Trust and Shame in Pseudonymous Personal Relationships

I’m borrowing (oh alright, stealing) the title of Botgirl Questi’s post of the same name, because this post is mostly a long comment that I wrote for that posting. (Yes, more word-reuse! Conserve neurons!)

The original posting (which you should read) suggests that pseudonymity (by which I think she means withholding real life details, and speaking only and always from within a virtual identity) is not a healthy thing in close personal relationships. As we’ve come to expect from Botgirl :) the post is well thought out and thought-provoking.

My own first reaction to reading it was that it was obviously correct (I’ve seen all too many SL relationships founder on the rocks of RL/SL separation), but on the other hand it felt wrong. In particular it felt wrong for me, and for quite a few of my SL friends, who have been functioning quite comfortably for months or years in SL as virtual creatures, with no particular interest in RL facts about people except as they happen to come up in conversation.

What’s the difference between those two cases? Well, I realized, to first order the relationships that have foundered have been aspiring to something like marriage, whereas the ones where pseudonymity seems just fine have not. So I tried to write that down in the comments; here’s what I said (very lightly edited for clarity):

Very interesting subject! I wonder how much this applies to close personal relationships in general, and how much of it is specific to (to use a phrase that we’re all avoiding saying) romantic love relationships, especially the officially-monogamous virtual-marriage kind.

I have friends in Second Life who I consider to be close personal friends, and whose RL identities I know little or nothing about. And that doesn’t seem to me to be any problem. We are friends because we enjoy each other’s company, because we laugh at the same things, because we understand (or enjoy coming to understand) each other’s in-jokes, because the exchange of thoughts and ideas between us is deeply rewarding.

I don’t care if they’re male or female in RL, young or old, blue or green. Why should I? It’s useful to know what timezone they’re in :) and sometimes we talk about RL things, the weather, happenings in our respective nearby cities, and so on. But if it turned out that they’d been doing some protective masking there, and talking about the weather in Duluth when they’re really in Peoria, I wouldn’t feel angry or betrayed.

Friends are friends, darn it, and if they feel they need or want to keep some information private or obscured for their own reasons, being a friend imho includes being understanding about that, and letting them have that choice and that space, and assuming that there’s some good reason behind it.

I’ve never had a personal relationship in SL come to a bad end or otherwise turn unhealthy because someone (either me or the other person) insisted on pseudonymity, and I have a hard time imagining it happening, for the reasons I give above; friends are allowed to keep up whatever barriers we’re comfortable with.

Of course we’re also allowed to lower whatever barriers we want to lower :) and I’ve had close friends eventually tell me RL things about them that they generally keep hidden, and that’s a lovely feeling of trust and closeness. But I don’t think that means that all barriers must always be lowered for a close personal relationship to be a healthy one.

On the other hand I have seen people (all too many people) get into what they thought of as virtual marriages, nominally monogamous, exclusive, trust-me-with-everything sorts of things, where barriers have come to be a problem. In that case, where either implicitly or explicitly each party is promising complete openness to the other, then holding back on that promised or expected openness can be an unhealthy thing.

Maybe because I myself amn’t looking for a life-mate in SL :) I think it would be good to distinguish between things that are true of close personal friendships in general, and things that are true mostly of virtual marriages in particular. My current feeling is that “pseudonymity is unhealthy” may be true of the latter, but is not particularly true of the former.

It’s probably obvious that my thinking isn’t fully-baked here :) but there it is. Comments are most welcome, either here or perhaps better over in the original post. Or both!

10 Responses

  1. Thank you for this, Dale. Something with Botgirl’s original post didn’t sit quite right with me, and you’ve managed to articulate something a *lot* closer to my experience in your post.

    I commented at length over there, but I wanted to thank you again here ;)

  2. I did have a relationship with a friend end badly and it was not at all a romantic situation.

    She showed up on my land as an alt and did not disclose she was the same RL person as the person I adored. I found out and was heartbroken that she pretended to be a different person.

    What went wrong? As BotGirl said:

    1) She did not trust me
    2) She was dishonest about who she was; and
    3) She had shame about an aspect of her human self.

    Botgirl’s post really helped me understand something that hurt me badly. So while I do not disagree with a word you have said, Dale, I think these things can be enormously complicated and romantic love is not a clear dividing line.

  3. @Argent, thanks! :) You and your SL family are some of the folks I had in mind in writing this. We may not live in each other’s pockets, but we’re definitely friends, and I can’t think of any way that my not knowing your corresponding human’s height or weight or gender or nationality makes that friendship any less healthy. And (or but, or something) I doubt that there’s anything I could find out along those lines that would make me feel betrayed or anything. (“Blue eyes?!?!? How could you!”)

    @Ches, that’s really interesting! Is it that there was already something going wrong in the friendship, and her coming in as an undisclosed alt was a result or symptom of that? Or did she do it for some innocent reason and her doing it caused a new rift between you?

    Thinking about your example, I can definitely agree that pseudonymity in that sort of context can be a symptom of a problem in any relationship, romantic or not, and as you say Botgirl’s list of three reasons is a good list. But if a relationship isn’t already in trouble, is it unhealthy in itself? I mean, if I found out that a friend that I was on fine terms with had done that, I would think “how funny, I wonder why they did that?”, and either ask them about it, or leave it as one of those intriguing little mysteries… :)

    (In fact I’ve had one stranger introduce herself to me as the alt of a friend; but she wouldn’t tell me which friend. That was alot of fun, going back and forth with her and trying to guess. Only tangentially related, I realize; but it makes me smile to think of.)

  4. I doubt that there’s anything I could find out along those lines that would make me feel betrayed or anything.

    Exactly. We may feel surprise at this person we’re meeting for the first time, but not betrayal, because the relationship is not built on false FL facts.

    I like to think of it as two people who are very close introducing their friends to each other. The relationship may not be the same as it is in SL, but it has a good chance of being a good one.

    Nice to hear you were thinking of us when you wrote this. I was thinking of us when I read it ;)

  5. I cannae speak about SL lurve relationships as I’ve never done that – in my very blokey way I guess if they were just about sex (joint in-world & solo in RL) than I dobt RL info would be needed beyond more sexy details. But I would imagine that for a real relationship to form, RL info would be needed otherwise it’s just role playing a relationship – like someone falling for me as HBA and not me as David.

    When it comes to friendships I’m more with you – I have good friends in SL who I know lots about their RL, something about their RL and nothing about their RL. I tend to chat to the ones I know more RL info about as it means we have more to talk about, but I still value the others . In fact one of my oldest friends in SL I knew lots about her RL but we managed to fall out over something daft and now never see each other, etc. so even knowing lots about RL doesn’t always make that link stronger.

    Any of that make sense?

  6. Reasons not to want your name known:

    1. You’re famous
    2. You’re semi-famous, or at least find-able on Google
    3. You’ve been a bad girl/naughty boy on SL
    4. You don’t want your fetishes visible to the world
    5. You have a job
    6. You’re looking for a job
    7. You’ve had arguments with SL-ers and don’t want them using that against you
    8. Any of the above combined and a dozen other reasons

    I like Botgirl but I think she’s really pushing this angle because she’s very creative, has none of those handicaps above, and wants her creativity here part of her portfolio. Which is fine, but it’s not for everyone.

  7. @HeadBurro: Yeah, sort of, maybe. :) Friendship is a kind of relationship, but in your first paragraph where you say “real relationship” I think you are meaning “real love relationship”, and I can understand thinking that in that kind of relationship one wants to share absolutely everything so of course RL information also. But I dunno, I can easily imagine ppl being really and truly in love but for whatever reason (or for no reason) not sharing RL information anyway. I dunno if that would make it role-playing, or if that would make it role-playing I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. We’re all role playing most (all?) of the time, in some sense, aren’t we? SL an’ RL.

    @kanomi: Yeah, v true. Botgirl acknowledges that, but I think she is a little ambiguous between saying that those reasons fall under her (1) (2) (3), and saying that her (1) (2) (3) don’t apply to cases where there are obvious reasons like those. We should tickle her until she clarifies!

  8. Hello Dale.. I saw that Prok has been a very bad host, but never mind that.. I was interested in posting to this topic because I have my reasons of not wanting my RL fully broadcasted across the metaverse-

    Like Kanomi said, there were those reasons and the combination of them like 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8— and my own, to protect people who are in my family who can be possible targets who can not protect themselves.. who also may or may not have jobs.

    I had a fairly well read blogg.. once.. even if it was with a pseudonym- suddenly something personal came out and my husband who never read anything I wrote, one day read through some of it..

    He said he wanted me to remove or edit some of the parts because it could be tied to him.. that he didn’t want me to delete it, but I made my stance and got rid of the lot.. it was aproxomately 2 and a half years of nearly daily writing and was read by my friends with rather famous names. (although some may not think so)

    Needless to say, my husband was a bit peved at me for it.. as he never wanted me to destroy it, only make it even more anonymous, so I work within this new framework, that nothing should be tied to my real name nor my real life in case something should happen or that we become targets of someone’s hate, or even that people from his job should read it.

    It wasn’t that there wasn’t anything saucy either, it was basic “life” and just daily events… even the arguments. I figured it was better to delete than edit.

    I don’t know if that makes sense but now, I just want to avoid loosing a huge amount of never getting too personal with my real life.

  9. Thanks, Alter, for sharing your own experience. I don’t think anyone would deny that some people have very good reasons to keep their Web identities and/or SL identities separate from their RL identities. And when people are honest about it I don’t think it’s unhealthy in any real way, or unhealthy for all personal relationships; that was my basic point of disagreement with Botgirl’s posting, or what I read into her posting.

    I do think, as Zha and others have said in this general topic in the recent spate of postings, that a lack of honesty can be unhealthy. But if one is pseudonymous, and honest and open about the fact, I don’t think that is any barrier to a good set of person relationships, in any of the worlds.

  10. I don’t feel that if people “don’t know me” or get close enough to me, that I would be “decieving” them.. if I give them a real name, it shouldn’t change anything other than the fact they now have something to look up and about most of my personal facts can come to light.

    However, I still post pictures of my self with my pseudonymn and some of my family life, strictly set for “friends only”..I don’t feel EVERYONE has to know these details, do you? I mean its just amunition for the haters.. they can hate on my picture, if they wish, but stay away from my child or husband.. is that so hard for people to comprehend? If BotGirl had something to protect, maybe she would see it as such? I don’t know.

    I feel OTHER people demands of being “honest” with a RL name are unreasonable, it makes me think of “Spirited Away” where once you give that name.. its taken and you don’t remember who you are. I’m quite sensitive about names… and feel maybe they should be limited to ONLY friends, and never published even if you make public anouncements in your local town.. (I’m getting that suspscious, perhaps to prove a point) and maybe we are all the same people only a little more AT EASE with a pseudonymn, a name our parents never called us, and no one in school EVER knew us as.. a name we give our own souls, it may be the mask that tells the entire truth, and not just as mask we had no choice in the matter.

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