)
So the first thing for a person who’s concerned because they’re having an affair or want to have an affair in Second Life is probably to figure out why they have that desire at all. It’s kind of as simple as asking “What do you really want?” and then trying to get past the surface things.
The next questions are whether the person would ever want the First Life partner to fill those needs, and whether there’s any chance the First Life partner could, if the circumstances were right.
I’m sorry not to talk about the Second Life partner (“the other woman” or “the other man”) and their needs here too, because of course those are important, but at the same time First Life has to come first, because it provides the conditions in which to *have* a Second Life. So while I strongly advocate treating one’s Second Life lovers with respect and kindness even when breaking up with them, I think that for the sake of mental clarity it might often be important for a person to put Second Life partners out of their mind before making a decision about their First Life relationship. If you have a different point of view, though, please do post it somewhere I can read it! That’s a complex issue that I’m not sure I’ve figured out perfectly.
[Added this later when a comment helped me understand the problem better: one situation where a person *would* worry more about the Second Life partner than the First Life partner would be if the Second Life relationship is more important to them than the First Life one…if they’d be willing to lose the First Life relationship over the Second Life one. Although I can’t help but think that even in that case it’s important to get one’s First Life sorted out, although the priorities might come from Second Life.]
I’d better say that I know that taking any action at all in a situation like this can be difficult and painful and emotional and can bring up a lot of temporary chaos. But it can also cause healing, a necessary break, good changes…all the gifts that getting through trying times can so often bring. Anyone who gets together the strength to deal positively with a situation like this has my respect and sympathy and admiration.
So, to the options. Here are some of the things a person can do if they are having an affair in Second Life and are feeling uncomfortable about its relationship to their First Life. The result could be staying with the First Life partner, staying with the Second Life partner, leaving both, or even staying with both! (When I say “there are options”, I’m not kidding!)
* Break off the affair and go talk about it with the First Life partner. The idea here would be repairing things in First Life so that everybody’s getting their needs met. It might or might not include retiring from Second Life altogether.
* Let the First Life partner discover the affair so that things can come to a head. I don’t really recommend this one, since it puts all the responsibility in the partner’s hands, but it certainly is an option, and it may have some benefits.
* Don’t break off the affair, but tell the First Life partner and offer the chance to work things out so that the Second Life affair can end. On the one hand, this might be helpful if the Second Life relationship really is important, especially if the First Life relationship might not be salvageable. On the other hand, that could make it harder to repair the First Life relationship. On yet a third hand (this is Second Life, so I can have as many hands as I want), this is a pretty powerful way to come into a discussion if power is needed. Instead of saying “I did a bad thing, I’m sorry, can we please fix our relationship and incidentally I need these things and that’s why I did it in the first place!”, it’s kind of like saying “I’m doing this because our relationship isn’t giving me the things we need. Can we get it to do that? If so, I’m sorry about this, but if not there’s someone else who loves me right over here.”
(Oh, and I’d just like to repeat that I’m not recommending any one approach, because there are so many different situations.)
* Don’t reveal the affair or end it, but do go to the First Life partner and work hard on getting the needs answered that are presently being answered by the affair. Eventually this could make it much easier to end the affair, or at least to talk about it, or both. Then there would be the decision of whether or not to reveal the (now ended) affair to the First Life partner.
* End the affair, don’t tell the First Life partner about it for now, and try very hard to get what’s needed from the First Life partner. Couples counseling can be great if it’s a good counselor who fits the couple well. So can something as simple as a sudden introduction of more play into a couple’s sex life. As a hypothetical question, it can be neat to ask “How would it be if the sex in my First Life relationship suddenly got a lot more exciting?” Sometimes all a couple’s sex life needs is a little effort (while other times there may be equipment to purchase).
* End the relationship, telling the First Life partner about the affair or not, and ending the Second Life affair or not.
* Propose ending the relationship, either telling the First Life partner about the affair or not, and see what the First Life partner does about it. The danger of losing the relationship might serve as the right wake-up call, under certain circumstances.
* Don’t end the affair, tell the First Life partner about it, and explain that it’s going to continue for now and their support would be welcome. (In certain situations, this could lead very quickly – especially with men – to the question “Can I watch?”)
Proper society says that it’s not all right to be in sexual relationships with more than one person at once, even if everyone’s OK with it. Proper society does have a point insofar as polyamory (a love relationship involving three or more people) is *very* emotionally complicated in a lot of cases and probably not something that many people can pull off successfully. However, Second Life may make it easier: some people may regard their partners having lovers in Second Life as just a kind of healthy sexual play, which in fact it can be. Particularly evolved partners may even be supportive if for whatever reason they feel they can’t meet all of the person’s sexual needs. So in some situations, proper society needs to get over itself and butt out. In others, it may have the chance to say “I told you so!” – so consider this option with caution.
* Continue the affair and become OK with it. This is morally dangerous, because if the affair is setting a person’s alarms off, it’s probably not OK by that person’s moral code, and becoming OK with it could cause problems. However it could be otherwise, in which case the thing the person would need to be sure of is that they are OK with all of the consequences, including the possibility of being found out sooner or later, and what that will mean to the First Life relationship.
I will say that I don’t suggest taking that last option just for the benefit of children in a marriage, to keep the marriage together on the surface while it’s broken underneath. There have been some good studies done on the effect of keeping a bad marriage together “for the kids”, and the upshot seems to be that the kids sense that the relationship is bad and suffer more harm from that than they would from an actual breakup. However, that’s a big generalization, and I would encourage anyone who has that issue to deal with to talk to someone more knowledgeable from me.
Isn’t that kind of a surprising number of options? I count at least a dozen (since some of my items above contained more than one), and I’m probably missing at least one or two. The thing is, there are a lot of possible outcomes that could result in things no longer feeling wrong.
I don’t think that it’s always pointless and stupid to get into Second Life affairs…generally it means that someone’s trying to get their needs met in the best way they can find…but that may cause other problems or compromise other needs. Once that becomes clear, a person can learn more about what their needs really are and then set about trying to get pretty much all of them met…including the need to be able to be honest with our First Life partner, the need to not worry about what’s going to happen because of an online affair, and worries that one isn’t living up to one’s own moral code.
I think that’s about all I have to contribute on the subject for now, and I apologize it’s such a massive post to get through. I hope some of the things I write about here are of help to someone, and would love to hear other people’s insights on the subject and experiences dealing with it. I wish you all love and hope and courage, whether you need more of those things at the moment or not. I’m sure they’ll come in handy sooner or later!
^^^\ Kate /^^^