Many years ago I worked the graveyard shift, and I was in a relationship that was making me really unhappy. I felt lonely and isolated. Then I discovered the virtual world of Second Life. Second Life may have saved my first life, or at the very least my sanity. It’s not a game like World of Warcraft. It’s more of a place to interact socially. I would log on when I got to work, and made friends all over the world whom I could hang out with until the wee hours. Many of them are good friends still.
You’d think that in a virtual world you could hide your real self, but I’ve found it to be quite the opposite. Since you aren’t hiding behind your looks or your job or your reputation, you are actually more exposed. All you have, really, is… you. Sure, you can probably fake it for a while, pretend to be someone you’re not, but in the end, just by talking, day in and day out, your true character comes shining through, warts and all.
I have to admit that I am more confident in SL. My avatar is much better looking than I am. I’m more flirty and outgoing than I’d ever be in the real world. But that confidence is still coming from somewhere inside of me, and it’s nice to let it come out and play every once in a while.
I don’t go in to SL as often as I used to. Most of my good friends in there keep in touch with me in other ways, either through Facebook or e-mail or on the phone. But I’ve only met two of them face to face so far.
The first one was my friend Martine. I’ve blogged about her before, but the short version is that if I were ever to have a daughter, I’d want her to be just like Martine. I visited her the day before I discovered that my boyfriend had died unexpectedly, changing my life forever. Martine has always been there for me.
The second one I met very recently in Vancouver. I’ve known Sim/Martin for about 7 years. We’ve talked daily, or at the very least weekly, ever since then. He’s a dear friend. We’ve done art collaborations, he created a website for me, he gave me a ton of moral support through a really painful breakup, and he even bought me a laptop when I shattered mine and couldn’t afford to replace it. (Read more about that here.) In turn, I introduced him to his wonderful girlfriend, and they are very happy together, and have been for many years.
But meeting him face to face was something else again. I mean, I knew him, and I was confident that he was a decent human being. But did I know him, really? I was going to stay in a man’s apartment in a foreign country, and this is someone I’d never met. And yet I knew him well. Sort of. It was a strange dichotomy.
Talking to him during the planning of the trip made it quite clear he was nervous, too. He is not someone who entertains guests frequently, and I could just as easily have been some loud, obnoxious, crazy American. Somehow knowing he had reservations too made it easier for me.
Even so, I left all his contact information with my sister and my friend Martine, just in case Sim was a serial killer. And if either of us had felt the least bit uncomfortable when I met him, I would have stayed in a hotel. But we arranged to meet at a coffee shop down the street from his apartment, and all went well.
I had seen one real life, blurry picture of Sim, and I sort of thought of him as the old hippie with the really long beard. But as I entered the coffee shop there were two guys with really long beards sitting there. (In Vancouver they both fit right in.) I looked the first guy in the eye and somehow I just knew that wasn’t Sim. The second guy most definitely was. To this day I couldn’t tell you how I knew that, but I did, and I was right.
I had always known Sim as a good, kind, generous person, but what struck me upon actually meeting him was what a gentile spirit he has. Even though he’s fiercely loyal to his friends, he couldn’t hurt a flea. I was charmed.
And seeing him was like coming home to an old friend, and picking up right where we left off. He was a perfect gentleman and a generous host, and a pure delight to be around. And there wasn’t a single body part in his freezer. We had fun in Vancouver. (You can read about that in the previous two posts.)
One thing Sim and I seem to have in common is that we lead pretty isolated lives. So it was quite a change for both of us to be able to walk down the street arm in arm and talk, and hang out in his apartment like two people having a slumber party, gossiping about mutual friends and past experiences. It was nice to wake up in the middle of the night knowing that I wasn’t all alone for a change. Sim was on the far side of the room, and that made me feel safe, which is a feeling I don’t have very frequently.
He also shared his real life art with me, and why some of this stuff isn’t hanging in a gallery I will never know. When I left, he gave me three pieces which I intend to have framed and will cherish always.
This is a man who walks down the streets of Vancouver every day, and is passed by people who have absolutely no idea how special he is. That really makes you wonder about the people you walk by, doesn’t it? What are you missing?
All I know is that I have a dear friend. It’s a friendship that’s kind and supportive and completely devoid of pressure. It’s the kind of friendship that’s better than a romance, because you know it will be there for life. How lucky am I?