Newsweek suggests the answer is yes, we're not so sure.
Four years ago, Heart Wishbringer saw Joe Stravinsky for the first time atop a waterfall overlooking a lush green valley. And while it was hard for her not to notice his dramatic hair (a towering white mohawk) and obvious height (an impressive 7'8"), it was Stravinsky's black, ornamented boots that really caught her eye.
They were "the most intricate boots I'd ever seen," Wishbringer says.
Equally taken with Wishbringer and her porcelain-skinned beauty, Stravinsky threw himself fully into a relationship with her almost immediately, taking her on 12-hour dates to his castle and talking late into the night with her about everything they both dreamed of.
Three weeks later, they exchanged vows atop the same waterfall where they first met.Today, they continue to be very much in love.
That being said, Wishbringer and Stravinsky have met face-to-face only three times. They live on separate continents. Their real names are not Heart Wishbringer and Joe Stravinsky; but Rhonda Lillie and Paul Hawkins. And like 43,000 other couples, their initial meeting and marriage both occurred in the virtual online universe of Second Life.
The latest issue of Newsweek tells Lillie and Hawkins's story, sweetly suggesting throughout the piece that their love—which grew over IM sessions and avatar interactions rather than face-to-face meetings—is perhaps based on something much truer and deeper than anything that starts off in person.
In Newsweek's words: "Getting to know someone gradually, with patience and attention, seems a whole lot healthier than a drunken proposition in a bar."
Not to disparage Lillie and Hawkins's relationship (which actually does seem rather genuine), but we don't know that we entirely agree with Newsweek's assessement. After all, aren't people just as likely to interact in an unhealthy manner in Second Life as they are in a drunken bar? Perhaps even more so?
Further, we think Newsweek is failing to look at the whole picture when they state that: "Technologies like Second Life are...inverting our laws of attraction, thrusting us into a zone where desire can be more abstract than pure physical lust."
Lest we forget, there was plenty of physical lust when Hawkins and Lillie first met online. In fact, it was Hawkins's appearance that first attracted Lillie to him. If lust was inverted in Second Life as much as Newsweek suggests, then perhaps Hawkins wouldn't have had to increase his height (to 7'8" versus 5'6"), give himself an impressive head of hair (a mohawk, versus his real-life bald head), and sport elaborate goth-style boots for Lillie to notice him.
It's true that there are admirable practices involved in maintaining a long-distance relationship—like patience, faith, and optimism—particularly if the relationship takes place primarily on a computer screen. But while we appreciate Newsweek's celebration of those traits, we aren't ready quite yet to say that Second Life love is truer than the kind that takes place between two people who can hold hands, kiss, and tell each other to turn off the computer when it's time to come to bed.