Romances That Began In A Far-Away Land
And finally, a more elaborate account of several online romances by a female player highlight how these relationships, when you read them for what they are, seem to parallel and resonate with how relationships begin and end in real life - that there is nothing strange or novel about them after all.
I have been in several romantic relationships with people met in EQ. The first was early on, when I had just been playing for a few months. I'll call him 'D'. I met D when he was hunting with a friend and they invited me to join them since they needed a healer. We all had a lot of fun so we started grouping together on a regular basis. I became friends with both of them, and eventually some of their other friends, but D and I especially enjoyed spending time together.
Our characters started flirting and taking an overt interest in one another, and pretty soon people viewed us as something equivalent to a dating couple. After two months or so, he asked if I'd be interested in talking on the phone. We did, and really enjoyed it, so we started talking on a regular basis and exchanged pictures by email. After another month or so, D's character proposed to mine, and they had an in game wedding.
Another month or so after that, he came into town on business and we met in person. We met at a neutral place (restaurant) and my Mom came along, because otherwise she would have been home tearing her hair out with worry. But he was exactly who he'd claimed to be, just a normal guy. It was a little awkward at first, knowing this person's personality so well but being a complete stranger to them physically.
For the first day it kind of felt like a first date, with nervous giggles every time our hands brushed together, that sort of thing. But by the second day most of the weirdness had worn off and it mostly felt like we'd been dating for at least a few weeks. A couple months later he had another trip into town on business and stayed for another weekend. There was no weirdness that time; it was as if we'd been together since our characters started 'dating'.
He had a couple of layovers in town for 1-2 hours at a time after that, so I just went and met him at the airport to sit and talk. (This was long before 9/11 so I could meet him at the gate.) A few months later I flew 2000 miles to spend a week with him at his place. At that point I was considering moving out there, as he had much more tying him to where he was than I did and I thought I would enjoy that part of the country. It'd be an adventure even if things didn't work out.
But before it got that far, things started going downhill anyway. It was a long, drawn-out, confusing sort of break-up, but I honestly think he just lost interest and didn't know how to tell me. It took a long time to get over that, because of the messy ending. He stopped playing by the end, which was really just as well. My character stopped wearing the wedding ring eventually, but she still has it in the bank, almost three years later.
After that there was a string of some pretty foolish romantic relationships. I swapped pictures with a number of folks, some of whom were truly just friends both between us and between our characters. There was one guildmate that I had known almost from the beginning but didn't get close to until after things ended with D, we'll call him J. J had had a longstanding crush on the friend who got me into EQ, even though she was in a committed relationship and had no romantic interest in him. He and I started spending more time together, and soon he was obsessing over me as much as he had obsessed over my friend.
I was not really interested in another relationship, still recovering from D, but I enjoyed his company and was flattered by the attention, although I never lied to him about how I felt. Still selfish, I know. J and I had low level alts that we sometimes played together, and behaved as if they were married although we'd never had an in game wedding for them. (Yes yes I know I know.) After several months of this J took an interest in one of several new members to the guild. Knowing full well how foolish I was being, I still got jealous and resentful and went to some effort to keep J's attention.
His new object of affection was eating up his attentions, though, and pulling all the right strings, so it wasn't very successful. I made myself back off a bit, but we still talked a lot. J had always teasingly pestered me about coming to visit him, but a couple months after he took an interest in the other guildmate I realized I had a good chunk of vacation time stored up again and thought it might be fun to go visit. (Yes I know!)
He lives in a major metropolis that I've always wanted to see, and I knew that even as 'just friends' we'd still have a great time. So I went, and really we did have a great time. Some things happened that shouldn't have, but nothing worth agonizing over. I knew in the back of my mind that this was never going to lead to anything long-term, so I can't say I was very surprised when I came back home and he returned to showering affection on my guildmate. It hurt, but given the fun we had while I was there and all the sights I got to see and the things I learned about men (ugh), I don't regret it.
The string of foolish, short relationships continued, but none with anyone I actually met in person. Some of them wanted to, including one from overseas who talked about flying here, but at least I had enough sense not to let that happen. Then this past fall another serious relationship appeared rather suddenly. We'll call him Y. I had known Y almost from the beginning of my EQ days, and considered him one of my closest friends in game. He had been in beta testing with the friends who got me started in EQ, and was even closer to them.
He was married when we met though, and had played with his wife for the first couple years. They had separated maybe eight months prior to the start of our relationship, in a very messy and painful breakup. His wife had all but stopped playing, at least on any characters that I and my friends knew, but I had no particular ill will towards her. I had met Y already, at the RL graduation of the friends who got me playing, when he and his then-wife came.
It was the first time they had met any of us, but a great time was had by all. So anyway, having once already met Y and having spent tons and tons of time together in game, having supported each other through our various heartbreaks (he helped me cope with the difficulties of D and J, and I spent a lot of time helping him deal with the departure of his wife), when he suddenly started talking about how I should visit. This idea sounded great immediately because Y lives in what is by far the most appealing part of the country to me. I was a little hesitant though, as I'd always had something of a crush on Y, although I think I'd done a good job of keeping it nothing more than that, given that the man was married and then going through the trauma of a failed marriage. I never even let myself consider anything serious with him to that point, but was afraid that being there with him, all lonely and vulnerable, might present some problems.
So I was sort of pushing the idea around on my plate without actually taking a bite until he rather suddenly confessed that he had begun thinking of me as more than a friend. That was a shock and a half. After literally years of having a hopeless crush, knowing deep down it could never ever happen, suddenly it was happening. Foolish optimist that I am, I ignored the voice whispering 'rebound' and went for it. Having known each other for so long, we immediately launched into a serious relationship. We made the plans for my trip out there.
My Mom bought me a new set of luggage as an early birthday present to take on my trip. (She's come a long way since D!) I rambled on endlessly about him at work, plastered his picture on the desktop of all the various computers I use, and idly surfed through job openings in his area. The only thing that worried me is it all seemed too good to be true, too absolutely perfect, things that good simply don't happen to me. I told him so, told him all about my misgivings and worries and everything, but he was the picture of confidence, reassuring me endlessly of his affection and happy anticipation. We talked as if marriage were a foregone conclusion and everything up until that point just a pleasant formality.
We talked several times a day (very much long distance) but didn't spend as much time together as we'd have liked, due to his irregular work schedule. But we did sling plenty of sappy emails back and forth. Then...*sigh*...a couple weeks before the trip, he started acting just a little distant. He talked about being busy with work, and did hold a very responsible position at his job, so I didn't think much of it. But sure enough, literally a few days before the trip, I dragged out of him that he no longer felt so much in love any more.
He'd been planning on letting me come and hoping that'd rekindle things (selfish son-of-unwed-parents) but thankfully I had the sense to be doubtful, and my Mom and my friends had the sense to talk me the rest of the way out of it. That one hurt, hurt worse than D or J combined ever had. Y had been a friend for so long, I trusted him implicitly. We had been through so much together over the years, I just couldn't conceive of him hurting me that much. I now know never to trust *any* man that much, online or otherwise, at least not without a very real ring on my ring finger.
I spent the weekend on the couch, alternately sleeping and crying, and then took a couple days off work to continue sleeping and crying. Of course life goes on, his picture was stripped off all my desktops an all reminders removed from sight. It was a week before I could unpack my bags though (they were ready to go a week before my flight).
For a while after that trauma I wanted nothing to do with men, of course. It was a few months before it dawned on me that one of the friends I'd been spending a lot of time with seemed to be a little more attentive and interested than usual in a friend. We'll call him R. I had met R about a year earlier, shortly after he started playing. We were in different guilds but our guilds do a lot of things together, so we ran into each other a lot and found it natural enough to start hanging out on our own, inviting each other to come when our groups needed more people or when we were soloing and wanted some company. He'd been a very good friend to me through all the stuff with Y, willing either to listen quietly or distract me, as needed.
We spent every possible spare moment together, and I started having feelings for him. After a couple months of worrying about ruining our friendship and making a fool of myself, I decided I couldn't possibly look a bigger fool than I did after Y, and R's a sweet and strong enough person to handle any temporary discomfort if he wasn't feeling as I suspected, so I told him how I felt. Turns out I (and the friends I'd had watching for signs of interest in him) were right, he did feel the same.
He'd never been in a serious relationship before, online or otherwise, so we started out taking it slow and so far it seems to have gone well. We talk on the phone maybe once a week or so, email a couple times a week, and have our own private chat channel in game at all times, so we are in constant touch whenever we're both online. It's almost like having him sitting there next to me...almost. He's scheduled to visit here in four weeks, and assuming that goes well will be applying to grad school at the big university in town. :)
I was worried about what would happen if he came here and we promptly broke up, but badgered him with what if's until satisfied that he feels here is as good as anywhere for grad school and wouldn't feel compelled to immediately move back if things go sour. He has a strong network of friends and is close to his family, so I think he'd be okay. I'm still nervous, but he's worth the risk.
I went into all that detail in an attempt to illustrate the fact that none of these relationships differs much from RL relationships, except for the geographical distance and resulting dependence on technology for staying in touch and eventual need for relocation by one party or the other. Those are the only hardships I see at all.
The jerky behavior I endured (and selfish, foolish behavior I committed) has nothing to do with having met online and everything to do with human nature. I haven't been in any long term RL relationships for comparison, but I've been in plenty of short ones and seen friends go through all sorts of long and short ones. I see no difference between those and mine that started online, except for the hardships imposed by distance.
And the benefits go a long way towards outweighing the hardships. Relationships online pretty much all start with friendships, because that's all you have to go on for attraction. Everyone's a hottie, and a fake computer animation at that, so there really isn't any chasing of people based purely on appearance. Itís very easy to spot the ones who are only after the 'rich and powerful', maybe because of the intensely social nature of game time. The game is all about interaction, so there's never an issue of where to go or what to do, or for that matter of personal safety while spending time together.
People sometimes say 'aren't you worried that he could turn out to be a murderer or something?' to which I reply 'so this guy I've talked to for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of hours over the course of a year, and about whom I have developed no criminal suspicions whatsoever, is still more dangerous in your eyes than in some random guy who sat down next to me in a bar ten minutes ago? I don't think so.'
Of course people can deceive others over long periods of time, but that's nothing new to online relationships. Heck my cousin married a guy that we all thought was great, they dated a long time and her family loved him. But on the flight to their honeymoon he started drinking and was a drunken abuser ever since. No one even dreamt him capable of such a thing. They're long since separated and have been fighting very nasty custody battles.
That kind of stuff happens just as much in RL, it just doesn't grab attention the way it does when people happened to meet online initially. I'm firmly convinced that if it weren't for the geographic problems and the resulting heartache, meeting online would be by far the best way to go. [EQ, F, 25]