When I think of virtual reality, I think of those goofy Star Trek-looking visor/headsets that people thought would transport them to their ultimate fantasy world back in the early ’90s. I certainly never thought the term would apply to my life. And yet, for more than a year, I was involved in what can only be deemed a virtual affair – a torrid, explicitly sexual relationship with a dude whom I never screwed, kissed, or even touched in real life.
Well that’s not entirely true. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like one of those Internet relationships that are sparked by desperate people in the wee hours of the morning in singles chat rooms. This was a guy that I knew. That I’d met. That I’d flirted with in real time and felt instant, palpable chemistry with — the kind that you can only really feel if you are in the same physical space. But our “relationship” was never consummated. Not even close.I met Ollie at a rock show. I was working as a music assistant at a magazine at the time and he was a young, cute record exec out on the town with his label buddies. It was winter. I was drunk. The rest is hazy. Nothing much happened except for a beer soaked conversation about spanking. We parted ways and I didn’t think much about it after that. I found out later that he had a fiancée, and marked him “off limits” in my mind.
The months passed. Ollie and I corresponded intermittently via e-mail for business purposes. The missives were friendly but not scandalous. I got a boyfriend. He got married. Life went on.
And then one day, over a year after I met him in that dingy rock club, things turned weird. In the midst of an e-mail volley about a band he was working with, this happened:
Ollie: We need another night out on the town together.
Me: We do?
Ollie: Yes. We never finished that conversation about spankings.
Me: True, but now that you’re a married man, I think those convos are best curbed.
He was tentative at first, trying to get a sense of my willingness to cooperate. And I was resistant. I’m not a prude by any means, but I got the distinct notion that this thing would snowball outside of the realm of propriety in the blink of an eye. Not to mention all the horror stories I’d read about people’s personal e-mails being pulled by their employers and used as grounds for dismissal.
Ollie: I think we would have way too much fun together…honestly.
Me: There’s no such thing as way too much fun but there is such a thing as you are married and this is very bad.
As you can see, I didn’t put up much of a fight. It was so tempting, so easy, and so harmless. It wasn’t like we were actually doing anything. Right? And anyway, I wasn’t the one who was married.
Me: Do you have lots of friends that you talk about this stuff with online? Don’t worry, I’m not the jealous type
Ollie: Haha — dear God no.
Me: So this was a random act of horniness then?
Ollie: Nah, but when we met briefly that night — I definitely could tell you’d be fun to chit-chat with.
Me: So you’ve just been waiting for the opportune time to e-pounce! I see. You are an e-predator! And I am the hapless e-prey!
Ollie: Maaaybe. How does it feel?
Me: Dirty and wrong. Just like I like it.
See how easy it is? How much fun? How naughty and simultaneously innocent? The perils of Instant Messenger, G-Chat, text messaging, and all the other instantaneous modes of communication that have become all the rage are this: They speak to our desire for immediate gratification. They allow us to enter a nebulous space in which there are no consequences for acting on our spontaneous impulses. A few keystrokes have the potential to end a friendship, create familial rifts, overstep professional boundaries, and in this case, turn harmless flirting into virtual sex.
For Ollie and me, the stakes grew higher and higher over the course of those months. We exchanged dirty pictures. We made and canceled plans to meet for quickies during our lunch breaks. I think on some level we were both nervous that reality wouldn’t live up to the fantasy we’d created in the ether of our online chats. Not to mention getting caught would jeopardize his marriage and both of our jobs. So we kept it virtual. After e-sex, we engaged in e-pillow talk, discussing family, work, life. We grew attached. We fell in e-love.
And as quickly as it came on, our e-affair burned out. Maybe the thrill was gone. Maybe the guilt became too burdensome. Maybe he discovered he was more of an Internet porn guy than an internet relationship guy after all.