Social media is wonderful for keeping in touch with friends and family. At the same time, there is one category of person that you should not be reconnecting with-ex flames. Facebook has made it incredibly easy to indulge in nostalgia and look up people from the past. The Australian magazine The Age recently delved into the near-epidemic of social media-inspired affairs with the article “First love, the second time around.”
Nostalgia drives social media searches
Most people do not reach out to past romantic partners consciously looking for an affair–yet this is what often happens. Old flames hold strong sway over our hearts, triggering powerful and deep-set emotions related to desire, regret and attachment. Relationships that occurred during teenage years seem to be especially powerful. The Age article interviews several couples who describe their process of reconnecting with ex lovers. Most of them found themselves approaching middle age, in bland or struggling marriages, and disenchanted with their adult life. Thinking back to high school, they were reminded of a time when life was ripe and spread out before them with seemingly limitless possibilities. Their thoughts then turned fondly towards the people who were in their lives during that time. Looking back, full of nostalgia, it was easy to idealize the romances that occurred during those formative years. Tempted, the looked up their old sweetheart’s contact information and got in touch.
Most of the reunions described in the article were successful. The two long-lost loves found that they did, indeed, share a special connection and were very compatible. Many left their current marriages and started new lives together. They are still together and much happier than they were in their old lives!
But this isn’t the norm.
Dr. Nancy Kalish is an American researcher who has studied reconnecting with ex sweethearts in the US for more than 20 years and has found some interesting data about the state of reunions, infidelity, and social media over that time. In 1993-96 Dr. Kalish surveyed 1000 people who had purposefully sought out a long-lost love. She found that the majority of them reunited successfully, particularly when original romance was ended for ”situational reasons” such as a cross-country move.
In this first study, 82 per cent of participants had been adolescents during their initial romances and 72 per cent
reported they were still together with their “take two” sweetheart when they filled out the survey.
A decade later, the situation is quite different.
When Dr. Kalish repeated this study in 2004, she concluded that the spread of social media was propelling people into ”accidental affairs.” Meaning, more than 60 per cent of her 1300 new study subjects reported cheating on a spouse with their lost love, despite many of them claiming to have been happily married before reconnecting.
The biggest difference: only 5 per cent were still with the sweethearts they reached out to. For many, this was because they had decided to stay in their current marriage after a brief affair with the ex.
So, Kalish argues, social media had not so much assisted such affairs as created them. ”People are meeting on Facebook when they have no inkling these feelings will come back. The first exchanges are innocent, then they start reminiscing. It’s secret, it’s exciting.”
Is it ever OK to be reconnecting with ex flames? Not really. Stay far, far away from old sweethearts, even if you’re just trying to “be nice” and check in. This risk of infidelity is just too great.
What can I do?
If you are concerned about your spouse reconnecting with ex partners online, it is a good idea to have an open and honest conversation about your fears–statistically, they are not unfounded! You may want to share this blog post or the Australian article with your spouse. Again, he or she likely has no intention to cheat on you. At the same time, they are walking into dangerous territory. Infidelities are best stopped before they begin by setting clear parameters for interacting with members of the opposite sex and reconnecting with ex lovers. For tips on how to talk productively about infidelity, check out our post on marriage communication for sensitive topics.