I wonder how many old flames have been reignited because of Facebook. I wonder how many affairs are going on right now that began with a friend request. Quite a few, I would bet.
I signed up for Facebook less than six months ago. I love it. I live thousands of miles away from where I grew up and went to college, and I’ve gotten back in touch with many old friends. It’s a fantastic tool.
I’ve also become “friends” with more than one ex-boyfriend. With most of them, we say hi, give a quick status update, check out each other’s photos, and that’s that. But a few have made definite romantic overtures. They’ve sent questionable emails, and flirted, and told me I look great. The problem is that at least two of these guys are married.
I think this is pretty common. I would guess that it’s happened to most people on Facebook – at least, most of those of us who are old enough to have lost track of old lovers.
Would it happen without Facebook? Probably not. Until I signed up for Facebook, this didn’t happen to me. And for all we like to wail about the loss of privacy on the internet, most of us aren’t actually googleable. I’ve googled lots of old friends and acquaintances and had zero relevant hits turn up. And even when google does turn up with something and you find an old flame, you have no valid reason for contacting an ex-lover out of the blue. To send an out-of-the-blue email to a long-lost lover, you must be either very curious or very brave.
But this all changes with Facebook. Suddenly, we can find old flames in an instant, and there’s a perfectly good reason to contact them – we’re friending all our high school buddies, why not them too? Friending is so casual. It doesn’t violate any etiquette. It’s all too easy.
I haven’t been tempted to engage in online flirtation with these guys, but that’s because I’m not what I call an IVP: an Intrigue-Vulnerable Person. But IVPs are common. My workplace is crawling with them. And a few years ago, I was one. Here’s what makes for an IVP:
· Boredom with your relationship and/or homelife
· Stress related to your relationship and/or homelife
· Loneliness and/or a feeling of being undesirable or taken for granted by your mate
· Unrequited love for someone from your youth (this one is the most dangerous)
If you’re an IVP, and you get a flirtatious email from an old flame, a little spark goes off in your chest. A tingle. It puts a smile on your face. So you start corresponding, perhaps innocently at first, and now you have a fun little secret. You start reliving old memories. Online, you’re both at your charming best. You carefully compose your emails and you choose your words to be witty, self-deprecating, and fascinating. You anxiously await a reply in your inbox. Your instant messages are effervescent.
Not only do you put your best self forward online, but your old flame sees you that way too. They remember you when you were young. They still think of you as young. They don’t see you as middle-aged, they see you as a vibrant 19 year old in a grown-up body. It makes you feel young. It makes you feel sparkling and interesting and desirable. It’s intoxicating.
Some of these emotional affairs will never leave the bounds of the internet. But some will turn physical, and some will break up marriages. I posit that this phenomenon will grow by leaps and bounds because of Facebook.
I am not blaming Facebook, nor excusing adulterers. We are all responsible for our own behavior. But in my assessment, most people are vulnerable to affairs and one point or another. The reason they don’t happen more often is not because most people have wonderful self-control but because opportunities are either non-existent or come at too high a cost.
But Facebook significantly decreases those costs. It allows people to fool themselves. It starts so innocently. It provides both the means and the motive for contacting an old flame. Hell, you can chat with your ex-lover on your laptop while your spouse is in the same room! But an “innocent” exchange can turn into attraction and emotional attachment very, very easily. The allure of the old flame – of the person who knew you when you were young – should not be underestimated. It can be very powerful.
So while I believe in personal responsibility, I also have sympathy for those who struggle to resist something so powerful. Technology dangles an exponentially-increasing number of temptations in front of our noses: 5,000 years ago, we didn’t have to struggle to avoid that last piece of pizza, or that unnecessary credit card purchase, or surfing on our boss’s dime, or having an online affair – those things simply didn’t exist. Today, we must all exercise constant vigilance against incessant social and technological influences that do not have our best interests in mind. So I’m not quick to judge. But I do worry.
Am I making something out of nothing here? Should we all just trust ourselves and our partners to use proper self-restraint, and go on our merry ways? I’m admittedly a cynic, but I work around middle-aged family guys, and judging from the boredom and dissatisfaction most them express with their lives, I doubt they could be trusted to maintain appropriate boundaries if they were contacted by a flirtatious ex. (Note: the same could be said about women, I just happen to work with mostly guys). What do you think?