Does Virtual Relationships Mean Virtual Feelings?


And the question that someone asked me once was …”Are virtual relationships more satisfactory than real life relationships?”   According to Gilbert (2011), Loyola Marymount University interviewed 416 Second Life users for a study.  Half of them expressed having a more open communication with their virtual partner than with their real life partners, and more than one-third expressed having a “strong connection” with their virtual partner.  In the sexual aspect, 43% indicated having greater satisfaction in their virtual relationship than in their RL. Overall, the study suggested that relationships in Second Life were more satisfying than in Real Life.
Technology and particularly the Internet have changed remarkably the way we interact, and even more, how we build romantic relationships.   We use technology almost in every aspect of our life; we spend more time in front of a computer than performing any other daily activity.  Messenger, Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp, have become our everyday tools to establish social ties and romantic bonding.  We tend to divide our time with others into two scenarios: the real and the virtual life, and in many occasions, the virtual scenario prevails.
The truth is that for some, virtual relationships are false, cold and distant; they will not change the real physical contact, caresses, skin, smells, etc.; something that the virtual reality cannot offer yet.  But for others, virtual relationships means the best emotional connection that someone can have, but that depends on the character of the individual, their environment, their culture, their past experiences and especially their emotional needs.
In most cases, romantic relationships in Second Life are of short duration. Some users have married 6, 7, or 10 times. There are even users who marry and have a family with a virtual partner and then eventually create a new avatar and leave the life they built, leaving friends and even their partners forgotten, a luxury that cannot be done so easily in the real world.  But whatever the inclination of the person, it is worth remembering that for more realism achieved, Second Life is still a tool where individuals sitting in front of a screen are playing to be the perfect partner….and unless this partner jumps into the real life, human relationships will be reduced to a computer game.
Many claim to have had much stronger feelings with someone online than in real life.  That’s because face-to-face relationships have their reality in front of them, and there is no place for imagination as it happens with online relationships.  However, when the eyes have not seen the reality, the mind begins to imagine and to create an idealized figure of what we would like to find in the ideal person, and all this happens unconsciously.  So gradually the user enters in an illusion, reaching a high intensity.
I have known friends who have suffered because of virtual relationships.  Talking to someone online without seeing them in person is like entering into a fantasy world, and often the most vulnerable people are “dreamers.”
With my comments, I do not pretend to judge or label virtual relationships as “good” or “bad.”  I have known couples that met in SL and took their relationship to RL and are happy together…..but also I have known other couples that did the same thing, but their relationships ended in failure.  Regardless, the world of Second Life is one that can be very enjoyable – let’s have fun, fall in love, have kids, or do whatever we like doing in Second Life but let’s remember that there is a human being behind every avatar in SL….a REAL person……someone that has REAL FEELINGS not VIRTUAL FEELINGS……. Let’s not forget that.
Gilbert, R. L. (2011, July). Conducting In-World Psychological Research on 3D Virtual Worlds. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 4(1), 4-18.

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