Since Valentine's Day is nearly upon us, I thought I'd muse a bit today on the topic of love in the virtual world. Whole volumes have been written about it, television documentaries have exposed it, and endless forum debates have argued it. I'm sure I won't add anything new to all that, but at least I can try to summarize the different viewpoints.
There are those who say that you can't "love" someone you can't actually see and touch and smell. I disagree with this group completely. People have been falling in love at long distance since long before Second Life, and even long before the internet. Before telephones, even! There are endless documented romances that were carried out by handwritten letters. One of my favorites is the May-December love affair between Joy Davidman and the famous Christian apologist C.S. Lewis.
There is a closely related group, probably a larger one, who are not excited (sexually excited, I mean) by cyber-sex, the combination of animations and chat used for sexual activities in Second Life. I feel sorry for these people...in my view, they lack some essential component of imagination. While it is very true that cyber-sex is not nearly as real, immediate, and intense as Real Life sex, it can (for most people) provide sexual stimulation and release. Someone once said of it, "It's like drinking decaf", and I think that's not too far off the mark. But even decaf is better than nothing, and sometimes it tastes just great even if it is decaf!
Next we have those who regard everything in Second Life as roleplay. They may enjoy cyber-sex (some of them come to SL only for "teh sexxors",) but they do not develop strong feelings for any of their avatar sex partners. Or they may role-play such feelings as part of their Second Life "character", but put them away when they log off. Unless one is a member of this group, one should be wary of them...because while you may be in love with them, they are not in love with you, and can cause you a lot of real heartache.
At the opposite end from the roleplayers, we have those (mostly men) who insist you tell them your Real Life history on your first meeting. After the first dance, they ask you to send them a Real Life picture of yourself. Or they ask, "R U as beautiful in RL as U R here?" Come to think of it, a lot of these fall into our first category; they are completely tied to Real Life, and that is the only "reality" for them. If you aren't young, pretty, single, and female in RL they aren't interested in you at all. SL is just a dating service for these people.
In between the roleplayers and the Facebookers, there are at least two more categories, and these are very interesting. The first one is a group of people (mainly women, in my experience) who are perfectly willing to meet someone in SL, get to know them, have cyber-sex with them, fall in love with them...but with the eventual aim of expanding the Second Life relationship into Real Life. Indeed, that is the "brass ring" of the Second Life romance game -- find a life partner here, and marry them in RL. I personally know at least three couples who have managed this, and know of a number of others. They have my most heartfelt congratulations. But these romantic "success stories" are far, far outweighed by the number of broken hearts littering the SL landscape.
I've left my own group for the last. These people, for one reason or another, have no desire to build a Real Life affair or marriage out of a Second Life one. And yet, they aren't roleplayers. They really do love the people they have their Second Life relationships with. They and their partner(s) know that their relationship will always remain within the bounds of the virtual world, and manage to come to terms with that limitation. In my own view, these are the people who really "get" virtual reality. They live in it, love in it, immerse themselves in it pixels and soul.
No matter which group you fall into, if you find yourself falling in SLove with someone, be sure to discuss your feelings, your long term goals for a relationship, and any limitations with your partner. Differing outlooks and goals are the leading cause of heartbreak in Second Life.