When you spend ten hours each day with the same people, you will cross some boundaries. I saw this every day in my work as a Human Resources professional. There is a phenomenon in the workforce called The Office Wife — it’s where a man comes to work and spills his emotional soul to a female colleague with whom he has cultivated a very personal, but not physical, relationship. The man is closer to his female colleague than to his wife, but he would never cross the line and initiate an affair.
Is that cheating? Well, maybe.
There are office husbands, of course, and the phenomenon isn’t strictly heterosexual. The phenomenon affects both men and women of faith, color, sexual preference, and just about every human being who needs to feel a connection and needs to be understood.
The initial question of the article (i.e., Is a man who loves an online alter-ego of another person really cheating on his wife?) seems silly, but the answer is clear to me.
Especially when you read the results of the studies related to virtual friends and relationships.
[…]Nearly 40% of men and 53% of women who play online games said their virtual friends were equal to or better than their real-life friends, according to a survey of 30,000 gamers conducted by Nick Yee, a recent Ph.D. graduate from Stanford University. More than a quarter of gamers said the emotional highlight of the past week occurred in a computer world, according to the survey, which was published in 2006 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press’s journal Presence.
[…]On a neurological level, players may not distinguish between virtual and real-life relationships, recent studies suggest.
[…]Family-law experts and marital counselors say they’re seeing a growing number of marriages dissolve over virtual infidelity. Cyber affairs don’t legally count as adultery unless they cross over into the real world, but they may be cited as grounds for divorce and could be a factor in determining alimony and child custody in some states, according to several legal experts, including Jeff Atkinson, professor at the DePaul University College of Law and author of the American Bar Association’s “Guide to Marriage, Divorce and Families.” This past June, the American Medical Association called for more psychiatric research on excessive gaming, but backed away from classifying videogame addiction as a formal disorder.
I’m not surprised by these results. There are only so many hours in the day for human beings to establish and nurture relationships. We need to work, we need to eat, and we need to sleep. The remaining hours are filled with so many distractions; work relationships and virtual relationships never seem to be very far from our minds.
The questions to ask (& there are many):
- If I only have five hours each day to devote to someone, will it be my real-life husband and friends, or will it be the people I meet on Second Life?
- Are the people I meet on Second Life even people?
- Are there friendships to be made in the virtual world, or am I creating a false sense of intimacy within my own mind?
- Is it better to feel a romanticized and immature love on-line, or is there a benefit to being loved and to demonstrate love in a flawed, imperfect world?