Using alts to spy on your partner is certainly nothing new in SL. It can be as blatant as using an alt to try and seduce one’s lover or a bit more refined, as when the jealous party makes an opposite-sexed alt in order to befriend their lover and try and ferret out dirt, or infiltrate the circle of his or her friends, ears alert for gossip.
We find such use of alts pretty underhanded and reprehensible, and any relationship is which one partner has resorted to these kinds of tactics is already in big trouble, because trust is already gone. We kind of feel that any dirt one gets under these pretexts is no more than one deserves, because the truth is, if you go in looking for dirt, you’re probably going to find it.
One especially interesting case was that of Celia F. and Mark T. Celia told me this story one night as we sat on her porch.
Celia was a free spirit, sexually active and unattached and thoroughly enjoying her freedom on SL. She liked dating different men and keeping things light, coming and going as she pleased, so when she met Mark, she found his attention and persistence kind of refreshing. No matter how casual we try to keep our sex, we all like being admired, complimented, even adored, and Mark seemed to give her that. He was very attentive and romantic, constantly sending her flowers and cards and little gifts, and always anxious to know where she was going and whom she might be seeing, information Celia politely declined to give him. Mark made no secret of his desire to have an exclusive relationship with her, and for them to move in together.
The thought of losing her freedom was a bit alarming, but in reality, she rather liked his constancy and concern for her. It was a nice change from the kind of casual friends-with-benefits relationships Celia was used to, and in time Mark’s aggressive pursuit had its effect. Celia’s conscience started bothering her whenever she went out with another man, and Mark seemed to genuinely love her. What could she do? She finally agreed to share a home with him though not without some reservations, which she made clear to him by insisting the relationship be an open one and that she still be allowed her occasional fling.
Mark had no problem with this, and they even worked out a sort of code so she could signal him when she was with someone else and couldn’t see him or IM. She didn’t have much occasion to use it, though, because now that she was semi-partnered, she found her other affairs tinged with the feeling of betrayal, and the fun went out of them. And Mark, despite his assurances, was clearly hurt and upset whenever she tried to exercise her privileges under their agreement. He continued to pester her with requests that they make the relationship more exclusive, and even binding. If they were married, he told her, then at last he could rest easy, knowing that if she wanted to fool around, he at least wouldn’t have to worry about losing her.
There were some danger signs at this point, but Celia chose to ignore them. She was pretty sure that Mark had adopted an alt or two and was spying on her, and was really not very good at it. Several times he let slip details of her outside dates the she’d never told him about and he had no way of knowing unless he’d been there. And though he still professed his love for her and his total trust, he became moody and secretive. Despite all this, Celia finally agreed to marry him, and marry him in a full, all-out, rice-and-roses ceremony with all the trimmings. She thought that maybe marriage would calm him down and allay his insecurities. Mark insisted that the marriage be “open”.
If anything, though, things only got worse after they were married, much worse. Celia had given up her casual affairs and was beset by feelings of paranoia and control. At night Mark would often have her go through lists of all the men she’d known and make her tell him what she’d liked about them and what they’d done together, and that list soon expanded to include friends and men they both knew she’d had no romantic contact with. Mark wanted to know exactly how she felt about these men and how she’d go about having an affair with them. If she denied feelings for them, he’d call her a liar. If she admitted feelings, he let her know without actually saying it that he considered her a whore.
She soon discovered that what she’d seen as Mark’s love and devotion were really just signs of a hysteric personality with deep dependence and control issues. He was convinced she was a whore, convinced she was cheating on him, and apparently determined to prove it. Out of anger and a desire to assert her old independence, Celia began going out alone or with girl friends to dance and mingle and perhaps even flirt a little, though she still had no intention of cheating on Mark.
Mark’s first approach was the old one of testing her, trying to seduce her as an alt. When that didn’t seem to work, he sent his alts to her female friends (so she figured out later), pretending to be someone who’d noticed her at some club and was seeking their opinion on Celia’s availability and general loyalty to her husband.
He got nowhere with this, but apparently his skills as an alt were improving, and his next step was to create a female avatar who could insinuate herself into Celia’s circle and schmooze and gossip with her friends, trying to ferret out information, even bating them with suggestions that “she” (the alt) and Celia had participated in group sex with various men. The friends who heard this were too shocked and embarrassed to mention this to Celia, but it was obvious that something strange was going on.
Celia started going out more, spending less and less time with Mark, because things were just unbearable at home, even though Mark seemed to be there less and less, no doubt busy with one or more of his spy avatars, trying to dig up dirt on her. Celia began to experience anxiety and fear that spilled over into her Real Life and began to affect her work. She decided she wanted out but she didn’t have the funds and by now she was rather frightened of Mark. When she came to SL, men pursued her, but she no longer knew which were real and which were alts of Mark. In the end she stopped caring.
A handsome avatar told her he’d pay her if she’d have sex with him. L$10,000 just to go to bed with him.
L$15,000. L$20,000, L$25,000. How much did she want? Everyone has a price. How much did she want?
Thirty thousand Lindens, she told him, and he agreed.
They met three times in two weeks and carried out their agreement, and at the end of that time, Celia had L$90,000 in her account, or about $320 US. After the third time, she said she was through and de-friended the man.
The next time she saw Mark, he was livid. How dare she de-friend that man she was seeing? Who did she think she was?
Celia’s jaw dropped. No one else knew anything about her assignations with this man. The only way Mark could have known was if the man was an alt of his, and he obviously was. And yet how could Mark be so stupid as to come out and admit that to her? Was he just not thinking rationally anymore? Had he become totally unhinged?
It didn’t matter. Celia was through, and Mark was through too. With her new wealth, she moved into a beachfront condo and started putting her Second Life back together. About a week later she looked at Mark’s profile to find that he’d partnered with an old flame of his, and both of their profiles were filled with their avowals of true and undying love. She could only wonder what was in store for the girl.
In the end, Celia was quite hurt by what had happened, and was having a hard time trying to understand why. Had she known that this benefactor was really Mark? She told me that at that point she suspected it strongly, but she no longer even cared.
The break-up of any relationship is always accompanied by feelings of sadness and regret, but the only thing Celia was guilty of was cheating on her husband with her husband, and that just somehow didn’t seem to be right.