Thursday, May 22, 2008

Drama in paradise: Love, Limerence and Virtual Worlds

Here's a little story. See if it sounds familiar.

You meet someone in-world. They are hot. You flirt. There seems to be an intense connection. Maybe you hook up. Maybe you don't. But you soon find yourself thinking more and more frequently about the object of your affections. At some point an invisible switch is thrown and you begin to experience intense emotions and mood swings that are overpowering at times: Exuberance if it seems they share your desire; a terrible ache if you feel it is unrequited. As a matter of fact, the more uncertainly you have, the stronger the obtrusive thoughts become. The overwhelming feelings don't only color your virtual life, but bleed into your offline world. Although it occasionally transitions to a stable mutual love, we all know how the story usually ends, right? Not well.

There are two books I recommend that explain the psychological and biological factors behind this kind of chaotic scenario.

Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love" by Dorothy Tennov provides a detailed map of the process described above, which she calls "limerence." For those susceptible to limerence, it can transform an initially enjoyable relationship into an escalating whirlpool of drama that sucks energy from every aspect of their lives through obsessive thoughts and overwhelming feelings. Although not written with virtual worlds in mind, the 3D virtual environment is to limerence what Kona is to marijuana.

Although understanding limerence doesn't make one immune, it can provide a little light to help weather the storm, both for the limerent and the object of their infatuation.

Getting The Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. sees these kind of emotional upheavals as eruptions of unresolved relationship issues that may stem back to infancy. For example, if a child was frequently separated from the primary caregiver before she was developmentally prepared, she may find herself experiencing feelings of abandonment in adult intimate relationships when no reasonable evidence exists; or she may find herself being attracted to lovers who really ditch her. In either case, once she connects the present-time issues with unresolved past trauma, she can start to pass the the developmental gates that were prematurely shut down in childhood.

My point isn't that everyone should swear off the joys of flirting, emotional connection, lusty interludes, tingly crushes and the ten thousand and one pleasures of virtual eroticism. Only that we will likely save ourselves and our loved ones a great deal of pain if we go in with eyes wide open to the underlying dynamics. And if you are especially vulnerable to limerence, it may be best to at least take a breather and work on the related issues when you're not in the middle of an outbreak.

Anyway, I'll continue to lay out the Botgirl spin on the topic in future posts. I have a feeling this will be another controversial subject and I look forward to the possibility of an interesting comment thread.


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A beautiful thought experiment personified through the imagined perspective of a self-aware avatar. My creator's site can is at