I’ve noticed that several Second Life couples ended their relationships these past few weeks. My relationship came to an end as well, perhaps that is why I am more attuned to other people ending theirs. It got me thinking. What are the types of intimate relationships we actually have here? What happens when these relationships end? And how do people move on? Second life intimate relationships of course mimic real life ones, but with obvious exceptions and limitations. As far as I can tell, there are roughly three different types of virtual intimate relationships; the sexual one, the romantic one, and the “everlasting” one. The sexual relationship can be a one night stand or an extended relationship where people usually agree to just be friends and have sex. No strings attached. The romantic relationship is a committed relationship that can last for years. People fall in love. The “everlasting” relationship is a rare one, a solid love relationship with a bond that does not seem to falter. All these kinds of intimate relationships represent forms of intensified human connectedness within the virtual world. I talk more about intensified emotional experiences in the virtual world here.
Seems to me that most couples in a virtual intimate relationship actually end up breaking up a few times before it is truly over. Once it is over, immediately following, I’ve noticed at least three kinds of behaviors (we see these behavior patterns in social media, like Flickr, etc., which are crucial communication tools for us Second Lifers); complete ignorance, tactful distancing or destructive hysteria. The complete ignorance kind of behavior is simply that. The couple stops speaking and interacting and it is, in fact, as if they ceased to exist. There is no longer any interaction in-world, on Flickr or other social media. The tactful distancing behavior can be thought of as a respectful farewell. There is an understanding that one will need time to heal, but may then be friends again at some point. This kind of couple stops communicating, but don’t completely disconnect, i.e, temporarily discontinue speaking in-world and may selectively continue commenting on/liking Flickr pics. Finally, the destructive hysteria pattern seems to be one signified by impulsivity and rage. People here engage in viscous seeming in-world and Flickr personal attacks that may lead to de-friending or blocking. Ultimately, all these kinds of break up patterns probably overlap in one way or another. They are our ways of dealing with loss.
In terms of moving on, I think people have very different ways of dealing with it. Some people may simply jump right into a new relationship because they don’t want to be alone. Others may really treasure their newfound alone time. People may immerse themselves in creativity or social activities. Some may even consider a virtual break up an opportunity to completely re-evaluate their virtual world existence and start cutting down on time spent in-world. Some may leave the virtual world all together. Whatever ends up happening, the processing of the ending of the relationship has begun. And then clearly, just like in real life, time heals wounds. Both sadness and the experience of loss will eventually fade, no matter how unlikely this may actually seem right after a virtual break up. With time we see people liking and commenting on their ex-partner’s Flickr photo postings and becoming friends in-world again. Virtual life goes on.
Photograph by Kate Bergdorf