My internet lover of 12 years is suddenly warning me off

Tell me about it: He invited me to visit his country and stay with him but is now telling me to have no expectations of romance

PROBLEM: I met a divorced gentleman through Facebook 12 years ago and now that we are both retired, we have intensified our communication – to the point that he invited me to visit his country, and he offered his home to host me.

For years we have talked about life and love and are at the point we now find it necessary to get close together and meet in person. I really feel in love with him, and he also expresses a lot of affection. The trip to his country is planned for June. However, his last number of conversations have been about not getting myself enthusiastic about marrying him, or living with him. This is because his family, children and grandchildren, don’t think it is correct to do this with a woman from a different culture.

He tells me that he is glad to have me at his home, but I have to realise my place is to be close to my family, and him with his family. I feel a little sad about this situation, having seen my dreams take a change of direction.

What should I do – go or not go?

ADVICE: Your situation highlights the dilemma of whether contact with someone, either through letters or the internet, is enough to really trust what you are experiencing. Do we need face-to-face interaction before we really know what the other person is like? Often, we are far more open in our correspondence than in person and this begs the question of what do you trust now.

If you take the risk of travelling to this other country, you can have no guarantees of romance. Many people find that when they meet in person, following a long non-physical connection, there is simply no spark and this cannot be overcome. On the other hand, many people can know each other for years and a spark can develop to their surprise at a later time.

It is clear that your gentleman is frightened now that you plan to visit him and it may be that he is setting clear boundaries so that he can have an exit, without guilt, from the situation if it does not work out.

But after 12 years as friends, meeting up is the natural next step to take and of course you are both worried about being let down or disappointed. Your gentleman’s family see him as vulnerable as is evidenced by their effort to protect him from the possible manipulation of a woman who is not their mother or grandmother. It is unlikely that this perspective can change without the family getting to know you and this can only happen if you meet them. It also seems that there is a fear that he will lose some closeness with his family if there is a new partner in his life and this is probably true in that a new couple needs to focus a lot on themselves before they can broaden their sights to a wider group.

Change is difficult and most of us stick to the status quo, as we have a comfort zone there, but nothing new or vibrant happens in this safe place. Taking risks is the only way to experience more of life and it seems that you are willing to do this, so perhaps it is up to you to push this situation. However, you must listen carefully to what you are being told and at present it is that you are not to have expectations of romance or of a committed relationship. If you are prepared to take this as the starting point for your visit, then you will not come to any emotional harm by it.

Remember that you are also judging this person as a possible future companion for you, and you may also find that he is not suitable for you. At the very least, you need someone in your life who is willing to treat you with openness and generosity. If, should you make the journey, you discover that you are in receipt of suspicion and distrust, you might need to reconsider this relationship as something that could only survive at a distance and then the need is to end it. Having someone in your life for 12 years where the conversation is about love and life is a very real and substantial part of your life.

If this ends, both of you would suffer intense grief and loss and yet we cannot force someone to stay in that special relationship with us. If you find that your gentleman continues in his vein of defensiveness and suspicion, then you may need to let him go so that your own dignity remains intact. The decision to stay or go is yours to make but without some risk at this stage, the relationship is doomed anyway.

If you go, be strong and plan to remove yourself if you are not being treated well and have some friends available by phone so that you can have the support you need to make the right decision.