Those who have not experienced life in a virtual world might suppose that it is just a game, a make-believe world that is all sunshine and happiness. If you can make the world to be anything you want, why not make it unreal? Why not simply leave out anything that is unpleasant? The perfect day I described in my last post was a beautiful, romantic, fantasy day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if life was an unending succession of one such day after another–nothing but relaxing on the beach, shopping, dancing, making love?
I suppose that one could approximate such perennial bliss by simply ignoring the reality of one another’s lives. But that was not the choice that Jonah and I made. We related to one another as real people in a fantasy world. The visual setting might have been imaginary, but I never thought of Jonah as anything other than the real, flesh and blood man behind the avatar.
Although we did not meet in RL, Jonah and I shared much of our lives with each other. I knew what he did for a living, more or less where he lived, what his home was like, his dog’s name and breed, the make and model of his car and computer, what he did with his days, his childhood dreams, his career aspirations, his birthday. In turn, he knew similar things about me. We spoke on the phone, and chatted about everything, SL and RL.
A few months into our relationship, reality intruded with a rude slap. Uncharacteristically, Jonah was offline for several days, with no word. When he reappeared finally, a shaken Jonah told me that he’d had a medical issue, and surgery was scheduled. I learned then that Jonah’s style was to withdraw when he was worried about something. I let him have his space, and waited and worried alone. I sent him daily messages of support and reassurance. He came through the surgery successfully, and after a period of recovery, things between us slowly got back to normal. But this frightening dose of reality colored our world. Not in a bad way. It made it deeper, less perfect perhaps, but more authentic.
Our fantasy was sometimes interrupted in other ways. Jonah’s job sometimes became very demanding. I missed him terribly when we couldn’t be together. I would log on and wait, just in case. If he did find a moment to log on, I didn’t want to miss that chance to see him. And of course, as with any couple, there were arguments, jealousies, and unintended hurts; these we typically faced, talked through, and made up from, each one painting our relationship with more of the colors of reality.
Other separations were more difficult. I never doubted that Jonah loved me, but he had a serious case of wanderlust. There were times when he would get restless and visit the red light districts of Second Life. When I found out about it, I was shocked, and it took a while for my self-confidence to recover. As time went on, and I began to understand that such behavior was routine, and did not really affect his feelings for me, I accepted it grudgingly–but the happy fantasy world in which I’d been living lost just a bit of its magical shine.
One day, Jonah came to me, agitated, with the news that due to a situation in his first life, he would have to leave Second Life for a period of time, and would in fact be incommunicado. He promised he would return, and pleaded with me to wait for him. After a tearful goodbye, I stood, alone, feeling as if a piece of my heart had been ripped out. But fidelity is one thing I do very, very well. I would wait for this man for as long as it took. I knew that although he would not be able to communicate with me, or to log into SL, he might be able to see a web page that would show him my current location in SL. Knowing that he might be watching me, I determined to reassure him that all was well. So, I began a life of solitude and seclusion. I logged in to SL at regular times, and almost never left our land, to which only he and I had access. That way, if he did look in, he would see that I was not keeping company with anyone else. Even though I knew there could be no response, I sent encouraging emails reassuring him that I was waiting, faithful, still his.
The days stretched into weeks. And still I waited. My friends were puzzled, wondering why I would restrict myself from enjoying all the delights of Second Life. For heaven’s sake, they said, go out–enjoy yourself. He’s not here, so why not? But that is not the person I wanted to be. I choose to be a faithful person, a trustworthy person. I honored my love. Because I wouldn’t go anywhere, what friends I’d had gradually drifted away. I waited steadfastly, hoping for word from Jonah. Nothing came. Still I waited. Long days of solitude, no conversation, no connection, except to my memories of Jonah, and the wonderful life we shared. It meant that much to me. I was willing to wait.
It was nine weeks before I finally heard from him. It was probably the most difficult nine weeks of my life. Not difficult because I was tempted to stray; I was never tempted, not for a moment. And not difficult because I was alone; knowing that my seclusion was a gift to Jonah, the thing he would need from me, made it easy for me to bear. No, the difficulty was fighting the loss of hope. After so long, I began to fear that he would never return. That my faithfulness was in vain. That perhaps his feelings for me had been just a fantasy all along.
Bliss was mine again when Jonah returned after his long absence; we embraced our old life of fun, creativity, romance and sex. But that nine weeks had changed me. I found myself less relaxed about our relationship, and more clingy. Now I was the one who needed reassurance. He’d been gone so long, I needed to hold on tight to make sure he was really there. In retrospect, I know that was a mistake; but I really couldn’t help it.
A few weeks after his return, I became aware that even though things between us seemed fantastic, Jonah was visiting the red light districts again. He would log on late at night, when he knew I would not be online, for quick encounters with strangers. I knew about it, but I never said anything. We fought about whether I wanted too much from him. A few weeks later, I became aware that he was seeing someone, and concealing it from me; not the anonymous encounters of the red light district, but something that seemed more like a relationship. He had various excuses for the time he spent with this other woman: she was a friend, she was troubled and he was comforting her, or he was helping her with some technical problem. I didn’t press him on it. Even though he could not be faithful, I could; I continued to strive to be the person I wanted to be, embracing my promise of fidelity.
After a time, things between him and the other woman ended, and we enjoyed several weeks of happiness together. But as time went along, there were more absences from SL; and when he was in SL, more clandestine affairs. I always waited them out, true to my promises. And he always came home eventually. When he did, there were still fun days; romantic, moonlit nights; steamy sex; and the ease of a comfortable space between two people who know one another very, very well.
Our relationship lasted two and a half years. In Second Life time, that equated to decades. I remained true to him that entire time. But finally, a day came when the demands of his work and personal life were such that he had to say farewell to Second Life forever. And I closed the book on one of the most remarkable chapters of my life.
Only to open the next one.
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