I downloaded The Sims 4 the other day, and there’s been a smile plastered on my face ever since. I can’t help but smile as I hear my 9-year-old-daughter, Bridget, merrily clicking away and discussing design choices with herself as she plays on my PC in the next room. I enjoy how much she enjoys the game, sure, but there’s more to it than that as well. I’m also smiling because we are all still here together, in the same house as a family, and that’s a very good thing.
Let me explain…
Several months ago my wife and I were this close to ending our 11-year marriage. I discovered, much to my surprise, that she had been unfaithful and already had the wheels in motion to divorce me. I had sensed something was off between us for some time, but was unsure if this was just “her being her” or something more. She always said she would never cheat on me, so I took her at her word and chalked up this “offness” to us getting older and moving into to a new, albeit unwelcomed, phase of our relationship where we were closed off from one another and basically living separate lives.
But no, what I discovered was bad. And just like that, I was a cuckold. I used to find that term amusing; it’s just a funny word to see on the page and to say out loud. Say it out loud now and I guarantee that you’ll at least smile, if not laugh a bit, as it rolls off your tongue.
I can assure you that I no longer find that word amusing in any way.
Obviously, I was angry, hurt, confused, emasculated…all the cliché things you hear people say in similar situations. But one thing I wasn’t was desiring a divorce. For various very good reasons, I wanted to work things out and wasn’t going anywhere. My wife half-heartedly agreed to try to work it out and to see a marriage counselor and all that jazz.
A few tenuous weeks passed. I barely slept and when I did I would have horrible dreams where all my deepest, darkest fears, sexual and otherwise, would do a garish, nightly waltz through my addled brain. To put it simply, I was a mess. I was a step and a half away from a nervous breakdown. And one night after reading, first hand, the depths to which my wife was willing to go, I gathered up Bridget and left our home very early on a cold Friday morning in mid-November.
During that “tenuous” time I describe above, Bridget became quiet and sullen. She too sensed something was amiss. It was also during that time that she became almost scarily obsessed with The Sims 3. She had always liked the game before, but she was now playing it from the time she got home from school until she went to bed at night…only stopping for bathroom and meal breaks. She also would only speak to me about Sims-related topics: how to make ghost babies, the various challenges that YouTubers had recently posted, etc. I noticed this of course, but was too wrapped up in what was going on between my wife and me to pay it any serious mind. She seemed happy and content; that was all that I could ask for at this stage of the game.
It wasn’t until after I left with her on that icy morning that Bridget and I really had a chance to discuss what she was going through. She wasn’t “happy and content” obviously; she was scared that her family was coming apart at the seams.
Bridget can be rather taciturn when it comes to discussing her emotions. It took some doing, but I finally got her to open up. Put simply, playing The Sims offered her a shelter from the proverbial storm, and a way to control what she saw as uncontrollable. In her words: “I can make my Sims do what I want, when I want. If something bad happens to them it’s because I forgot to do something for them. It wasn’t like that with you and Mom. I couldn’t fix your problems, so it made me feel better to play the Sims and fix theirs.”
As a parent, this admission broke my heart. She couldn’t stop her real world family from falling apart, but she was going to do her level best to make sure her virtual, Sims families wouldn’t suffer the same fate as her own.
That realization hit me like a 10-ton anvil out of a Looney Toons cartoon. I needed to do something about this and do it fast. I needed to put my pride and ego aside, take a big step back, and try to channel some sort of Zen-like state where all of my swirling emotions could be at peace.
I needed to save my family if I could. Period.
I awoke very early the next morning after Bridget and I talked. A good many things were swirling in my mind, which made it difficult for me to sleep. It was Thanksgiving Day…the first holiday my wife and I had spent apart in 11 or so years. I shot my wife a text stating that fact, and how weird it was that we were apart on this most family-centric holiday. Both Bridget and I missed her, plain and simple. Later that afternoon, there was a text from my wife that read: “I miss you too.”
That’s all it took to get us back on track and begin the process of rebuilding our lives together. Not quite as simple as a few clicks of a mouse in a Sims game to get your wayward Sims back on track, but still, a rather uncomplicated end to all the Sturm und Drang that came before it.
So now when Bridget plays The Sims 4 she’s playing it purely for the sake of enjoyment. Her family, not a virtual or Sim one, once again provides her with shelter from the many storms that real life inevitably brings.