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In Sickness, In Health, In Pixels

As I write this, I have been asked to attend yet another virtual wedding ceremony. This one will make six to-date. Only two have ended in “divorce” so far that I am aware of. As I prepare my little wedding chapel in the clouds for its first happy occasion, I am wondering why people bother with the pomp and ceremony when they don’t need to. If the idealistic belief of Second Life is that it is our world, and our imagination – Why are we virtually recreating a real life binge of consumerism that costs a lot of Linden Dollars and arguably means very little? Why do people marry in Second Life?

Meet George, he partnered in Second Life while he was still new and his virtual relationship defined who he was. Looking at his virtual profile, his groups were sparse and it bore the statement “personal property of…..” and stated his partners’ name. When I first met him I assumed he was a slave. He had experienced a bad real life relationship that had knocked his confidence, yet he was so committed to his virtual partner he was planning to move their relationship into real life, crossing several states to do this. His partner called the shots and decided she wanted a virtual wedding. He hated the idea so much he was unfaithful with two women in the run up to the ceremony; one of those times was on the night before the wedding itself. He still went through with it, but why? Because he saw himself as a victim in real life and carried that relationship baggage into Second Life to be with another domineering woman. His infidelity was his way of taking the control back, silently. So, he participated in the “silly little ceremony” to keep the peace and his virtual wife is unaware it meant nothing to him because he was too spineless to admit how he really felt.

Meet Dickie, when I met him he already had one failed engagement, because she was “too possessive”, yet in his brief relationship with me it took no time at all for him to reveal his controlling nature. After being accused of crimes I had not committed I managed to break free of him, and he went on to marry a vampire who saved him after he was “stabbed through the heart by another”. Marriage for him was about finding a submissive by any other name that would shower him with her undivided attention, giving him what he craved in his Second Life. Virtual marriage was utopia for this egomaniac. Next up is Iain, on his second or third partnership (I lost count…); he did not want a wedding. Unfortunately for him, when his virtual partner found out he had cheated on her in Second Life she decided he was going to pay and she was going to hit him where it hurt the most – in his pocket. She decided she would not forgive him until he had arranged and paid for the most lavish virtual wedding ceremony in Second Life. And if he resisted? He simply did not love her enough to do this one little thing for her, and maybe by not marrying her he was intending to be unfaithful again – Or worse, leave her. Marriage in real life and Second Life can serve as a bandage on insecurity and a good bargaining chip in the game of emotional blackmail.

But, does it ever get done for the “right” reasons? I know a real life married couple who got married in Second Life on their 10-year anniversary but I also know a virtual master and slave who appear to be doing perfectly well without it. So much so, their relationship has transcended Second Life and has moved into real life. Never having so much as partnered in Second Life, they have nothing to prove and no statement to make. They are secure in their relationship – In both of their lives. So what does it mean if you are married in real life and then marry someone else in Second Life? Do the vows mean nothing at all because they were said in cyberspace? Is it infidelity? For some, they find their virtual partner by accident. They are not looking to meet someone in Second Life. In many cases, people log on to fill a void, whether they choose to admit or not, big or small, and because they do not have a strong relationship in real life they are more susceptible to making a connection with someone else should the opportunity arise.

But why have the wedding? I asked a friend the question in the run up to her pending nuptials for her thoughts on the subject. Married in real life, she said that having a relationship with another man in Second Life is a little difficult at times, especially when you would rather be with the virtual partner, and both expect time. How does she deal with it in her head? By remembering that real life is what is real in her life and the other is not. But she adds that what she has with her virtual fiancé is real to a certain extent, with real feelings there and an attachment that is as strong as the real life one. So, what is the benefit of a virtual wedding? According to my friend it is a commitment made among friends in celebration of their feelings for one another, and any stress of the day is worth that. So what is having a virtual partner about? It would seem the key factors are chemistry and a “connection”. Much of what happens being indefinable, but still powerful nonetheless. Even my unsentimental heart melted when I was told that a real life husband and wife who play Second Life together had talked about having a virtual wedding because they cancelled their real life wedding, feeling forced to run away to do it instead because of family negativity. That is a reason I can identify with.

Can I be converted? Hell, no! Marriages may not last a lifetime in Second Life, but virtual high heels are forever…

Josephina Bonetto

Written: 30 August 2008