Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Is Dating in Second Life like Dating in the Dark? And What Would You Do?

Dating in the Dark is a reality show on ABC that provides an interesting parallel to dating in virtual worlds. Here's the show's premise:
Each week three single guys and three unattached ladies move into a house uniquely looking for love. Everyone is sequestered from the opposite sex until they are introduced in a ridiculously dark room ... Looks are taken out of the equation as guys and girls get to know each other in total darkness. After a few sight-unseen dates, the participants pick someone they'd like to meet with the lights on. That's when they finally get to see just who it is they've been wooing and kissing.
The shows producers have taken a very conservative approach to casting. Participants so far have mostly been average looking or better and within a decade of each other in age. No morbidly obese. No senior citizens. No disabilities. Nevertheless, on just about every episode one of the contestent who was very attracted to someone in the dark eventually rejected (or at least reconsidered) their love-is-blind soul mate because of disappointment about their revealed form.

In Second Life, the variance between the appearance of an avatar and the corresponding human can be exponentially greater:
  • On the show, contests can hear the other person's voice, get a sense for their physique through the sense of touch, cuddle and kiss. 
  • In Second Life, many relationships are carried out strictly through shared virtual experience and text-based communication. 
  • On the show, the fantasized image of a person is based on the imagination working off cues from the other senses. 
  • In Second Life, the fantasized image of a person is based on an avatar form which is usually an idealized figure with little or no connection to the corresponding human's body.
  • On the show, you are certain of the other person's gender.
  • In Second Life...
For virtual daters in Second Life who are NOT looking for a physical world relationship, none of this may matter. But it's interesting to consider. What if you fell in deep romantic love with a virtual sweetheart and later stumbled upon a RL picture that was unappealing? Start with a "not my type" in your mind's eye and work down to your worst nightmare. Would the physical reality undermine your attraction? Really???


Skylar Smythe said...

Absolutely. Which is why I'll never date in Second Life again (unless I bump into a local guy there of course).

I spent a year developing a deep "love" relationship with someone who only provided the baseline of information. Still pictures (never Skype cam) ... no visits despite multiple attempts to arrange it. Even avoidance of phone calls and text messages.

I'm still thunking myself in the head trying to figure out why I was so easily duped by something so clearly artificial and "staged" so that I would see only what he wanted me to see.

Second Life has the potential to develop very powerful feelings of infatuation... but falling in love with someone you have never met, or touched or kissed... is impossible. To call it love is really discounting the authentic experience of a real relationship.

It is an artificial construct or "placebo" in response to loneliness.

:) I would not replace the real thing for a virtual fling ... ever again.

sororNishi said...

This is fascinating. I think it is probably impossible to overcome our preconceptions of the physical attributes necessary in the 'ideal mate'.
Meeting and getting to know someone closely in SL, 'in the dark', is a way into the soul of the other person, but if the RL physical appearance is too far outside our preconceived parameters, that relationship will not develop further, and will probably fade, possibly morph into a platonic friendship.
Exactly how narrow those parameters are is very individual, possibly culturally determined.

Extropia DaSilva said...

I have to disagree with Skylar. I have found real love in SL. I make no secrets about being a digital person, and every friend I make forms a relationship in the clear knowledge that A) who I am and who my primary is are two different things and B) I will not discuss details of my primary's identity or take the relationship into RL.

This has not prevented some of my friendships blossoming into love. Skylar might call it artificial but in my mind it feels very genuine and the people these feelings are directed at give no indication whatsoever that they are faking it, either.

White Lebed said...

If we want to understand how something works, it pays to examine why and how it breaks. Loves end when one or both realize that they were in love with a desired image of their lover, which turned out not to be true (doesn't matter why - physically, emotionally, mentally - just not the ONE). The confusions happen all the time -even when people can see, smell, taste, touch each other.
And if you remove some parts of the senses (no talking, no seeing, no touching, etc) you increase chances that a person will fill in the gaps of info the way they like and fell in love with somebody they create.
Loving people detached from their bodies has nothing to do with loving their "soul", it is about loving what you create in your imagination and another person is there as long as they agree to play along and don't disturb the illusion.
Our bodies are not distractions that hide our souls. They are part of our souls, they are what we made them. Our souls express themselves through our bodies. How you care about your body, how you feed it, how you exercise it, clean it, move it, etc talks more about your personality, intelligence and attitude than how well you can put together pretty words in a chat window.
Deep inside everybody knows that, everybody.

Botgirl Questi said...

Skylar: Probably the main aspect of Second Life that "hooked me" was it's ability to shed light on the human condition. A virtual world is close enough to "reality" that it kicks up all of the typical human responses to social and environmental situations while being so obviously NOT reality that it's (relatively) easier to refrain from getting entirely sucked into the fictional stories that are playing in our heads.

Sometimes is takes a painful experience like you described to wake up to that perspective. But I think that you can extend it beyond virtual worlds to the physical world, because the same processes can be at play. Infatuation inherently amplifies positive qualities and hides negative aspects of the other person or the situation (such as the consequences of having an affair.)

I agree that there is a vast difference between the "real thing" and a fling, whether in the physical or virtual worlds. But it is also possible (although unlikely) to move from a fling to the real thing in whatever environment it begins.

Soror: I agree that virtual relationships offer the potential to transcend attachment to preconceptions about the physical form. But I'm skeptical about whether most people would be willing or able to maintain a romantic relationships with someone they found physically unappealing. What is the difference between a platonic soul-mate and a romantic one?

Extropia: I think for those like you who are very clear and open about what they want, it is obviously (based upon your story alone) to have virtual-only romantic relationships that never extend to the physical world. From a couple years talking to a lot of people who have experimented with virtual relationships, I think that many people with the initial thought "What goes on in Second Life, stays in Second Life" find that when they fall in love with someone the game changes.

White Label: I agree that romantic love starts out mostly being about our projections about the other person. There are also a lot of powerful biological factors at play, including hormones that influence thought and feeling. I'm not sure what a "soul" is and don't agree that your body should be equated with "who" you are.

Mera Kranfel said...

I totally agree with White Lebed

Extropia DaSilva said...


If it is genuinely love, it has an effect on the structure of the brain. All kinds of hormones and neurotransmitters wash over the brain to induce the feeling of being in love. Obviously in my case it is not MY brain that undergoes this change, but my PRIMARY's. In that sense, I have failed to maintain a seperation between RL and SL.

However, we both understand that the other person in this relationship does not direct her affections at my primary. But does she direct them at ME? Maybe not. It could be a fantasy figure who exists in her mind. This possibility does not bother me, but I imagine for some people it could be problematic.