Editor’s note: Kim Mitchell met her husband Shane in an MMO social casino called Vegas World. After more than a two-year courtship there that included nightlong chats, Kim and Shane took their relationship to the next level, online and off. They celebrated a virtual wedding with all of their Vegas World friends, and two months later, their virtual love turned into a real-world marriage when they tied the knot in Tennessee.
Tinder, Match.com, Plenty of Fish, OKCupid. With dozens of Internet dating sites available today, it seems that much of the younger generation is comfortable with the concept of meeting their significant others online. But as a divorcée and mother of two, the idea of going online to meet anyone (especially my future husband) was a foreign concept.
But when my two daughters came to me wanting to sign up for ourWorld, a virtual world social network designed for teens, it was part of my motherly instinct to also join and check out the site. I wanted to make sure that it was a safe environment to play and used it as an opportunity to spend more time with them. After five years in ourWorld, I was given the opportunity to become a beta tester for a new, more adult-oriented site – Vegas World – and found it easy to make the leap to the new platform.
Where ourWorld has puzzle-style mini-games, Vegas World has slots, bingo, and poker – all the typical casino-style games you’d find in real-world Vegas but in virtual world format. At first, most people come for the games but stick around to hang out and chat with other users in Vegas World’s virtual night clubs, pools, and hotel suites.
I would definitely categorize myself as “most people” in this respect. I’ve always been a casual gamer, but was new to developing and maintaining online relationships outside of what I shared with my daughters in ourWorld. Basically, my expectations were pretty low – generally not interested in much more than playing slots and poker.
When I first started chatting with other users, I was pretty over protective about what I shared and who I connected with – being online you never truly know who’s on the other side. Who were these people? And what were their intentions for being on the site? So I quickly learned not to open myself up too much and avoided conversation much more than small talk.
The more I spent time in the game, though, the more I truly connected with people. I learned how to differentiate the genuine people from the manipulators and I began enjoying my conversations with other users; we had fun playing games together and sharing funny stories. As time went on, a few of those relationships turned into friendships and I found myself getting anxious to log in at certain times when I knew my new friends would also be online. Many of us live in different time zones, so I even found myself setting an alarm for early hours just to get a chance to play and talk with them.
Before I knew it, I had a solid group of friends (just a handful of them) that I depended on and them me. To be online at certain times. To be open and trustworthy. To be helpful and lean on each other for advice on life, family, and love. And these friendships became just as real as they would be outside of Vegas World. In many cases, these bonds were stronger than my friends in the “real world.”
I was content with both my online and offline life.
Then, in walks Shane Mitchell.
In person, Shane isn’t the typical guy I would go for. The fact that he lived in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., (nearly 700 miles and a whole world apart) meant that it was highly unlikely that our paths would have crossed in our everyday lives. In Vegas World, however, I had the opportunity to not only meet Shane, but get to know him as a friend without the pressure of dating.
Shane originally came to Vegas World to play slots and poker. He generally enjoys playing casino-style online games and ran across Vegas World after seeing an ad on Yahoo. Like myself, he didn’t expect to become a part of the Vegas World community, but one day he noticed the \*club\* icon and found that you can chat with other users in social environments outside of the traditional casino games.
He made friends quickly – getting invited to suite parties, mingling and sharing charms (in the form of virtual drinks) with other users, and generally being the funniest guy in the room. We ended up at several of the same parties before officially meeting; I’d typically stick with my core group of friends and he’d bring a virtual date.
It’s actually pretty popular in Vegas World for people to bring dates to parties, have relationships, and consider someone in the game their boyfriend or girlfriend – whether people are sharing their “hearts” signifying that they are in a relationship or exchanging rings signifying marriage. A number of our friends maintain these in-game relationships, but most keep them in Vegas World.
When I first met Shane, we had an instant connection. We’re both divorced with two children, so Shane and I share a lot of the same challenges and views on life.
Before I knew it, he was rushing home from work to jump online while I would watch the clock until the stroke of midnight, waiting to log in until I knew he’d be home. As time went on, we were what you would call best of friends. We leaned on each other for advice, direction, motivation… Pretty much everything, big or small.
Shane now tells me that he knew pretty early on that he wanted to pursue a relationship outside of Vegas World. The chemistry was obvious to both of us, but the potential for a future relationship was apparently only obvious to him. Perhaps being behind the computer screen allowed him to be more open with his feelings for me; perhaps the screen is what made me more averse to the potential of starting a romantic relationship with him. Whatever the case, it took Shane asking me to attend a party with him a number of times before I agreed to be his “date.”
The easiest transition our relationship had was taking our frequent conversations outside of Vegas World. When I tell my story, many people ask how it was so easy to give my information out to a “stranger.” I compare it to meeting a friend-of-a-friend at a party. How did you begin to date your significant other? Did you really know them when you first shared your phone number? Or add them on Facebook? The answer is typically no. Like life, there are no guarantees with the relationships you form on the internet. Yes, I hadn’t met Shane in person, but I had vetted him in the same way I would have in real life – checking on his “references” through friends, getting a feeling for the types of women he’s dated previously, but mostly going with my gut feeling.
In contrast, the most difficult transition was taking our relationship to a level beyond friendship. In person, early on you can rely on physical cues and connection to determine where the other person is at. Having our foundation based on online communication, the only thing you have to rely on is the other person’s written word. Add in the fact that I have two children that I have to consider in all of my decisions (romantic and otherwise), I wanted to be safe and mature about the feelings I was having.
But the more you joke about something like marriage, the more you realize how true you’d like the thought to be.
Technology is what really allowed our relationship to blossom – constant phone calls, Skype video chats, communicating on Xbox Live. The phone calls got more frequent and our feelings got stronger; speaking every morning and every evening to say good night. It slowly became clear just how much we really cared for each other. We became just like any other long distance couple.
In fact, like a very serious long-distance couple.
Shane’s sense of humor is one of my favorite things about him, so when the conversations began to center around marriage, it was instantly a joke between the two of of us. But the more you joke about something like marriage, the more you realize how true you’d like the thought to be. I can’t count how many time we’d sent ‘kisses’ to each other or said ‘I love you’ up until that point, but moving from words to actions – if only in Vegas World – is a different story.
_“I would marry you in a second if we were together in real life… I’d marry you off the game as well as on the game if you’d let me.”_
_“Yes, I would marry you tomorrow if you would let me.”_
And that’s how it went. We were engaged. After more than a year of knowing each other on Vegas World and as quickly as we became best friends, we began the journey to taking a trip down the virtual aisle.
We both couldn’t believe it at first, but the more we let it sink in, the more excited we got. The engagement was for a wedding in Vegas World, but when Shane surprised me with the opportunity to marry him in the game, I had tears in my eyes in real life. I think that’s when it really set in for me, how moved I was by the thought of our future together. We planned our wedding in Vegas World, the virtual wedding bells rang in the game’s chapel and we exchanged vows in front of our in-game friends.
The emotional side of the relationship had evolved so far that once we finally met, the physical side followed very naturally. Two months after our Vegas World wedding, I planned my first trip to see Shane in Tennessee. At that point, he had already asked my daughters for my hand in marriage and we were planning on tying the knot — in real life — while I was there.
Looking back, I think Shane was actually more nervous than I was. When we first saw each other, he instantly began crying and shaking. He had expressed doubts about taking things to the next level, unsure if the distance for the entirety of our relationship would bring up unforeseen issues. But normalcy set in quickly. Just a few short hours into my visit our interactions became an extension of the online life we had built. One that we couldn’t imagine without each other and knew that was supposed to be part of our story.
The engagement was for a wedding in Vegas World, but when Shane surprised me with the opportunity to marry him in the game, I had tears in my eyes in real life.
It’s a surreal feeling seeing the person that, on the one hand, you know so well – that you’ve related to for so long, had pictures of, video conversations with, and truly grew to love – but on the other you’re meeting for the very first time. How different it was to actually be able to hold and touch them, and yet the same because you knew this was the person you were supposed to be with. It was less like you would imagine meeting someone for the first time ever and more like seeing your partner for the first time after being separated for a while.
And then like it was no big deal. We took the plunge (or rather flight) to marriage.
Shane has a major fear of flying, yet wanted the moment to be memorable for a lifetime. So just two days into my Tennessee trip, we were taking a helicopter ride over the Smoky Mountains. Once we were at the very highest point, we said our vows. Despite Shane being so terrified in that moment, he embraced the opportunity as we stared into each other’s souls and shared our true feelings.
Let’s just say we spent the rest of my two weeks in Tennessee in the honeymoon phase.
Looking at our relationship, I’m still in shock that we were able to translate our online lives to a real-life love story. One of the major factors that I think separates us from other couples in similar situations and really allowed our relationship to grow was how supportive our families were. Especially being single parents, it was critical for us to really integrate our family into our lives with each other before making any decisions and moving beyond our long-distance relationship.
Despite never having met in person, the people in our lives (both family and friends) saw how happy we were and chose to support us through the process. While my Dad was apprehensive, like any father would and should be, he wanted me to find a loving partner. My kids had mixed feelings – my oldest was open to getting to know Shane more, spending time communicating with him over Xbox, while my youngest was apprehensive to the idea. As teenagers, they understood why I wanted to pursue the relationship with Shane but didn’t necessarily understand the way that I got to that point with him. Bonding was also more difficult between them given the busy lives of teenagers.
Shane’s family was also supportive from the get-go. They embraced the relationship and made the effort to get to know me, calling every day and making me feel loved and as a valuable member of their family. Shane’s children are younger, and were therefore far more open to my role as a stepmother. Meeting them for the first time was like meeting Shane for the first time – I was meant to be a part of their family.
The only negativity either of us really received was from Shane’s co-workers. He received a lot of flak for our relationship. Everywhere he turned someone was saying how crazy he was for considering a future with someone he never met. As much as the pessimism planted seeds of doubt, going home to a supportive family dashed them. After seeing how happy we were together, their doubts faded to feelings of foolishness for what they put him through.
I don’t believe anyone really goes online – whether it’s Facebook, Match.com, or Vegas World – with knowledge that they’re going to meet their future spouse. But I do believe that people gravitate toward types of circumstances or groups of people that they’re meant to be a part of. Obviously Shane and I had a lot in common, but we also had coming to Vegas World as a key connection. Both of us enjoyed the types of relationships we developed through the site. We needed that buffer, a setting that didn’t pressure us to date or move faster than we were comfortable. One where we could enjoy each other’s company, play games together and genuinely experience each other without needing to constantly think about what was next in our relationship. One where our avatars’ could provide a sense of security until we were ready to reveal our true selves.
I’ve recently found out I’m actually part of a much larger group of couples than I imagined, with one-third of all of today’s marriages beginning online and half of those meeting outside of traditional dating websites. I’m not the kind of person that is comfortable being a part of a dating site. I would never have set up a profile in the hopes of meeting my soul mate. I only recently learned what Tinder is. The fact that I did find my husband online is still amazing to me, but I am forever grateful for the opportunity the Internet has given me to meet the love of my life.
It may be cliché, but as the saying goes – when you know, you know. So whether you’re happy meeting your potential spouse going about your daily life, have been searching for a boyfriend or girlfriend on your iPhone, or you meet in a more non-traditional place like Shane and I – what it comes down to is that love is love and it shouldn’t be dependent on where you meet the person to dictate your future relationship.
#Love is a new column on TechCrunch dealing with digital matters of the heart. It explores our relationships, their relationship with technology, and all the gory details that come with it. Jordan Crook will be leading the charge, and is looking for guest writers to tell their own stories each week. Maybe you found your soul mate on Tinder, or got dumped on Facebook, or have an outrageously interesting sext life. We all have our stories. If you’re interested in contributing, send an email to email@example.com with the subject line #Love for more details.