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St. Louis Post-Dispatch Dirty Laundry column: Facebook junkies: Is your marriage at risk?
[February 13, 2009]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Dirty Laundry column: Facebook junkies: Is your marriage at risk?

Feb 13, 2009 (St. Louis Post-Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A dear friend ran into big trouble at her 20-year high school reunion. She ran into an old flame, and the chance encounter reignited old sparks.

The problem? They were both married. There was no happily ever after -- just lots of gut-wrenching drama and one painful divorce.

Nowadays, no one has to buy a flattering dress and travel to a forgotten hometown to reconnect with a former love. Virtual reunions take place daily all over the Internet. With a few clicks on or with a bit of searching on Facebook, you'll stumble across the one who broke your heart or vice versa.

But think long and hard before sending that message or friend request. Nancy Kalish, a developmental psychology professor at California State University in Sacramento, has researched thousands of lost love reunions and has seen the disastrous aftermaths.

"These feelings can come back," she warns. "And it will destroy you." She's noticed that more people in their early 30s are becoming entangled in an affair that can become an online addiction. Many are married and have little children, she said.

Back when people had to physically track down a lost love, the process of reuniting was more difficult and more deliberate. Now, it's casual. And the intensity of resurfaced feelings can catch some people off guard. It can be like a hit of cocaine for a recovering addict.

Kalish said some neuroscience research suggests that raging teenage hormones are stored as sensory and emotional memories. Early loves may be imprinted on the brain the way cocaine addiction is. When you see that person again or chat online, the reconnection can trigger visceral feelings of being young and in love.

And when you compare the rush of young love to the stability and security of long-term commitments, it's easy to see which one is more heady and addictive.

"It's happy marriages that are almost more at risk," she said. In her surveyed group, 62 percent of rekindlers say they were married before they reconnected; about half report they had good or excellent marriages.

But once they've restarted the old relationship, they have trouble stopping, she said.

"They come to me crying, 'I have to get back to my marriage, and I don't know how to get over these feelings.'" Bill Mitchell, a private investigator in South Carolina who has been catching philanderers for nearly four decades, says he has seen easy Internet access as the source of more and more extramarital flings.

"They dig up their old past," he said.

And because they tend to be formerly intimate relationships, there are fewer inhibitions.

Kalish suggests the best way to handle a blast from the past is to politely respond: "It's good to hear from you," and offer some catch-up information. If there is a second attempt at communication, she says it's best to gently cut it off.

"But if you keep it up, and start reminiscing," she warns, "boy, that's it." To see more of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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