If you have ever wondered how I’ve been doing with my quantum of freedom, I owe you an apology. The fact that I left my story hanging where it hung four years ago must have given you the impression that all this time I’ve been really stable and on top of things, having my SL addiction under control and sailing along serenely, enjoying my real life to the fullest while allowing myself a little spot of innocent virtual entertainment in SL now and then. Right? Wrong.
It’s true though that things seemed to be running quite smoothly for a while, for almost two years after I posted Part IV in fact. I was doing my work, things were just fine between my wife and me, and I had a blast during the times I did spend in SL.
I shared a beautiful piece of land with two lovely ladies who were my best friends in SL. From the cabana on the shore of our island we had a splendid view of the magnificent surfing wave that took up the entire next sim. We had loads of fun shaping the land, trying out different types of houses, planting stuff, building, having guests over, dancing, swimming, surfing, boating… it was a kind of Paradise.
And yet, in the very back of my mind, there was always a nagging thought that all this couldn’t or shouldn’t last forever. I still spent quite a lot of time in SL – not as much anymore as I used to during the height of my addiction, but enough to severely limit my activities outside of SL. I had enough time to maintain my status quo in RL, but no time at all for new things, no time for deepening and growing. There were things I wanted to do and and experience and achieve before my RL account was canceled. Over a couple of years, I gradually realized that none of them were going to happen unless I cleared out the still considerable room SL was taking up in my life.
As none of this posed any immediate threat, however, these feelings and thoughts stayed on the back burner. I was too comfortable and enjoying myself too much to do anything about them. Most likely I would never have, but then, in the late spring of 2011, some strange things began to happen. I don’t know whether you believe in God, and if you do, whether you believe he sometimes talks to people, but that’s what it felt like to me at the time. Little things that happened, things that I read, snippets of conversations with friends, suddenly seemed to take on a definitive direction, as if someone was orchestrating them in order to get a message through to me. That message was, “It’s time to go.” At first I shut my ears, telling myself I was imagining it all. But the persistent tapping on my shoulder wouldn’t stop. I resisted as long as I could.
Then came Friday, June 24, 2011, the day the shoulder-tapper got tired of tapping. It was early evening, and I was in SL, sitting on the balcony of our tiki-style mansion on the island, minding my own business. Suddenly I noticed two green dots on the map – there were people on the island whose names I didn’t know. Usually I didn’t mind visitors – to be honest, I found it kind of flattering when people were enjoying the spaces I’d created in SL. This time though, when I focussed my camera on them, I found them having sex on my beach towel. Bad manners, I thought, and decided to give them the boot. I still had my camera on them and was just calling up the dialog to send them on their way when the door opened and my wife came in. I tried to minimize the SL screen, but I was so flustered that I kept hitting the wrong buttons. It was one of the most excruciatingly embarrassing moments of my life and would have played really well in a sitcom.
Only what came afterwards wasn’t funny at all. My wife was devastated and deeply disappointed. I managed to explain to her what had happened and what it meant, but even though she believed me after a while, it didn’t matter. She was angry with me, yes, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that the thing that had been a vague, nagging thought in the back of my mind, the thing that tapper had been trying to draw my attention to with his insistent tapping, was felt by her in that moment as an unbearable, acute pain: I was wasting away my life in SL. And seeing her pain broke my resistance. I suddenly saw my life from her perspective and confessed to myself what a terrible waste it was. That night, I promised her and myself to leave SL for good.
And I fully intended to do that. I logged on one last time to take care of some business and write a few farewell notes to my friends, then logged off, went to the account page and cancelled my account.
Trouble was, SL didn’t let me off so easily. First of all, I had this piece of land I shared with my friends, and in my farewell note I told them that as long as they wanted to stay there, I’d continue to pay my share. My plan was to transfer the money to one of them via PayPal. But then came the second obstacle: When I fetched my email the next day, I found a message from the Lindens saying my account cancellation was “pending” and would be carried out on my next billing day – which, as I was paying yearly, was still nearly five months away.
So, even though in my farewell notes I had pompously announced that “the SL avatar known as Dylan Rickenbacker” had “ceased to exist”, it now turned out that he still existed after all and would continue to do so for quite some time.
And of course the messages he got still got through to me. Lots of people told me not to burn my boats. Why not just downgrade to a basic account and leave it there? Even if I didn’t want to spend time in SL anymore, there was no need to throw Dylan and all his inventory in the bin. Made sense. After a while, I gave in, contacted customer support, revoked my cancellation and downgraded instead.
Plus, although I wasn’t logging on anymore, I still read all of the SL-related blogs I was subscribing to. So while Dylan wasn’t present in SL anymore, SL continued to be very much present in my head.
As my account still existed after all, there was no need to go through PayPal with the rent thing either. I had passed the rest of my L$ to one of my friends when I left, but after maybe a couple of months that was used up, and the rent was due again. Money was still coming in from my marketplace sales, so the easiest thing was for me to log on for a minute and transfer my share to my friend’s account. Of course, we used the opportunity for a little chat. Was nice to see the island again too. Oh well. I logged off again.
A month later, the rent was due again, so time for another little visit. This time I stayed a bit longer. Then before the next month was over, an issue came up with some of my objects on the island, so I went in to take care of that. And why not stay around for half an hour and catch a couple of waves on my surfboard? No harm in that.
You already guess it – the intervals between my visits became shorter and shorter, until I was back in SL every few days. Then another thing happened. I’d been reading about mesh on and off, and now mesh was officially online, and the blogs started to be full of the great things that could be done with it, not least in the fashion department. I got curious and decided to create an alt, for the express purpose of sending him on the Menstuff hunt to check out this mesh thing. I didn’t want to use Dylan, because if he suddenly showed up every day again, everyone would think I was back, which I wasn’t, right? I just wanted to go on this hunt for a few days to satisfy my curiosity, then I’d delete the alt again.
So that’s what I set out to do. Only after Carth, my alt, had completed the hunt (which incidentally turned up precious little good mesh stuff, but some nice other things), he wanted to show off his finds, so I thought I’d stay for a couple of days more to visit some of the familiar haunts like the Shelter, Frank’s, etc. Inevitably, he met some nice people. Inevitably, the skin from the hunt wasn’t quite right after all, so I decided to spring a few Lindens to buy him a proper one. And inevitably, one day at Frank’s he ran into my one remaining friend who by now lived alone on the island Dylan still officially shared with her (the other one, who had been my partner for years, had decided to move on and left). Something Carth said made my friend perk up her ears, and after they’d met a couple more times, she asked him point-blank whether he was me. Of course, Carth confessed on the spot, and that was the moment when there was no way to hide anymore from the fact that I was back. No sense in fooling around with an alt anymore. Carth went into oblivion, and Dylan moved back in with my friend.
What followed now was, from an SL perspective, the best year I ever had there. Within a couple of months, my friend and I developed a very close, wonderful relationship of love and trust that was immensely enriching for both of us. Together we went for another round of enjoying all the great things SL has to offer – surfing, sailing, music, art, all the wonderful creations of landscaping and building, and above all talking. And together we discovered and explored new worlds inside of us we hadn’t known before. We still had other friends we loved dearly, but it became increasingly clear to both of us that each was to the other the main reason to stay in SL.
Then, toward the end of 2012, the shoulder-tapper started tapping again. It began when this blog, which had been basically lying dormant for ages with hardly anyone looking at it, suddenly drew comments from people again. Two of those called my bluff about the “quantum of freedom” I had described in Part IV of this series. They didn’t even know how right they were. By that time, it had become clear to me that I was as addicted to SL again as I ever was, even though I had learned to maintain enough balance to avoid capsizing my RL boat. In a way, though, the situation was even more dangerous now because it had the potential of going on forever. But again, those comments on the blog and other things I read, talks I had with my friend, and other signals I got came together as if orchestrated to send me a message I couldn’t pretend to be deaf to.
Only this time my friend and I both felt the tapping on our shoulders. In fact, this time it was she who got into a situation not unlike my unforgettable embarrassing moment back in 2011. The next day, she told me about it, and I could tell that it had rattled her up thoroughly.
I knew then that we had come to a crossroads. We both had had plenty of these moments of clarity when we knew we needed to leave. Now we both had one of these moments together, at the same time. “There are three things that could happen now”, I said to my friend. “One is, we could stop right here. The second is, we let this moment pass, and there will be another, and another, and another. And the third is the one that scares me most: we let this moment pass, and there won’t be another.”
So we did the only thing that made sense – we decided to stop. We picked a day a few days later when we both were going to delete our accounts. We used the time until then to say our goodbyes and wrap up whatever there was to wrap up. Then the day came: November 28, 2012, exactly half a year ago today. We went for a last outing on our sailboat, got shipwrecked on a last sim crossing, and then, floating in the water sans hair, unable to move and close to crashing, we both deleted our accounts and logged off. I haven’t looked back once.
This time, I have not only left SL, I stopped reading about it too. I’m still in contact with a few of my best friends there, but through other channels and using our real names. Dylan doesn’t live there anymore, and neither do I. This blog entry, which I’ve been procrastinating on for ages, is the first, last and only SL-related thing I’ve been doing in the last six months. And I’m doing this only because I feel a responsibility to leave no-one under the false impression that I am happy in SL and RL and have it all sorted.
There remain a few thanks to be said.
To Nell, for your biting sarcasm. It hurt and did me no end of good. You might not have intended to do me a service, but you did.
To Ron, for sharing your story so passionately. I may never talk about SL quite the way you do, but you helped rattle me awake.
To the Great Shoulder-Tapper: Thank you for your patience, persistence and grace.