That’s absurd, a friend said when I shared the news. You aren’t in love. You cannot possibly be in love. It isn’t real. It’s just the internet.
I suspect most of us who have spoken of an online relationship have encountered a cynic or two. To be fair, this friend’s cynicism was rooted in her desire to protect the integrity of her love. She’d had a beautiful romance that grew into a beautiful marriage; the kind people dream of. Having experienced such love, she did not like having an internet relationship compared to it. The idea that the internet could provide such a connection threatened to cheapen it, in her mind. Her motives were pure, even if her understanding was limited.
It’s not an easy idea to defend. Internet or not, how can you prove that you’re in love? There is no official definition of what “in love” means. Love is rarely rational, objective, or provable. It would be hard enough to “prove” that you’re in love in “real” life, let alone in a virtual context that is unfamiliar to many.
Was my love less authentic than my friend’s ideal marriage? How do you measure such a thing? All I can do is list the evidence. Whenever Jonah logged on, or when he just walked into the room, my heart would leap for joy. I was dazzled by him, and wanted nothing more than to be with him. When we were apart, I would count the minutes until we could be together. When we were together, I was filled with a euphoria such as I had never known. I thought of him constantly, all day, every day, and talked about him incessantly to my friends, trying their patience, I’m sure. It may sound like a crush, but it was more than that; a deep connection grew between us. I held in my heart his deepest thoughts and dreams, heartaches and headaches, and I trusted mine to him. I admired his gifts, and even honored the ordinary human failings and darker aspects that helped to make him who he was. I cared deeply for him, and tending to his pleasure and happiness and the health of our relationship was a privilege and a blessing. So what do you think? Was I in love?
Yes, there was more that we might have shared. I did not know the pleasure of his touch, although my imagination did a pretty good job filling in. We spent a lot of time together, and even “slept” together in SL, our avatars tucked in bed, embracing, leaving them logged in that way overnight, sometimes talking on voice until our RL bodies fell asleep, leaving the connection open, so that I could hear his breathing and gentle snoring in RL. Some aspects of everyday life were not part of our experience. As we grew closer, and eventually partnered (the SL equivalent of marriage), we built virtual homes and a virtual life together, but continued to lead separate “first” lives, 1500 miles apart. I loved gazing into his virtual blue eyes, but I did not know the mischievous sparkle of the real ones, or the warmth of his real smile. Does the absence of those things mean that love cannot be?
To those who say that our initial attraction was not “love,” later events may be more compelling. Whether it was or not, it was probably the most real feeling I have ever had.
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