Monday, October 3, 2011

ASK Acu: "Balancing 2 Loves and Lives"

Originally appeared in Teleport Magazine (2008) No Longer Published

I believe I have found my soul mate, thanks to Second Life. J My SL girlfriend lives in another country and I don’t know how else we would have found each other! She and I have been at it non-stop for almost three months and it has been one of the best relationships I think I’ve ever had RL or SL. She and I have complicated situations in real life and enjoy unplugging from all that when we are together in-world. Logging in to see her is truly the highlight of my day. The problem is, Acu, that I spend a lot of time in-world, sometimes 8 to 10 hours a day. This is an improvement because there were times when we first started dating that I was in world 12 or more hours. We haven’t shared RL information and have kept our contact strictly in-world, so sometimes I am online exploring or other things until she logs on. It doesn’t seem like my time online has impacted my real life other than less sleep, but I guess I am wondering at this point where this is all headed. Is it possible to have a relationship like this online and still be productive in RL?  ~SL Stands for Sleep Lost

Thanks for writing Sleep Lost! Finding love in Second Life can be a wonderful thing. Relationships often move fast here because the anonymity allows us to be who we truly want to be and when we connect with another who accepts this ideal of ourselves (especially if you are exploring a part of yourself you would not otherwise real life), it can be intoxicating. In addition, the attraction we have for our partner is usually created when we discover something about them that is familiar. There are literally millions of possible connections, but we are drawn to people (both real life and second life) that remind us of something/one we know. The challenge with this is that sometimes as we attempt to grasp the identity of our partner, we fill in the unknowns with what we are familiar with (or greatly desire) and as a result, our perception of them can be that of the perfect partner. It is easy to project our ideals onto another person’s avatar. This ongoing process of creating and validating can generate some intense emotions around our relationships, and we feel that we have met that perfect someone. At some point, however, we begin to realize that the anonymity places limits on our ability to fully connect to our SL partner and it is usually at this point that one of two things happens: either you begin to integrate more RL into the relationship, or the connection begins to fade as we crave more evolution of the relationship.
It is absolutely possible to have a relationship online that is healthy and productive, but the reality is, although we can separate SL from RL, we cannot separate the human keyboardist from the in-world avatar. In relationships, it is unrealistic to expect that we can separate parts of ourselves and true evolution still occur. At some point it is important that the two lives are integrated so that we feel complete. The extended time you are spending online appears to be more related to wanting to expand your connection with your SL girlfriend, rather than an attempt to isolate yourself from RL, the later of which would be much less healthy. It sounds as though you and your partner are at a place where you should begin to dialogue about the direction the relationship is taking and what your expectations are long term. Once you are both clear about this, you’ll be in a better place to decide if the relationship is truly right for each of you.
With love, peace and blessings

ASK Acu: "Loving in 2 Lives"

Originally appeared in Teleport Magazine (2008) No Longer Published

I am currently married real life (RL) and my husband is unaware of a relationship I have developed in Second Life (SL). I have been struggling with feelings of guilt around my SL Relationship and it is affecting my mood and social interactions in RL. Although my RL marriage is ok, these feelings I am having confuse me so much. I know I am only supposed to ask one question, but I’m hoping you can help me with a few. Traditional morality aside, what are the harms associated with SL relationships that are secret from RL relationships?   If no harm is done to the RL relationship is it a problem?  Is it possible for no harm to be done by SL affairs?  Is this any difference if there are affairs of the heart, secret from one another, in SL?  
~2X the Love
Thanks for writing, 2X the Love, and being willing to explore this openly. Let me begin by saying that SL relationships, especially when you are already in a committed relationship RL, can become a challenge when they turn romantic. This is not uncommon, as many people who immerse themselves here, often do so because they are missing something in their real lives. It has been described to me as a  “hunger for something more,” that is fed here. The positive to this, is that Second Life gives each of us an opportunity to explore ourselves in ways that are sometimes unavailable or unrealistic in RL for a variety of reasons. The challenge, as we make new discoveries about who we are and/or want be, becomes how to balance that with our real lives. If the SL exploration experience involves a romantic relationship, and we are already committed RL, feelings of guilt often emerge as we place ourselves in an “either/or” scenario. Keeping the relationship a secret then becomes a good alternative to making that difficult decision.
In my opinion, secrets are rarely a good thing. Secrecy, by its very definition means that we are hiding something. Hiding it means that access to you is limited, not only to the person/people the secret is held from, but from ourselves as we are forced to withhold information or make excuses to cover ourselves. Beyond the obvious harm that can be caused to another, by not allowing them access to information that might ultimately impact their lives, the greatest harm is in the impact of the guilt that you feel. Morality is really more about the judgment of right and wrong as you see it. Traditionally, we have each been exposed to varied ways of living and as such, what might be viewed as “right” for you, may be viewed as “wrong” by me. Self judgment is far more harsh than the judgment others, as thoughts about ourselves are the only ones we control and therefore who we say we are to ourselves, manifests in the way we live our lives and interact with others. As a generally rule of thumb, when making judgments that impact another, I ask myself if the choice is made in love without intent to harm. This has not meant that 100% of the times things go in my favor, but more often that not, this has lead me to a choice that has ultimately only benefited and enriched my life. It is important to allow our feelings to be our guides. They tell us what is true for *us*.  Judge based upon whether or not it feels “right” for you, because, only you can define your truth and if it doesn’t “feel” right for you, it probably isn’t.
With love, peace and blessings…

ASK Acu: "Is s/he LISTENING to me?"

Originally appeared in Teleport Magazine (2009) No Longer Published

My SL partner and I have been dating for about a month and things were going really well. His cultural background is different than mine, but I did not discover this until I was head over heels for him. I was surprised at this revelation because I would have never dated him in RL, but have learned that we have SO much in common. Recently, however, he seems distracted and irritable all the time and I am wondering if the honeymoon is over. When we are exploring the grid there are times when he suddenly becomes quiet and on more than one occasion I went to send him an offline message only to realize he was logged on already. This has been the source of much discontent in our relationship and I feel like things are breaking down. At this point, I feel like we should exchange RL contact information to avoid some of this, but I have been hesitant as I am unsure about whether it is the right time, or if I can truly trust him or not. What are the stories people have of taking it outside of the game?  (I suspect they are not all as bad as people say they are) When is it OK to IM, email, phone, meet? How do you know when it is OK to take the next step? Ready to Step UP or OFF
One of the things I enjoy most about SL is the removal of the barrier of space which allows us to connect to people and cultures all over the world in a way that is not possible in RL. We can teleport from New York to Italy in about 3 seconds (lag permitting) and meet people who are living there, exploring Milan through the eyes of residents there. In this way we are more quickly able to expand our cultural awareness and as a result develop our RL experience and personal growth! One of the barriers, however, is the connection. On the one hand there are the typical technical difficulties that interfere, such as computer problems, ISP challenges, and the ongoing SL improvements that sometimes are accompanied by bugs that affect our avatar functioning in-world. This can interfere with being together in the most innocent sense. Without RL contact, however, it is difficult to know why your partner is not around or is responding (or not) in a certain way. This lends to feelings of anxiety (worry), and frustration caused by the internal messages we hear, when attempting to make meaning of the unknown: he stopped talking in the middle of the conversation - is he in IM with that avie over there, or is it chat lag?..  she was scheduled to be here but has not logged on -is she avoiding me or is her computer down? The humans behind our avatars are meaning making machines! When faced with new and/or incomplete information, our natural tendency is to attempt to make meaning by comparing the situation to something we are familiar with (an untrustworthy ex-, an unreliable friend) accompanied with the pain and disappointment of those previous experiences.

Relationships afford us not only the opportunity to feel love, but also provide experiences which help us better understand what emotional barriers keep us apart. Our connection or disconnect with others tell us a lot about how we see ourselves. The things we tend to focus on...or ignore, many times are clues to the messages we tell ourselves about who we are. Integrating SL and RL is a healthy progression for any relationship (not just romantic ones). The decision to do so, however, should be based less upon a need to monitor your partner or to invalidate negative assumptions,  but more out of a desire for the relationship to evolve into something deeper, more fulfilling. All relationships evolve, we connect with one another, learn from each other and as a result, we grow. As long as two people continue to evolve and grow together, the relationship is fresh, exciting and enjoyable.
With love, peace and blessings XOXO

Saturday, October 1, 2011

ASK Acu: "Sleepless in SL"

Originally appeared in Metaverse Messenger Magazine (M2)

Dear Acu,

I am a RL married woman who has been in Second Life for over a year. In that time I have met a MUCH younger, single man who has helped me to see life from a totally new perspective. He lives in another country (which is good or I would have been in big trouble by now) so the time zone difference means I am on really late at night sometimes. When I finally make it to bed, I feel like I’ve been out sleeping around as I try to slip into bed without waking my husband. I feel embarrassed that I am coming to bed so late and hope he doesn’t realize how long I have been awake and online. I know I probably shouldn’t be doing this, but I feel so much love for this young man. I also feel bad because I worry that the time he is spending with me keeps him from experiencing real life and finding someone in RL that he can share his life with, be intimate with, etc. I don’t know what to do, and feel so guilty sometimes. The only thing that seems to help the guilt, is being with him, if that makes any sense. Please tell me what to do!

Feeling Young Again

Hi Feeling Young,

Yes, you make perfect sense and it may help to know that you are not alone in your situation, or scenario. Guilt is only useful if it is helping to guide you toward behavior that brings your life into balance. It is your mind’s eye trying to show you that something you are doing is out of balance for you. I am asked very often if it is “wrong” to date in SL if you are committed in real life. In affect I am being asked to judge a person’s behavior without knowledge or consideration of all the variables that have brought someone into the circumstance in the first place. For many people, dating in SL feels adulterous relative to their relationship/marriage in real life. For others it is an experience that liberates them from oppressive and/or controlling relationships by exposing them to other experiences that cause them to question the health of their real life commitment. My “out”  in these situations is to remind people that every person, relationship and situation is unique and the best barometer for whether or not a given scenario/situation is “right or wrong,” is you! The deciding factor should be an honest evaluation of what you believe will give your life joy and balance, and then creating a life which allows that to manifest for you.

Guilt is that nagging voice with in us all that is like water upon a stone and says to us that there is a standard and we have fallen short, …but whose standard is it?
 Guilt is a safety valve for human behavior and seeing guilt in its proper light allows us to find resolution with it. Guilt offers a standard by which we measure what is good and what actions are worthy of deeper exploration. It calls upon us to examine our conduct and to work toward bringing it into alignment with what we have adopted as our valued behavior. Do our values change over time? Sure, as we mature and understand our life experiences better. Should you suppress guilt in favor of exploring alternate ways of living? Only you can be the judge and jury of that, because you are the only person in this world who can live YOUR life (and reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of those choices). Decide to do what feels RIGHT for you, and the clarity you seek around relationship in both lives will be yours.

With love, peace and blessings,

ASK Acu: "What's with the Drama??!?"

Originally appeared in Metaverse Messenger Magazine (M2)


I have been in SL for about 9 months now. It seems to me that there is SO much drama around relationships here that I really don’ t understand why I have stayed this long.  From my SL friends to my SL boyfriend, everyone has these issues and every time I turn around someone has an attitude, or is leaving SL or whatever. It’s an emotional roller coaster. I feel like the only way to avoid drama is to isolate myself and that really doesn’t make sense since I come to SL to socialize and interact with people. Surely everyone doesn’t have this much drama in their second life. I’m wondering what I am doing wrong to keep finding myself in the middle of conflict, and it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t affecting my real life. I’ll log off after an argument with my SL boyfriend and be in the worse mood. The people in my house must think I am crazy. Save me from the dramatics so I can go back to enjoying both of my lives!

~Exit Stage Left

Thanks for writing Exit! (smile)

Let me begin by saying you are not alone in your “drama” experience in second life. I would guess if you thought more about it, you have experienced the same sorts of drama in your first life (FL) although it may not be as obvious right now because you are focused on what is going on in-world.  I actually love the word “drama” as it applies to our interactions in the world (virtual and non-virtual) because in reality, that is exactly what is happening. Each of us is writing the story as we go basing each scene on our own experiences and perceptions. If you think about the infinite number of possible paths and outcomes in our relationships, you’ll better appreciate that we can only focus on one or two at a time (Without going insane [winks]) . The paths we chose are usually those that validate the way we see the world. For example, if you tend to believe that women are shady and will take your man as soon as you turn your head, the filter you use in friendships with women will constantly scan for actions which validate your perception. Although your friend could be doing many things that contradict this view, your lack of focus on those actions will lead you almost precisely to the anticipated outcome. More often than not we write the script, with a less than desired outcome, play each scene over and over and only the characters seem to change. I attribute this old script to relationships where someone will come to me and say “why is it I keep falling in love with the same kind of person over and over.”

Its important to understand that YOU are writing the script and can choose to rewrite it at anytime. Although you can not control the actions of another person, you absolutely can change the way you interpret and respond to them. Frankly, there is no way to avoid the drama that is life. It’s these scripts that create the story that is our lives (first and second). We *do* have power over our actions however, and once you discover (and apply) THAT each NEW choice can bring us closer to the “happily ever after” we truly desire.

With love peace and blessings,

ASK Acu: "Infidelity?"

Originally appeared in Metaverse Messenger Magazine (M2)


I am currently involved in a committed SL partnership that is beginning to break down. Before we got together, he was involved with other women. For that reason we kept the relationship “friendly” although we’d cuddle and kiss from time to time. Over time, my feelings for him began to grow and I felt that I needed him to commit to a monogamous relationship with me, or to move on, and I told him so. He was not ready to settle down at the time, and respected what I felt I needed and we stop talking for some time. Later, we reconnected and soon after he asked me to partner. I was somewhat apprehensive about it because of our history and felt jealous of the relationships he maintained with his ex-girlfriends. Despite this, I accepted his proposal and for a while things were absolutely wonderful.

Recently, however, his behavior had become suspicious. On one particularly “off” day, he explained he needed to talk with one of his ex.s and asked if it was ok. I told him he could, but then logged on an alt to see what he was doing. Long story short, he was with some other person who he first denied even knowing, but then later admitted was an alt of his ex-.  He said he didn’t want to be open about talking with her for fear of me becoming distrustful and/or upset. Acu, I have resorted to mapping him and am so paranoid about his where-a-bouts when we aren’t together. I  realize it is our past that impacts my trust in him, but I’m not sure if trust is possible in this virtual environment. Alt.s , IMs, can all make cheating so much easier. I feel like this whole experience has taught me something about the way I manage relationships. He seems to be trying to make things right, and  I really do love him, and want things to work, but are my expectations unrealistic?


Hi Control-Alt-Delete!

It certainly sounds like your relationship is complicated and I understand your concerns about fidelity, especially considering how your relationship began. Since you seem to be coming to a place of resolution, I won't delve deeper into the situation, but rather offer some thoughts for you to consider as you move forward in your partnership.

The first is development of trust. By definition trust is "belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence; loyalty or allegiance to a person or thing; esp. fidelity to a promise." For you to truly develop trust in your partner, I would suggest that the checking an snooping won't help matters much. The fact that he allows you to map him says a lot about his commitment to you, since it is a choice to give these permissions.

Secondly, more often than not, when we do not have "facts" to fill in a "blank" of information, our mind tends to create an "assumption" to fill the void. If the assumption is a positive one, the outcome within our relationship to the individual is usually positive, if the opposite is true, so is the reaction. The two of you have had a challenging past and the resulting "facts" may be significantly influencing your assumptions about who he is and what his intentions are. I would guess that your reactions, then, contribute to his choices in managing those situations that he perceives would upset you and may then appear defensive, and so the cycle continues.

Over time, this can breed resentment and more distrust which can gradually erode your connection to one another. Rather than seeking to "catch him in the act," it might be more productive to be as honest as you can about your concerns, feelings, desires so that he has the opportunity to respond in a way that helps you to better understand one another. If you are uncomfortable with something he has done or said, you have to TELL him. In that way, if there has been a misunderstanding, he is able to explain, rather than you guess away your doubts leaving you suspicious and feeling unsafe in the relationship. You must also be open to hearing HIS concerns and feelings about YOUR behavior/reactions. In this way you have created a healthy dialogue from which your relationship will develop out of your understanding and compromise.

The “reality” is, if he has an affair, you can not control that...nor prevent it. As hard as that may be to hear, it *Is* the truth. The same is true for you, he can not control whether you make efforts to hurt him “seeking revenge”. It is why it is called  "free will."  (smile) If you truly want to remain in the relationship, and honestly feel that you are reacting based more on past experiences than current actions, improve the likelihood that he will be honest with you, by demonstrating your investment in the relationship and developing trust in him and his commitment to you. After all, your reaction and choices based upon your own values (regardless of the actions of others)  *are* something that you can control and you can ALWAYS rely on the safety of that (winks).

Blessings XOXO


ASK Acu: "Keeping It Real in SL"

Originally appeared in Metaverse Messenger Magazine(M2)

Hey Acu,

I’m not really looking for advice, I just want to vent. I really don’t get this whole idea of integrating SL with RL and relationships. I mean its Second Life, not eHarmony or I keep hearing people talk about how they feel so lost because SL affects their real life, blah-blah-blah. My second life is just that a SECOND (and separate) life. I am not my avatar, they are separate and apart from one another. I have a REAL life and when I come to SL, it’s to live out fantasies and experiment with things I might not be as willing to explore in real life. I could always try these things in real life of course, but I DON’T WANT to. SL is much easier to access and is a lot cheaper to build my dreams in. I guess I am different than most people as I am intelligent and creative enough to keep SL & RL separate. I don’t take this game seriously and don’t trust most of the people I encounter in-world. After all, they are living their fantasies too. Although there are a few people I’ve encountered who I have felt worthy of knowing me in my first life, I have no interest or desire to have people in my SL also in my RL. SL will never be a substitute for real life, so if you don’t have one you need to log off and find one.

~Keeping it Real

Blessings Keeping It Real!

Thanks for writing and being open to sharing your thoughts and feelings so expressively. You may be surprised to hear this, but I think we agree on a few things here. SL is never a substitute for real life, although it can certainly provide a platform to explore things we might not have access to (physically, emotionally, financially) in our first lives. We can not “live” in-world and all must log off to return to our first lives ultimately. If we are neglecting RL, however, we won’t be logging off to much, and the cycle begins making SL the most attractive of the two lives we are living. Escaping RL is when our SL adventures can become problematic, which is why I believe many struggle with their relationships in-world. Why their relationships? Because unlike other MMORPGs, Second Life is a social grid. The roles we play, unlike in other platforms like WoW or EVE are more like real life. Sure there are the Furries and Nekos and such, but there are by far more “human” avatars than any other form in Second Life. It is here that we fulfill fantasies relative to other people (who happen to be in avatar skins). We are not here to battle them, win a goal or advance a level. We are here to connect to others who are like us. In that regard, maybe SL is a game, the same we play in our real lives. Trying to discern other’s intentions and motives and responding to them in a way that creates a desired response. Griefers want drama, Artists want accolades, DJs want crowd cheers, and some want loving, reciprocal (not always, but often romantic) relationships. This is especially true when relationships in real life don’t provide this.

“Enhancing” rather than escaping RL is a much better prospective use of our SL energies, which is where the whole integration idea comes in. Keeping your SL separate from your RL is completely possible. In real life we tend to compartmentalize all of our social relationships (business from personal for example). We cannot, however, separate the person from the avatar. Without the human behind the screen, our avatar has no life. If we are exploring things in SL that we wouldn’t in RL those fantasies belong to the human operator, not the avatar. Although the pixels on the screen don’t have feelings, the operator behind it does. It is the human who seeks and provides responses to what he or she sees on screen. It’s amazing the emotions those pixels can produce in us: love, pain, fear, hate. Hmmm, just like people in RL (grin).

Integration of SL and RL is more about finding balance than it is exposing your privacy or inviting people into your world.  It’s about creating experiences based upon our perceptions and current level of understanding, and having those ideas challenged and matured as a result. It’s about allowing what we learn about ourselves as we explore our relationships in one aspect of our life and having the lessons learned trickle into our other experiences. It’s about knowing who we are in both lives and developing healthy habits and relationships which allow us to grow: mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

Wishing you Peace in the pieces of your journey…

ASK Acu: Living After 2nd Life Romance Ends

Originally appeared in Metaverse Messenger Magazine (M2)


I have recently left a long-term relationship that started in SL, but ended in RL. In SL our relationship was wonderful. Our connection was completely unexpected. I entered SL to explore virtual real estate opportunities and he to explore ways to bring his RL business into SL. We enjoyed spending time together exploring and pose ball hoping (wink) Within a few months we were collaborating on more than just a business partnership, but a real life commitment. We started chatting via messenger, then cam-ing and calls via skype. We partnered in SL and held a beautiful wedding ceremony. After 10 months of a wonderfully romantic online union, we decided to move in together RL. He moved from the UK to my apartment on the East Coast. He could not work initially due to immigration issues, but we were making a descent income with our SL businesses so I was comfortable with supporting us via income from my RL work. After 3 months however, the stress of work and supporting the household began to take its toll, I think. He was uncomfortable with not being able to support himself and needing to come to me for money. I also felt frustrated with constantly having to console his feelings of inadequacy, which he seemed to be managing by degrading me constantly. My feelings of self worth began to suffer as a result and after 6 months, the relationship had really broken down. Our last night together, a heated argument became physical. I knew that the relationship had become unhealthy and I needed to get out. Now over a year later, my relationship is gone, my SL businesses dissolved and I feel like I have nothing left. To make matters worse, I really miss him and what we shared. We still correspond from time to time, and he agrees that we need some space between us now, but it hurts so badly Acu, that I wonder if my life will ever be the same without him. I am beginning to realize that a romantic relationship is not right for us, but am wondering if we could ever really be friends? Can I ever go back to the 2nd life I once knew before him?
~ 1st and 2nd Lifeless


My sincere condolences as you grieve this devastating loss. I respect that you acknowledge it was not only the relationship that you lost, but also your second life, which had become a part of you. The pain you feel is natural and is something we all experience as part of the grieving process. A confounding issue, however, is that there is often a feeling of isolation when grieving SL experiences and events because people who are not connected to the online social community the way SL residents (and M/MORP gamers) have, have a hard time understanding this journey and are unsure how to help. I am glad that you are seeking answers as you work toward finding closure and evolution to this path you have chosen. There are resources within SL (such as our discussion group, professional counselors and support communities) should you decide to explore this more fully with others in-world. There are also Internet resources (web sites, blogs and mental health professionals with online clinics) if you feel it is healthier for you to explore your feelings outside of the grid. In my experience, people rarely leave SL permanently, however, some restructure their SL time in a way that demonstrates their healthy evolution with the experience of being immersed here.

In the same way, your relationship with your SL/RL partner is becoming redefined. If the two of you are able to interact with one another in a way that is healthy and promotes your emotional growth, you certainly should be friends. The challenge immediately following a break-up, however, is that interactions usually continue in much the same way they did when you were romantically involved. Prior to the break up, the two of you were more than partners. You were confidants. You shared the daily joys and disappointments with one another as a routine part of living together online and in RL. Once the relationship ends, you lose that source of daily support and it is often that emptiness of turning to the screen or pillow and realizing the person is not there to share with that, feels so heavy. It’s important that you first began to establish a new routine of support…someone (or ones) you call or visit to share with so that you don’t feel so alone. In time a new pattern is established and at that point it may feel less weighty to introduce a friendship with the ex into the relationship. It is the essence of what “space” should mean. Establishing alternate sources of support creates a relational bridge that should allow you to interact with him in a healthier and more fulfilling way.

Acknowledging the struggle with redefining your second life is a good starting point and suggests you are on the right track to making a decision that is right for you.

With love, peace and blessings XOXO

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