Pop Advice: Should You Start a War Over ‘World of Warcraft’?

POP ADVICE is our column from author/comedian Sara Benincasa, in which she doles out inspirational life lessons gleaned from years of pop cultural immersion. To submit a question for this column, please email PopAdviceObserver@gmail.com.

World of Warcraft

Relationship status: Warcraft. Blizzard Entertainment

I like video games a lot. I’ve played since I was a young girl. When my boyfriend and I met, we bonded over this shared love along with our fondness for cooking, dogs, travel, tattoo art, and more. But over the past year, he’s become addicted to World of Warcraft in a way that freaks me out. It takes up his every waking hour outside of work (and it even seems to creep into his work life.) He talks about it so much that I get embarrassed when friends or family members visit. People have started to make comments to me – some joking, some quite serious. He neglects me, his job, and his household duties. We barely even have sex anymore, and most nights I go to bed alone. Should I leave him because of his video game addiction?

Let’s put aside the term “video game” and change that question to read: Should I leave him because of his addiction? My answer is: if he’s not willing to seek help and you’re not in the mood to stick around to see if things improve, then yes. Get out. It may be the strongest, smartest thing you can do for yourself.

Addiction is tough. We can laugh and make light of what you’ve said – after all, World of Warcraft isn’t heroin. But he is most certainly using an objectively cool and interesting art form to escape from reality. It seems he prefers it even to love and companionship. That’s his issue. It shouldn’t be yours.

As smart broads who are also fans of video games, you and I both know the real problem isn’t World of Warcraft. The problem is the way in which your boyfriend uses it. You’re not his mommy or his shrink, and it’s not up to you to prescribe limits for him or unpack the complex history of his need to avoid life. It’s also not up to you to yell at him until he just snaps out of it. He will not just snap out of it, and you’ll get a hoarse voice.

You are not Tony Soprano and your shrink is not Dr. Melfi. You are not Josh Lyman and your shrink is not Dr. Stanley Keyworth (although if Adam Arkin offers to be your therapist you should totally say yes just for the hell of it)

Sit him down and be calm, clear, and honest about your unhappiness in the relationship. Cite real examples of ways in which his devotion to the game has negatively impacted you, his work performance, his relationships, or the condition of your household. Ask that he cut back. Don’t issue an ultimatum. People tend to chafe at those. Don’t try to “fix” him – that’s a pointless game played by codependents like me (hi, I’m in AlAnon for a reason). Simply state what you think and observe and feel, then ask him to cut back. Observe what happens.

No matter what, please get into therapy with a good therapist who comes highly recommended. I always advise folks to interview a few candidates if at all possible – you want to work with somebody with whom you click. And don’t expect it to be like you see in movies and on TV. You are not Tony Soprano and your shrink is not Dr. Melfi. You are not Josh Lyman and your shrink is not Dr. Stanley Keyworth (although if Adam Arkin offers to be your therapist you should totally say yes just for the hell of it. This is a reference to The West Wing, btw).

Talk about your feelings. Go to therapy to help your brain, heart and gut get in sync about whether you wish to actually stay in this relationship. Please take care of yourself in other ways, too: get some exercise; get some sunshine; drink enough water; get enough rest (even if you’re sleeping alone.) Leave the house and do things that bring you some measure of happiness, even if only for a few moments.

If you do wish to remain in this relationship, ask your individual therapist to recommend a couples therapist for the two of you. If you don’t wish to remain in this relationship, that’s fine. Get your financial situation in order. Ask friends and your own family members for whatever support you require. Make a plan, and leave. Life is too short to play second fiddle to someone else’s unhealthy obsession.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Ed Araquel/FOX

About a year and a half ago, my wife went into early menopause and told me she’d suddenly lost all interest in sex.  She addressed the physical changes of menopause with appropriate medication, but she doesn’t even try to kiss or hug me anymore.  Our life is lovely otherwise. We get along really well and laugh and enjoy tennis and hiking just like we did before. We’ve got a mature, kind pair of teenagers. We’re not rich but we make enough to pay the bills and set aside a little for savings. There are no unusual pressures that I can see. I have to wonder if I’m screwing up somehow by accident. Is this change normal?

Well, I can’t tell you what “normal” is because I don’t think it exists. And let’s also recall I’m just your friendly local advice columnist, not a doctor. But I can tell you that a sexless relationship is unhealthy emotionally, psychologically, and hell, even spiritually if you believe in that sort of thing (I’m half Mulder and half Scully, but you’ve caught me on a Mulder day – I want to believe.)

Sex is a form of communication. Some folks feel that when they can’t have sex, they’ve lost their voice. And if sex is a conversation between two people who love each other very much, your wife has fallen silent. The reasons may be complex indeed.

Entering therapy is not a drastic, dramatic move. Like sensible nutrition, good exercise, and abundant time in nature, therapy can help a wonderful life improve even more.

First, if your wife is willing, I’d recommend she go to a doctor who specializes in women experiencing menopause. It’s important to ensure that she’s physically healthy and that no physical causes (like side effects from medication) are at the root of this issue. Please take care not to present this as some kind of investigation to assign blame. That’s not what this is. Her agency and consent are of the utmost importance here, and if she does not wish to do any of this, you cannot make her do so. You will have some tough choices to make on your own.

Second, I suggest you find a really good couples counselor who is also a licensed and experienced sex therapist. As I suggested to the questioner above, you may wish to do initial consultations with a few candidates before selecting the right provider.

Third, I’d also like to see you both in individual therapy, not with the couples therapist. Go to your corners and hang out with your own coaches (not life coaches – those people are snake oil salesmen with zero actual qualifications. You know, kind of like advice columnists.) If it helps you to pick a therapist who looks like Burgess Meredith in Rocky, by all means, find that ruddy-nosed human.

Entering therapy is not a drastic, dramatic move. Like sensible nutrition, good exercise, and abundant time in nature, therapy can help a wonderful life improve even more.

Sex is no small thing. It is not something to be laughed off or brushed aside. You deserve a relationship that includes a pleasurable sex life, and so does she. The alternative – forced long-term celibacy due to implicit or explicit perpetual rejection – is extraordinarily upsetting. It can feel humiliating and demeaning. No partner should be asked to endure such a thing without his or her agreement. (Remember how upset Charlotte got in “Sex and the City” when she was stuck in a sexless marriage to Twinny McTwinPeaks? No? You didn’t watch it? Sigh.)

Be patient, be kind, and avoid accusations or guilt trips. Don’t accept them from her, either. And take good care of yourself, please.

Pop Advice: Should You Start a War Over ‘World of Warcraft’?