Two Times One Minus One

February 12, 2010

No, this post isn’t an homage to that musical supergroup Three Times One Minus One, but about how we keep our first and second lives together.  People come and go from Second Life all the time; it is simply the way things go in a pseudonymous virtual world.  (Which I blogged about before here.)   To be sure, the reasons people leave are many.  Things get too busy in their first life.  They get bored of their second life.  The list of reasons goes on and on and on.  Yet despite what people cite as a specific reason, I have noticed one theme among a group of departures upon which I can make a generalization.  There are exceptions, of course, and it doesn’t cover all people leaving SL but it does address a large group of departures.  Here’s the general trend that I’ve noticed:

“The lifespan of an avatar is inversely proportionate to the distance one keeps from their first life.”

Or, more simply put, the more people have to work to keep their first and second lives separate, the shorter their second life.   No, I’m not talking about people who don’t divulge their first life name, because that is probably 90% of SL Residents.  I’m talking more about the avatars who avoid acknowledging that they even have a first life.  If you’ve been around SL, I’m sure you’ve met the type; these are people that avoid sharing they had awful day at work for fear that someone might ask them what they do.  This is more about being so cautious that the person refuses to share contextual information as friendships develop.  Half the people in SL have something to the effect of “SL is SL and RL is RL” in their profiles, but I would venture to guess that the majority of them share some of their RL with people they’ve grown to trust.

But this doesn’t just apply to keeping your first life secret in your second, but also applies to people hiding their second life from their first. I tend to think that this is actually a larger group.  This is the people keeping their entire experience in Second Life secret from their spouse or partner.  Working hard to keep things hidden requires effort and psychic energy that eventually takes its toll.  Or, as one friend who left put it, “I just couldn’t keep lying all the time.”

Let’s be clear, I’m not judging here; at various points in my Second Life experiences, I’ve worked hard to keep them both separate.  While Second Life allows us to explore boundaries, create and do things that we might not be able to do in the atomic world, we really only have one life to live.  More accurately, I think it is often a process of realization that to maintain it all, one must find ways to be comfortable integrating all of these experiences together or risk burning out.

I would love to hear your two cents on this.  Do you feel you had to find a way to integrate all these aspects of your life?  Or, for those of you who work to keep them apart, has it felt challenging to do so as time passes?


  1. I don’t have two cents, do you have change for a $1L?

  2. I was waiting for people to respond negatively to your implication, but everyone like that I can think of is no longer in SL. Which proves your point, I guess. 😉

  3. @Grace – No, but I do have 5L I can give you. 😉

    @Botgirl – You might be right! I think most would agree except possibly some who have found a way to make it work and people who are still on the front end of their SL experience.

  4. My friends in SL who are the longest lived Avatars all mix RL info into all our conversations. I think you might have a point. My RL mate I constantly tell what’s happening in SL she has heard all the avatars names and what they do, but she like most RL friends think its all make believe and have little interest.
    But she lets this SL patriot prattle on.

  5. Wonderful post, Lanna. I think authenticity is the issue and by that I don’t necessarily mean RL names and such but certainly a consistent expression of our individual values, of how we think and behave when we’re around alot of people and when we’re by ourselves. That’s an ongoing thing (sometimes natural and easy, sometimes a challenge when belief systems are challenged) because — first or second or third — isn’t static. But as you say and I agree if someone is private about themselves it doesn’t mean they are inauthentic. It really does all come down to trust and intimacy. I’m not sure how those are achieved in the absence of authenticity.

  6. I had a relationship in RL when I first entered SL, and it ended *because* I shared; probably because my enthusiasm for this strange new world made it obvious that SL was more rewarding (which doesn’t speak highly of the RL relationship, does it…). I’ve remained single in RL since, avoiding that particular set of complications, but I do know people who have a spouse in RL and a different partner in SL, and I marvel at the hoops they jump through.

    From the other side: I have no problem sharing aspects of my RL with people in SL: they’re part of what shapes my character — not in the roleplay sense, but in terms of who I am.

  7. I think it’s easier to remain in SL if you relax the boundaries a little bit between SL & RL. If you’ve had a bad day & can’t admit it in SL, then people sometimes just assume you’re bitchy & rude – that doesn’t bode well for friendships. It’s easier to tell a little truth than to hide a lot.

    On the other side – sometimes I don’t know how to explain what I spend my time doing to my friends and acquaintances in RL. But the same thing has proven true here. If I simply say “I visit SecondLife”, there’s no awkward mumbling about online gaming or avoiding the question about what I did last night & when I finally mention it, most folks just shrug it off.

  8. I disagree. I believe those who keep their SLives a secret, have more ‘need’ of them. Hence, are less likely to leave SL. (unless they expose themselves, regret that, and do leave..)

  9. Balderdash!
    Rez Date: 9/25/2005
    number of ppl SL who know who I am RL = 3
    I am here for the duration

  10. Thank you for all the comments, I have a bad habit of sometimes waiting a little to long before responding.

    Let me be clear about one thing, this post was not about sharing your RL name in SL. I am a big fan of pseudonymous experience in SL and would be very sad to see it go away. If you think that’s what I’m advocating, I humbly suggest you go back a re-read my post.

    I believe there is a difference between. I used to try to get RL friends to try SL and they just looked at me like I was nuts. So, as a result, I don’t initiate it as a subject of conversation. On the other hand, my spouse knows about my SL. Not all of the specific details, but I don’t hide it, either.

    What I’m suggesting here – to paraphrase Lincoln – is that a house divided against itself cannot stand. I recognize that this is purely anecdotal, but the people who *worked* to keep their lives separate are the ones I saw burn out and leave.

  11. Lincoln may well have said what you’ve attributed to him above, but he in turn was quoting Jesus (as found in Mark 3:25). I say that not to play the picky editor, but to say that your underlying point is even more right than you may know!

    As you could likely guess, I couldn’t agree more with your thesis. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a virtual life. There’s nothing wrong with protecting your identity, guarding your privacy, or actively choosing the level of depth and transparency you’re comfortable with in any relationship – virtual or otherwise. As long as those restrictions are based upon a healthy understanding of your personal limits, you’ll probably find peace in SL.

    Active deception is altogether different. Whether you’re building virtual relationships based upon lies, or betraying RL relationships through secrecy (my downfall), you just can’t live that way for long. To paraphrase further, “A heart divided can’t survive.” There’s even a phrase for that, right? A broken heart. Eventually the pain and the fatigue gets to be too much, and something has to give. Some choose their virtual world, and let reality crumble around them. I chose to embrace reality, and turn my back on an existence which, while so often delightful, eventually tore me in half.

    Glad you’re back to blogging. I miss you 🙂

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