How often have you wondered what happened to that ex who set your heart on fire a few decades ago? I believe the amount we fantasise about our past passions correlates with how happy we are with our present love life. If you’re going through a sticky patch or you’re on the lookout for a new companion, going back to old pastures seems so much safer than finding someone new.
What do they look like now, have they been pining for you (of course!) and how good would it be to re-live old times?
I used to have a friend who would get drunk and work her way through her address book, ringing ex-boyfriends up
It’s not difficult to track down past partners. The internet, Friends Reunited and Facebook mean they have no place to hide.
Nancy Kalish, a psychology professor at California State University, who has studied the phenomenon, says the number of couples rekindling lost love is rising and the internet has changed how such stories unfold.
“It starts with e-mails, goes to IMs (instant messages), and the hotel room follows pretty soon afterwards,” says Kalish.
She says about eight out of ten people who contact a former lover are married, based upon the findings of her own website, Lostlovers.com. The site has profiles for 34 million people, and is gaining as many as 40,000 a day.
Classmates.com has a database of 60 million people and allows users to “leap through a portal to the best of your past”. Scary stuff. But can reality match the fantasy? And what are the pitfalls?
My friend Sophie had married on the rebound. After splitting with Tony (who drove a red Porsche, very fast), she settled for nice, dependable accountant Giles and a life in Harrogate with two children. But she kept tabs on Tony and when the kids went to boarding school she got bored and looked him up.
“In many ways he was still the same,” she told me, in a long phone call. “Same clothes, same car, same ability to make me melt.” Work hadn’t gone too well for Tony, apparently, and he said he was unhappy at home.
It took Sophie just three days to meet him at a hotel (she paid) and 12 weeks later she told a stunned Giles she was leaving him. She set up home with Tony on a tiny houseboat, taking her bewildered daughters with her.
Six weeks and a lot of rows about money, kids and the houseboat toilet later, she moved out. Husband Giles, meanwhile, had just started seeing someone else, a former friend of his wife’s from the school run. Tony went back to his long-suffering girlfriend.
But lost love revisited doesn’t always have to end in disaster. Simon Williams, a radio DJ from Carlisle, had not seen Alison, an ex from his school days, for 18 years. Single and curious, he hit the internet, using Friends Reunited to track her down.
Neither had married in the intervening years and the old spark was still there. A few months later they were married.
Life coach and author Carole Ann Rice says: “I used to have a friend who would get drunk and work her way through her address book, ringing ex-boyfriends up. She would wake up with dread, having arranged a reunion date, which were usually disastrous. Sometimes there would already be a bouquet of flowers by her door. In the end we had to take her address book off her.
“But, having said that, she did finally meet one old flame where it worked out and they are still together.
“I would suggest that if you’re tempted to do it, try to remember the reasons you broke up with them in the first place. It is possible that they haven’t changed.
“You will know pretty soon whether it’s going to work this time round. Remember, you may not have changed much either.
“Some people do it for closure, which in understandable, trying to end the story neatly and resolve unanswered questions. But I’d say don’t set your expectations too high.”
Perhaps the moral is, try to appreciate what you’ve got, and accept that memory can be selective. Be careful what you wish for.