Combining Physical and Virtual Relationships
Adultery is never exactly a great idea. Historically, for married couples, catching your spouse in the act with another person is reason enough to lead to divorce. Even if not married, finding out they have been playing the field as it were, is emotionally devastating. Why then is there such expressed shock and newsworthiness when one of the partners is virtual?
This article is being written in the wake of a slew of news reports on a man who was caught by his wife, having cybersex with another woman, via the VR world Second Life. There seems to be a great deal of screaming about this misadventure, which has already resulted in divorce papers between the couple.
The mainstream media is almost acting as if this sort of thing is novel, or even uncommon. It is neither.
Adultery via VR is probably as old as multi-participant online VR itself. Daydreaming fantasy relationships are certainly aeons older. It is therefore a natural jump from two people individually daydreaming of a fairytale romance after their current situation has gone sour, to two people interacting via a 'shared hallucination', as one term to describe VR worlds puts it. Talking leads to touching, even mentally, and that leads to all sorts of places with deeper and deeper mental and emotional commitment by both parties.
In VR, physical appearance is not the firth thing either party is judged on, so relationships form around common interests and mutual understanding. This is compounded when so much usage of virtual worlds online, is as escapism; to get away from a physical life gone sour.
Is it no wonder then, that when a relationship is going sour, retreat into a virtual experience may sow the seeds of another?
Love is rarely smooth, Many husbands are abusive, many wives are controlling, and it is not exactly uncommon to wind up stuck in a broken marriage, unable to find a way out. A virtual relationship offers all the possibility for love, with none of the possibility of physical pain. This is part of what makes them desirable. However, the problems start to come when the partner in one of the relationships is unaware of the existence of the other.
Relationships started in VR, tend not to stay in VR either. The natural desire for the touch of another human, is something that VR cannot currently emulate. People seek solace with like-minded people. Sometimes this can be good, giving an individual courage, and a reason for being, outside of getting out of a bad relationship. Sometimes this can be very, very bad, with the predators hiding on the net. Either way, when it moves beyond VR, it often necessitates breaking the safety cage an individual has built about themselves, trying to remain sane under the deterioration of what was once love.
Even when they stay wholly VR-based, using cybersex and teledildonics to satisfy the physical urges, and letting emotions bloom between two like minds, it is no less a fully fledged relationship than a physical one. The same fragile minds are involved, and as for the cyber, well, sex is as much intent and visualisation as it is practice, anyhow. Its still sex, even if no physical bodily fluid transfer takes place. Its as much cheating on the other partner as the physical act is, providing of course that they are unaware it is going on.
Sometimes a virtual relationship can destroy a physical one that is not entirely dead yet, but going through rocky times. This happens when one partner spends increasing amounts of time logged on, allowing things to slide further and further uncorrected. So deep is the feeling of hopelessness the desire that this not be happening, that the escapism allows it to happen further. But, at the same time, a new relationship is born.
It becomes a complex minefield of right and wrong. Like any adulterous situation, bad things are usually not intended, they just happen. Of course we also have the other side of he coin that one of the partners may be completely unaware that this is adultery, and the one cheating is playing both sides against the middle. Again, this has nothing to do with the medium of VR, all the medium does is allow it to happen without leaving the house; all evidence sitting out of sight inside the PC box, save when both participants are together.
Unlike a physical situation, with the virtual it is easier to keep tabs on things. Creating another account and watching what your partner does online from a pseudonym, accessed via a laptop in another room, allows snooping of a kind not possible with the physical act. Of course, if there is this level of diistrust between partners, the relationship is likely doomed anyway, and we come full circle back to escapism to get away from a deteriorating cycle.
References and Further Reading