Monday, October 3, 2011

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


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