Love and Relationships in Virtual Reality: Is the VR Metaverse the Future of Dating?

Jasper Wannajaroen first met his partner the same way many of us do: through a group of mutual friends. Only instead of a pub or dinner party, it took place in virtual reality. As they began chatting online about their mutual interests, including Nintendo gaming, music production and 3D animation, Jasper felt a connection begin to grow. “We both really liked each other…[and] had a real connection,” Jasper told The Feed.

After interacting with each other through their virtual avatars for a few weeks, Aidan asked Jasper out on a date.

Aidan (left) and Jasper (right) fell in love while interacting with each other in the form of a virtual avatar. Source: Delivered

“I was really surprised when he said yes … I felt a spark and I was like, ‘Okay, I think this might actually work,'” Aidan recalled. Jasper, 18, and Aidan, 20, are now in a relationship. They sometimes meet in person – but when they live 50 miles apart and have busy schedules, the couple spends a lot more time together in VR. They can date, hang out — even kiss and cuddle in virtual worlds. “The whole relationship has been the best,” Jasper said.

“I wouldn’t have met Aidan if it wasn’t just about VR…that’s the strongest part of our relationship.”

How does dating work in VR?

Kate Clark, a VR researcher at Monash University, said romantic relationships have taken place in virtual spaces for as long as they have existed – including in online games. “World of Warcraft is a really famous example where people have a lot of romantic relationships — there were marriages within World of Warcraft,” she said. Virtual reality — sometimes referred to as the lively-sounding “metaverse” — offers a far more immersive, three-dimensional dating experience.

Jasper and Aidan met on a VR social platform called VRChat, but there are many others including Horizon Worlds powered by Meta, Sansar and NeosVR.

Jasper (left) and Aidan met in person and are officially dating. Source: Delivered

Thousands of worlds are accessible through special gear like headsets and body trackers that mimic your body language and aim to trick your brain into believing it’s in a physical reality. You can socialize with people in avatar form and even simulate typical date activities like walking on a virtual museum tour, attending a Phoebe Bridgers concert, painting, or going to a nightclub. Jasper said his VR dates with Aidan usually involve playing a game together, watching a movie, or just hanging out in virtual worlds.

“You can play mini-golf in VR … you can make coffee in VR. There’s a lot of different things you can do,” he explained.

VR nightclubs are popular places to socialize, like Loner, which also runs real-world events in Melbourne. Source: YouTube / The Virtual Reality Show

A well-known VR nightclub is Loner, which also hosts real clubbing events in Melbourne. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, Loner moved his shows to VRChat where they have gained a cult following. Ms Clark said VR relationships are just beginning as the technology is still expensive and not yet widely adopted in Australia. To get the full experience, you must own a VR headset, with most costing upwards of $600. “I imagine as technology becomes more accessible…there will be an increase in romantic relationships in virtual reality environments,” she said.

“Virtual reality is essentially going to become part of the collection of technologies that we use when dating…like dating apps and social media.”

Kate Clark is a VR researcher at Monash University. Source: SBS

Can you be physically intimate in VR?

Kissing, cuddling and even sex are possible in virtual reality. Many users report physical sensations when their avatars are touched in VR, even though their partners may be on the other side of the world. And it has nothing to do with the hardware they use. “I can actually feel pretty much anything in VR,” Jasper said.

“Kissing in VR definitely feels like a natural kiss… I definitely developed that with Aidan, he always hugs me and we both kiss.”

Left: The virtual avatars of Aidan (left) and Jasper (right) hug in VR. Right: Jasper mimics the hug in real life. Source: SBS

Ms Clark said it was thanks to a psychological phenomenon known as phantom sense in the world,” she said. “People can get essentially the same feeling from their avatars.” However, Ms Clark said that the feeling is a different experience than being touched in real life, not necessarily indistinguishable from a physical sensation in real life.” Aidan used to have a phantom feeling, but eventually lost it as he spent more time in VR. “It doesn’t bother me that Jasper has a phantom sense [more] than me because it makes me happy that he’s happy to feel that with me,” he said. VR will become even more realistic as hardware companies develop technologies like haptic suits. These full-body suits provide users with physical sensations using electrical vibrations.

In the meantime, virtual sex encounters are made possible with teledildonics.

Tech companies are developing haptic suits like this one from bHaptics that allow users to feel touch in VR. Source: Getty / Alex Wong

What are the risks of dating in VR?

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant urges caution for those seeking love in virtual reality “As with all online platforms that allow strangers to meet and communicate online, dangers remain, particularly for women,” she said that the risks of online dating in virtual immersive environments could increase for some time, and we are aware of reports of this type of assault abroad.” Ms Clark said sexual assault in VR is as common as sexual assault in real life Life.

“One of the earliest cases was in 2016 when a woman was groped. There was a case just last year at Meta’s Horizon Worlds where a researcher was sexually assaulted while in one of the Metaverse rooms,” she said.

The digital watchdog has regulatory powers covering early “Metaverse” services like Horizon Worlds, VRChat, Roblox, and Fortnite. Ms. Inman Grant said regulation is being actively considered to ensure user safety as immersive technologies become more accessible. “Our advice for people using immersive online environments for online dating is the same as what we give to those using more typical online dating apps and services: don’t use your real name, take the time, the person Get to know who you are talking to and only add them as a friend on social media if you really trust them.

“If you decide to meet in person, meet in a public place and tell a friend where you are going. And most importantly, trust your gut – if the situation doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.”