This article originally appeared on VICE US.
In 2015, I took a simple assignment: play a PC game called Rocket League and whip up some words about it for a freelance writing job. I wound up aggressively flirting with a cool British girl over my headset as we raced around the pitch blowing each other up. That meeting quickly turned into a long-distance relationship.
Past the lack of physical closeness and time zone annoyances that came with our long-distance relationship, we had to learn about each other in two forms, separating our real selves from our online personalities. It's hard enough to get to know someone—even more so when their presentation and behavior is totally different half the time.
Online, we were SerenitysBane (me) and Geeketiquette (Aimee)—or Geek, to her fans on Twitch, a gaming platform where anyone can drop in to see a livestream of her playing video games and participate in the chat, which she responds to in real time. Topics tend to go far beyond video games, instead spanning all areas of life, and Geek is upfront with her audience—especially about sex. Whether she's making fellatio gestures or suggestive comments to regulars: "Twitch allowed me to be more open with my audience," as Aimee told me recently. "With people who were barely familiar, I could be free.”
I can’t stand being on camera, and when I do joke about my sex life online, I'm ambiguous about it. But, in person, I’m the one bringing up risqué topics or engaging others about their personal lives. My friend group's conversations are blunt, almost intrusive: Whether we're discussing masturbation, methods of giving oral, or the best orgasms we’ve had, the conversation always gravitates to fucking.
Offline, Aimee is way more reserved. It felt odd when Geek told her audience that she was logging off to get laid, but if I joked that my friends needed to leave a get-together at my house for the same reason, she blushed. “I’ve never had much of a social life," said Aimee. "Social situations make me uncomfortable, so going out is overwhelming. Anything that would make me the center of attention [in person] will [give me] a panic attack.” Twitch gave Aimee a way to be comfortable opening up sexually and flirtatiously while still feeling that her privacy is intact—the relative remove that the internet gives her makes her feel in control.
A month after we began dating, we tried streaming together, like other couples do, even though we weren't internet official yet. “That was fun—flirting and seeing who would show their cards more,” said Geek, reminding me how we tried to make each other slip up and reveal we were together.
Most memorable was a stream where I couldn't get through a stage of Angry Video Game Nerd. Geek upped the stakes: She told the chat she'd flash me (in a private video chat) if I completed it. When I didn't, she flashed me anyway. I thought it was funny and hot, but it got to her. She told me about it on Skype as I got ready for bed: “I was worried about how it would make me look. I wanted to reveal we were together right afterward so no one thought I was showing random people my tits.” With that, we decided to tell people we were together—thanks to Twitch.
When Aimee visited me, our newly minted sex life mostly kept us in bed. Aimee was happy we didn’t leave the apartment, but that backfired when I bragged after a friend asked if all we'd been up to was staying in to have sex. Online, Geek would have rolled with the comment, but Aimee was taken aback.
When we did go out, I took Aimee to a LARP (live-action role play), a more active version of a pen-and-paper tabletop game where she had to interact with people in a theatrical type of performance, and karaoke, both of which overloaded her. I ended up outside trying to help calm her down for the majority of both events. I had no clue how she could be so different—so confident—online.
“It’s easier to say something sexually charged because I don’t have to see their immediate reactions. I can set a limit on how much interaction there is," she said. “Fans are missing the connective tissue that comes from knowing us," she told me, "whereas our friends might know there's truth behind a joke about me swallowing.”
Even if Aimee's Twitch self doesn't carry over to our wider social life, I've noticed differences in our one-on-one interactions. When Geek’s Twitch chat discusses sex and intimacy, she's more eager to seek me out when she finishes streaming to act out what was discussed. Whether the topic of the night is blowjob tips, what new sex toys regulars in the chat have been using, or reminiscing about first times, she tends to open up outside of the chat, too, if just with me. The sexual banter has the same effect as when Geek gets "raided" by a larger channel—this means, it sends their viewers to watch her—and can ham it up in front of an ever bigger crowd, still protected by her computer screen. When she comes to the other room and sees me getting ready for bed or watching porn, she’ll offer to participate.
It benefits me, and she loves doing it, so I don't mind when she streams—even if it can be hard to get her to stop casting, which sometimes tips the scale too far in the "Geek" direction. Sometimes she gets too wrapped up to come to bed. “Most nights, I’m so wrapped up in Twitch that I lose track of time," she said. "It’s only when I hear you brushing your teeth that I realize I’ve missed the boat—another night without sex.”
We set end times for Geek to clock out and Aimee to wind down for bed. “I have a nasty habit of not wanting the stream to end, even though I’m aware I’m supposed to so we can have some ‘married time,'” Aimee said. I stand at the door, irritated, waiting for her to turn the camera off. She powers down, apologizing profusely, and we talk after we’ve turned the lights out, sometimes finding ourselves having sex anyway.
Though both of us have known about it since she moved in, we’ve only recently began to address her Twitch persona as another entity—there's Aimee, and there's Geek. I'm still learning when to try to juggle a bit more Aimee and a little less Geek, or vice versa, to understand my wife on the whole.
Usually, we try to discuss our evening plans—sometimes, Geek's streaming is a sort of foreplay, but I suggest an end time so we can have sex before we're too tired. If I have more work to do or she doesn’t seem into it, I don't push.
Aimee once described these discussions as "team meetings." It’s a balancing act: respecting that she's having her own fun online, trying to set the mood for more sex, and remembering to let Aimee pull back a bit when she's socializing with real people—without expecting her to be the same hypersexual person she is on Twitch unless it's just the two of us.
It’s in moments in bed, softly speaking, then having sex that makes us both happy, that we come together and I see each of her two sides a bit more clearly. Geek shares that same focus on our relationship that Aimee does. No matter how much she chats up others, her eyes are only for me. Getting to know her in two ways may have been a challenge, but I'm attracted to both sides of her personality—and the more time we spend together, the more it's easier to see where Geek and Aimee come together.