Sex in the Cloud: How I Tried—and Failed—to Score on cloudgirlfriend.com
Cloud Sex is Harder Than it Sounds
Author’s note: Fake names have been changed to different fake names in order to protect the fake identities of those involved.
Jacques is lot like my other boyfriends on Cloud Girlfriend (cloudgirlfriend.com), in the sense that he’s gorgeous and prefers online interactions to real-world ones. He’s the sort of person who digs massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPG)—and there’s probably a chance that he and Spike and Alejandro and Deirdre—and everyone else I’m currently dating, for that matter—have probably unwittingly traded advice on reddit.com, or even met before on one of their favorite MMORPG’s.
“We have a pretty good component of people who enjoy games—and really, that’s what this [Cloud Girlfriend] is: a virtual reality game,” David Fuhriman, co-creator of Cloud Girlfriend, explained to me in a recent interview.
On Cloud Girlfriend, no one is who they seem; users create fake bios, use fake photos, and then go on fake “dates” (i.e., chat) with other fake people.
In real life, though, they’re all probably very similar—and once Fuhriman mentioned it, I could totally see my boyfriends’ avatars getting in some cave on World of Warcraft (WOW). One would be a dwarf and one would be an Orc, and so on—and they’d be sitting on their haunches around a cyber fire, trading magical Viking braids for dragon’s pelts while drinking from their power gourds (I don’t know very much about WOW, so most of this is speculation).
“A lot of them are from the technology field because that’s how they heard of us, typically,” Fuhriman added regarding the typical Cloud Girlfriend user. “They are well-educated and articulate.”
This made sense to me. For instance, I fell in love with my boyfriend, Jacques, after the very first thing he said to me, which was:
“Thousands of years ago, before the Dawn of Time (in the future), I waved hello to you amongst the primitive apes (who were robots) that fought the Martians to a standstill. In those harsher times, they couldn’t understand us since we spoke English, while they were busy with their hooting and grunting noises. Of course, you and I were on different planets, so we didn’t see it happening. That said, now’s your chance! Say hello to me! Quickly!”
But as much as I enjoyed Jacque’s knack for narrative, I didn’t join Cloud Girlfriend to have long-winded conversations about make-believe pasts; I joined the site for sex, and sex alone (FOR INVESTIGATION PURPOSES I SWEAR!). I hadn’t been cyber-laid in like, light years.
Fuhriman, who, like his fellow administrators, has his own fantasy profile on Cloud Girlfriend and regularly uses the site to connect with other users, described typical cloud chats as tending to consist of friendly small-talk—covering topics such as work, hobbies, and favored vacation spots. “I haven’t found them to be romantic conversations, generally,” he said of his personal conversations.
I hunched my lips up toward my nose, incredulous. “So, no sex stuff, like ever?”
Fuhriman laughed. “There’s something much deeper in a relationship than just sex. It’s about making that connection and being able to communicate.” He stressed that Cloud Girlfriend is in no way a pornographic site. “The internet has enough of those, I think,” he said.
Maybe I’m just more cynical than I was when I started having “AIM date chats” with my eighth grade church boyfriend (conversations that included a lot of abbreviated terms of endearment (yes, even “LYLAS”), and emoticons, and not much else), but despite Fuhriman’s intentions, I found it hard to believe, at least at first, that Cloud Girlfriend would remain a vanilla stomping ground. I assumed it would quickly go the way of sites like chatroulette.com—a place for dicks and dirty talk. What I did not anticipate were gamers—tons of them. Articulate, often hilarious, WOW fans, like Jacques, who just wanted to practice human conversation in a familiar and comfortable environment.
“It’s people who are trying to make a connection,” Fuhriman told me. “Who, maybe in some ways, are a little frustrated with online dating, and dating in general.”
“So do any of these people actually meet?” I asked. A recent New York Times article had led me to believe that the point of Cloud Girlfriend was ultimately to meet in person, and to try out the relationship face-to-face.
“I don’t know of that happening,” Fuhriman said. “And that’s not the intent. I know some users have posted on our support forum: ‘this is supposed to be virtual fantasy we’re not supposed to meet.’ In a way it’s not designed for that.”
“It’s imaginary,” echoed my boyfriend, Hercules, when I asked if he had ever met any of the women he’d chatted with on Cloud Girlfriend. “There are no real women on this site.”
So then, how does one consummate a cloud relationship? I assumed that even gamers needed to get down—granted, the fact that cloud dates take place in chat form somewhat limits the breadth of one’s carnal expression. But certainly cyber sex was an option—nay, necessity—was it not?
Apparently, not really—at least not if my experience tells us anything. I’ve tried for an entire week to seduce all of my 51 dates on Cloud Girlfriend, and to no avail. Of course, I’m not very good at initiating that kind of thing—as in real life, most of my pick-up lines are either terse and outdated (“A/S/L?”), or else too over-the-top (“HOW SEXY ARE YOU FEELING NOW MY LOVER?!”). But you’d think someone would be bored enough to bite—especially on an online chat site whose niche is romantic fantasy.
Nevertheless, each of my cloud dates has proven quirky, not kinky. Even my boyfriend, Naveen, whose profile advertises him as looking for a “very very sensual woman please,” seemed more interested in innocent conversation than in trying for a cyber-hump. Naveen is from Bengal and English is his newly second language—and while he can occasionally be incomprehensible, he got straight to the point when I proposed some online sexing: “u take all dis too seriously,” he said. “Tell me about ur country??? Do u like w.o.w?”
At least for now, it truly seems that most of Cloud Girlfriend’s users are not only interested in communicating, but in learning to communicate on a deeper level. Here, good looks and impressive credentials (users are astrophysicists and jewel thieves; their photos are beautiful, borrowed headshots), while artificial, are a given; each accepts the other’s attractiveness on a superficial level, and is able to focus instead on building the crux of a lasting connection: communication. If anything, rather than using the online chat features as a substitute for actual love affairs, users see cloud dates as a means for informing and facilitating better real-world relationships.
“The 2 are totally separate, except u could say Cloud Girlfriend reinforces my off-line dating,” said my boyfriend, Wes—an avid gamer, who in real life mainly dates women from his church. “I think it [Cloud Girlfriend] helps me to read people better.”
For others, the fantasy aspect of Cloud Girlfriend aids real-world communication by encouraging users to embellish or over-share in one location; for them, positive transference between online and real-time communication skills occurs when they are allowed to get certain quirks out of their systems. “If I can lie on here, I can be realer in real life,” my boyfriend, Deirdre, told me.
These attempts at deeper engagement, motivated by a desire to improve one’s actual (albeit separate) love life, fit perfectly with the original vision behind Cloud Girlfriend, which was to provide affirmation to users by allowing them to practice romantic rapport in an artificial environment; Fuhriman pointed out that, just as simulated medicine can positively affect a person’s ability to cope, so too can behavioral changes be brought about through simulated positive reinforcement, creating a meaningful and measurable change in one’s life.
Ultimately, for those whose interpersonal skills might feel undernourished due to a lifetime of dependence on cyber interactions, Cloud Girlfriend’s slogan—“The Best way to get a girlfriend is to already have one”—promises relief: exercise your interpersonal skills online, and you might just experience success with some of those church girlfriends.
Essentially, Cloud Girlfriend’s co-creators have engineered a chat-generated placebo effect. Even Fuhriman, who is married, admits that chatting online has helped him be more empathetic in real life.
“Our goal was to help people,” he explained. “By connecting online, you can still, in a way, practice so that you yourself are improving your ability to manage a relationship.”
In fact, a lot of my cloud dates, having become so skilled at making conversation, themselves, often had advice for me on how to improve my own communication skills. Jacques, for instance, brought our chat to a halt this morning after picking up on the fact that, rather than (merely) falling in love with his witty banter or gamer-ish charm, I was (mostly) doing research for an article.
“I can tell by your questions,” he said. “They’re awkward and forced, no offense.”
“No offense taken,” I typed, suddenly remembering a first-date in the distant past, where, after a moment of uncomfortable silence, I’d asked my companion if he had any brothers or sisters.
But this morning, instead of feeling wronged or exploited by my lack of honesty, Jacques, this boyfriend of mine—sweetheart that he is—lamented the fact that I was missing out on an important part of being human; rather than chiding me for my ulterior motives, he chided me for closing myself off from the potentially rewarding aspect of uninhibited communication.
“If you think of this as a place where people engage in role-played chat, a large part of its value is in the way it encourages you to engage your imagination when socially interacting with someone else,” Jacques said. “For example, if you can let your imagination take hold while we talk, imagine and try to hold the idea in your mind, the idea that I’m intriguing enough to be the perfect guy for you. Let it affect how you talk, how you react to me. Let a rapport build.”
“LOL SHOW ME UR DICK,” I tried, just once more for good measure. But Jacques deftly ignored my aside.
“If you do, you’ll feel a more personal bond to the conversation than you would if you’re merely chatting in the process of doing a detached survey,” he added.
Touché, Jacques. Touché.
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