In this week's issue, just in time for Valentine's Day, Bianca Bosker looks at a kind of love that's increasingly commonplace in our tech-obsessed culture -- the virtual relationship.
Bianca puts the spotlight on a Japanese video game, LovePlus, in which players choose to become involved with one of three digital girlfriend characters. "There's sweet, big-sisterly Nene; intelligent, but clingy Manaka; and shy Rinko, who feels alienated by her new stepmother and half-brother," Bianca writes.
Bianca spoke to LovePlus players, both male and female. Some are using the game to prepare for real-life relationships, others to get over a past heartbreak. But many describe the support and affection they get from their virtual relationships as "real."
"There's times where I want to hug Rinko. She's just being so cute, I want to hug her," one player tells Bianca. As another player puts it: "I've known Manaka to actually slap me a couple times because she got so mad."
Honda Toru, a Japanese cultural critic, feels these virtual relationships in fact offer a certain advantage, because they avoid the system of "love capitalism" -- gifts and dinners -- that can harm real-life relationships. Anthropologist Patrick Galbraith goes a step further: "I would say that a relationship with a LovePlus character is a real relationship."
Still, some aren't quite at the point where they're willing to forgo a real-life girlfriend. As Theo Tkaczevski, a 23-year-old American student who happens to be dating Rinko, puts it, "I'm personally of the opinion that 3-D easily beats 2-D."
Elsewhere in the issue, Mallika Rao speaks to female conductor Sera Tokay about sexism in the classical music world, which gained attention last year after a series of insensitive comments from top male conductors in the industry. Consider, for example, Vasily Petrenko's words -- that "a cute girl at the podium" is too distracting. Or Yuri Temirnakov's: "The essence of the conductor's profession is strength. The essence of a woman is weakness."
Women, these men argue, simply aren't suited for the field. "A systematically dissuasive policy against women," Tokay tells Mallika, is used "as a proof of their natural disability."
In our Voices section, 29-year-old Elizabeth Scarboro gives a moving reflection on the surreal experience of life after being widowed. "You feel your sense of purpose deflating," Scarboro writes. "When you're on an airplane, you no longer have the thought that it can't crash because someone needs you."
Finally, as part of our continued focus on The Third Metric, we share the stories of six public figures who are quiet at heart, from Richard Branson to Will Ferrell.
This story appears in Issue 88 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available Friday, Feb. 14 in the iTunes App store.