Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My wife and I have been married for eight years. We own a home and have two children. She has always been drawn to games online. We started playing a Facebook game called War Commander. She got into a "clan" where people help each other and look after one another. She ended up falling for a player who is 19 and lives overseas.
My wife is 32 and has never traveled out of the country. She decided that she wanted a divorce and that this man would come to America and everything would be wonderful. This started around Labor Day 2012. Now, almost a year later, this guy is in the U.S., staying with other Facebook friends. They have not met in person but Skype and talk on the phone. My wife will meet him later this month.
This is a bizarre situation for me. Have you guys seen things like this before? They are already talking about getting married, having kids, visiting his parents back in the UK. I believe his dad and his mom were kind of glad to get rid of him. He says he is a mechanic and that he makes a lot of money at it. Let me know what you think.
-- Thank you,
Wayne: Yes, we have heard this story before. Different names, different ages, different locales, but basically the same story. A partner begins cheating emotionally, then leaves the relationship literally. Happens every day and we hear about it often. Sorry it's happening to you and your family.
What's unique about this situation is that you and your wife were openly role-playing and building relationships with others leading up to the split. Hey, we all need an occasional escape from reality. But if your reality isn't happy and your real world relationships aren't strong, immersing into our fantasy worlds can quickly become much more exciting and fulfilling than real life. When I think of struggling couples communicating constantly with strangers, taking on new identities and creating "clans" with others, I see relationship land mines everywhere.
For most people, even those in stressed relationships, it ends there -- they toil in their reality and bask in their occasional escapes but never act beyond that. But for others, the thrill and possibilities of a new reality overwhelms the blah or sadness of their real lives. Suddenly, it seems perfectly logical to dump their long-term partners, confuse their children and travel across the country to hang out with 19-year-olds they've only met online.
There were probably warning signs ignored or unseen and there will certainly be drama for you in the coming weeks. But stay focused on the real issue now: the two children who have had their lives turned upside-down. Please work with your wife to minimize the impact this has on your children, no matter how things play out for you two. Good luck.
Wanda: I recently met an old friend for drinks and catch-up, and he relayed a similar story: His mom abruptly left his dad after 32 years of marriage to move to another state and join a man she'd never met in person. Her reason? Her marriage was lacking "affection." At least, that's what she wrote on the half-page note she left behind.
You speak of your wife in present tense, as though your bond and commitment with her is unchanged. But it has changed. She has proved deeply unfaithful already. You have a tough road ahead. If you stay together, rebuilding trust will prove tantamount and challenging. If she transitions from cyber-Cougar to real-life lover, and in turn, moves from emotional cheating to physical involvement with this young man, then what? Only you two can decide.
I agree with Wayne: Your relationship with your children is most important, and this murky situation has great potential to be confusing and hurtful. No matter what happens with your wife -- who, incidentally, is clearly aimless and depressed -- take care of your children. And of course, take care of yourself.
• Wanda is a wise person who has loved, lost and believes in retail therapy. Wayne has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.