Nightflower Reports on the Reality of Virtual Love & Relationships for NWN
When I first embraced Second Life as my recreational escape, I jumped in with such reckless passion and abandon that it sent my whole world teetering out of control. Sadly, my experience was far from unique. The virtual world is rife with stories of the emotional wounds and relational carnage that result when the Second Life/Real Life balance gets out of whack. But having fought my way back from the brink, I see now that Second Life is not the problem. While the virtual world is an undeniably magnetic place, it’s ultimately the personal baggage, unmet needs, and coping skills we bring to it that determine whether we thrive, or...um, nosedive. So from the hard-won lessons learned by residents from all over the grid, here are five keys to living a balanced life for those with a foot in each world.
1. Don’t Romanticize Your Relationship with your Avatar
I love my avatar Night, and enjoy alternating between talking about her as if she were me, and referring to her as if she were a unique, sentient being. While there are some valuable kernels of truth in that viewpoint for a discussion on identity, that kind of talk is potentially destructive hogwash if we’re talking about balance. In a literal sense, Night and I are not two people with two lives. I am one woman, choosing to invest a portion of my finite resources of time, money, headspace, and emotional bandwidth by meeting with real people in a pretend world. As much as I love to passionately soliloquize about the transcendent, eternal qualities of our virtual selves, my emotional health also requires me to reject romanticization, and embrace the truth that my flesh-and-blood self is inherently more valuable than my digital projection.
2. Know What You Want From the Virtual World
I don’t think its possible to remain healthy using Second Life unless you can clearly articulate why you are there, and be genuinely at peace with the reason. Maybe you turn to the virtual world to overcome a physical limitation, explore a creative passion, or indulge in runway fashion on a Wal-Mart budget. If you know that and are comfortable embracing it, then you’re likely in the clear. But if you’re spending countless hours shopping, socializing and SLexing, and can’t cleanly put your finger on why, then chances are that you’re using your virtual life to meet needs that you aren’t willing to acknowledge in your real life. That means you’re being driven by internal forces you don’t understand, and it won’t be long before they drive you over a cliff.
3. Ground Yourself Daily in the Real World
The real challenge is not gaining perspective, but the daily task of keeping it. For many, committing to a specific real world activity works as an ongoing exercise in perspective. For instance, a friend of mine told me that he feels he was saved from obsessive SL use by committing to a daily walk in the hills behind his house. Energized by the real world, he would often feel uninterested in Second Life, and he saw his in-world hours plummet by half. For me, reading a story to my youngest every day serves as a moving, visceral reminder of what really matters, instantly putting SL in its proper place in my heart.
4. Set Practical, Non-Negotiable Limits
While I believe the battle for balance is fought and won by maintaining a proper perspective, it sure doesn’t hurt to put some purely practical measures in place to help you live by what you’ve learned. For me that means resolving to go to bed with my husband every night, rather than staying up late in SL after he’s gone to sleep. Many people shared with me that setting non-negotiable logout times, or establishing weekly non-SL days, or having to “earn” in-world time by engaging in RL activities were guardrails that kept them safely within healthy boundaries.
5. Don't Make Any Virtual World Investment That Would Crush You, If It Disappeared Tomorrow
As I recently stewed over how best to financially manage my Petable Turtle farm in SL, an experienced breeder told me, “Just don’t invest what you can’t afford to lose.” It took a while for the profundity of that statement to hit home. If Linden Lab went belly-up tomorrow, would you crash and burn? If your SL lover poofed forever without explanation, would you fall into depression? If your virtual world business were suddenly rendered obsolete, would you land in real-life bankruptcy? The metaverse and the relationships that tie it together are incredibly fragile and utterly out of our control. If you see that any aspect of your life hinges exclusively on this delicate web, that’s a huge neon sign shouting, "STEP BACK!"
Admittedly, this is but a small sample of the many lifesaving measures residents of the virtual world have pioneered to maintain their mental, emotional, and relational equilibrium. So I challenge you, dear reader, to keep the conversation going. Please, share your sweeet balancing skillz in the comments below!
Nightflower is currently dividing her time between writing, raising virtual reptiles, and enjoying the new expansion just released for Lord of the Rings Online. You can read more at her blog, NightLight. Contact her on Twitter @nightflowerSL, and via e-mail at email@example.com.