January 1, 2016

YOU MIGHT FIND YOUR LONG-LOST LOVE ON FACEBOOK, BUT RESEARCH SHOWS YOU WON’T MAKE IT WORK: BLAME THE INTERNET

[Classmates.com, Reunion.com and then Facebook gave people a way to make contact without anyone else knowing that they’d reached out. It became normal to contact old friends, so why not a teen sweetheart?]

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Technology has reshaped our love life. We now search for potential romantic partners on dating apps, sext and cheat on Ashley Madison. We can even contact a lost love more easily — and without anyone knowing. But just as we should be cautious when reaching out to strangers on dating apps, contacting a lost love should never be taken lightly.

The author, a psychologist and the author of "Lost & Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of 
Rekindled Romances," says reconnecting with your lost love is probably a bad idea.
(Tom LeGro/The 
Washington Post)
For more than two decades, I’ve been researching rekindled romances, usually adults reunited with loves from their adolescent years. Over the years, I’ve surveyed  more than 4,000 couples worldwide.
The profile of a couple whose reunion was successful —comparing 1,500 survey participants in the 1990s to 1,600 additional survey participants over the past decade — hasn’t changed. During the initial romance, successful rekindlers had been 22 or younger and grown up in the same home town, dated longer than a year, and were separated by situational factors, such as parental disapproval, moving away, being too young or leaving for the military.
What has changed, though, is whether those romances last. When I began studying love reunions in 1994, I found that 72 percent of the participants remained together with their lost love. By 2006, only 49 percent were still together a decade later. What happened?
In the 1990s, contacting a lost love often involved getting a phone number or address from the lost love’s parents, old friends or other relatives. These contacts acted like gatekeepers: If you went to your lost love’s father for the phone number, you’d better be single. These men and women were purposefully pursuing a romantic reconnection.
Classmates.com, Reunion.com and then Facebook gave people a way to make contact without anyone else knowing that they’d reached out. It became normal to contact old friends, so why not a teen sweetheart?
As a result, people whose young loves were interrupted reached out, even when they were married. Sixty-two percent of my 1,600 survey participants in 2006 were married at the time they reconnected with a lost love. Half said they’d been “happily married,” so they saw no harm initially in saying hello. In fact, some told their spouses beforehand. 
But there is a harm. Lost love reunions are a different kind of romance, often the most intense of my subjects’ lives. This is in part because of the excitement of the affair, but also because these were romances that never ended; a situation broke them apart when they were young, and they wondered what might have been. Now they wanted the opportunity to find out if they belonged together. And because they are in the same town, the shared roots had formed a bond of familiarity, comfort and trust. As a result, these extramarital reunions can become obsessive and then leap off the computer into a physical affair.
But only for a time. Just 5 percent of the lost love affair partners in my research surveys left their spouses and married each other. The affairs usually ended bitterly, when one person wanted to leave the marriage but the other wouldn’t. One woman moved to the city of her lost love and stalked him after he recommitted to his marriage and left her; he filed a restraining order. Another was so bitter when her lost love left her that she called his wife to report the affair, ending his marriage. One man came home from grocery shopping and overheard his wife on the phone, using endearments she had always used for him.
Another change that social media has wrought is that the population of rekindlers — yes, and those who have affairs — is getting younger. There was an age range of 18 to 95 for my participants in the 1990s, but the average reunion happened in the 40s and older. I still have that age range, but the average age of my participants has dropped into the early to mid-30s. They leave their marriages more often than older affair rekindlers, and they often have young children at home.
Social media doesn’t cause cheating. Facebook doesn’t book the hotel room. But it does make the initial contact simple, the secrecy easier and the start of it all seem harmless.

* The author is an emeritus professor of psychology at California State University, Sacramento. She is the author of "Lost and Found Lovers."