Looking out to sea, I took in the amazing sunset. Surrounded by tanned locals on the sand, I felt right at home. But I wasn’t on holidays – I was sitting at my computer in my trackpants.
You see, I was actually relaxing on a virtual beach!
After doing some research about online communities for my marketing job, I’d found myself using Second Life. It’s an online virtual reality world where users create characters called avatars and socialise with others.
I’d recently lost 20 kilos and was thinking of returning to the dating scene. The virtual world seemed like the perfect place to practise my flirting. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I created an avatar called Phoebe, who was short and curvy, with curly hair just like me. Then I headed down to Solana Beach to chat with other users.
That’s when one of the surf lifesavers, Sareth, caught my eye. He was tall and broad, with lots of tattoos. Even better, he was really making me laugh by pulling pranks on the other avatars.
The next day I found myself logging in to Second Life and heading back to the beach where I’d met Sareth. Even though I knew it was complete make-believe, I couldn’t help feeling excited. One day, Sareth was the only person around.
‘Would you like to sit down with me?’ he asked.
'I couldn't help but feel excited'
As we typed back and forth, I learnt more about Sareth’s real life. Sareth was actually Patrik, and he lived in Sweden.
‘What do you look like?’
‘Like my avatar,’ he said.
‘Me too!’ I said.
Before long, I was avoiding going out in the real world so I could hang out with Patrik in virtual reality. We’d meet at the beach and spend the evening at the club laughing and dancing.
It wasn’t long before I was Sareth’s girlfriend in Second Life. But what did that mean in the real world? That’s when I began to get intrigued about the man behind the avatar. What does he look like? How old is he?
‘Shall we swap photos?’ I asked.
When Patrik sent me his picture, I was pleasantly surprised. He was incredibly handsome. Luckily, he was just as complimentary about me.
‘You’re really pretty and you’ve got amazing eyes,' he said.
As the months passed, I started to develop feelings for Patrik. Was it possible to fall for someone I’d never met? Then Patrik told me something that made me question everything.
‘I’m 21 years old,’ he said.
I was shocked! I’d guessed he was in his late 20s at the very youngest. At 40, I was 19 years his senior, old enough to be his mum!
‘Do you want to know how old I am?’ I asked with a heavy heart.
‘No, I want to get to know you better first,’ he said.
I agreed, but how would he feel if he found out the truth?
'At 40, I was 19 years his senior!'
I’d been chatting to Patrik for a year when I told my friend Kerry about my predicament.
‘I’m going to London next month,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you come with me and fly over to Sweden for a few days?’
I was terrified, but when I told Patrik, he loved the idea. Would we have the same spark in person as we did online?
Arriving at Stockholm airport a few weeks later, I was a bundle of nerves. Tired and emotional after 40 hours of travel, I burst into tears as I walked up to Patrik. He looked at me shyly like he didn’t know what to do.
‘I haven’t flown all this way to not get a hug,’ I wept.
And with that, Patrik enveloped me in his arms.
‘Are you happy?’ he asked.
‘Yes. Are you?’ I smiled.
‘Yes,’ he grinned.
The next four days were full of romantic walks and cosy chats in coffee shops. But Patrik still didn’t know my age. On my last day in Sweden we decided to make our relationship work, and Patrik agreed to come to Australia in a few months.
Going back to chatting online was torture.
‘I miss you so much,’ he told me sweetly.
When Patrik visited Oz, our connection was still strong. But one day, I accidentally revealed my secret.
‘I’m a 40-year-old woman...’
At first, I put my hand to my mouth in shock. ‘Well now you know,’ I laughed.
‘I love you no matter what,’ he said, giving me a kiss.
Since then our relationship has blossomed, and Patrik has moved to Australia.
We’ve now been together for eight years.
If I hadn’t logged in to Second Life then I never would have found my soulmate. Patrik might have started off as my virtual boyfriend, but now he’s very real!
I could tell Fiona was funny as soon as she logged onto Second Life. When we started chatting privately, I didn’t think it would turn into anything more than friends. Looking at her photos, I thought she was maybe a bit older than me, but she looked really young. I was both nervous and excited when she came to Sweden. I’m so pleased we had the same connection in real life as we did online.
Originally published in issue 31 of that's life! magazine - August 4, 2016.