By Aisha Sultan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A dear friend ran into big trouble at her 20-year high school reunion. She ran into an old flame and reignited old sparks.
The problem? They were both married. There was no happily ever after – just one painful divorce.
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Nowadays, no one has to travel to a forgotten hometown to reconnect with a former love. Virtual reunions take place daily on the Internet. With a few clicks on Classmates.com 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 going there. 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 kids, 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.
Kalish said some 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.
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.
Once people have 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 extramarital flings. 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 info. 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.”