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The End of “What If?”

The End of “What If?”
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A recent story in the UK’s Telegraph reports that Facebook is cited in roughly one in five of the country’s online divorce petitions, but millions of avid users swear the reconnections are mostly harmless fun. Have these quantum leaps forward in technology created a society addicted to its past?

  Instant Gratification 2.0

You’ve got to love the social networking phenomenon. Legions of people in various stages of mid-life crisis clamoring to find their 10th-grade lab partners, reminisce about old times, confess longings and regrets that in less technologically advanced times would simply have petered out like plot twist from The Bridges of Madison County (though most far less protracted) where the universe of dreams unfulfilled remain karmically balanced.

Not so today. Instant everything has made Pandora’s ill-omened box public domain. No one waits, no one wonders—no one has to. Punch a name into a search engine, and in less than eight seconds you’ve got your ex’s whole life—then and now—spread out in front of you, complete with vacation pictures and the birth of her twins on video.

Is all this damn knowledge—just shy of complete transparency, really—everything it’s cracked up to be?

  Eliza

Eliza was 18, spending her first summer as a counselor at the weight-loss camp she’d been going to for six years. “I still felt like a camper,” she remembers, recalling her crush. “At 16, he looked like a husky Emilio Estevez at the time he was a teen idol. He was so used to being the ‘fat kid’ back home that he had no idea how hot he was. All the girls were in love with him.”

Sensitive, hardly a lothario, “Emilio” befriended her as he started “dating” his way through the 14-year-olds in Eliza’s group. “I flirted shamelessly, becoming the ‘sensual older woman.’ He had no idea that I was just as innocent as he was.”

They shared one kiss that summer, in the stillness of the woods.

Fast-forward 21 years: A marriage, a divorce and Eliza’s the mother of a teenager. She reconnected with “Emilio” on camp reunion group list. Eventually, via e-mails, he shared that his marriage was failing, that he was lonely. She became his sounding board again. Over months, their communication grew “friendlier, deeper spiritually, and flirtier”… and then, he was going to be in her area on family business. Eliza had no expectations.

“He came to hang out at my place and we ordered pizza.” She admits she was mush the moment she saw him, feeling a connection she couldn’t explain. “We talked for seven hours straight.” Romantic tension was intense, but they were on their best behavior. Eventually, though, the floodgates opened, and to the bedroom they went.

“Then it was just surreal. I kept thinking, I can’t believe I’m making out with him … I can’t believe he’s going down on me! Oh, my God, I’m going to have sex with him! Holy crap, I’m HAVING sex with him. Reconciling the boy with the man was just an incredible experience.”

They spent the next two days falling for one another. “But things got, and still are, emotionally insane.” She describes their situation as “friends who acknowledge a love for each other,” though the experience of falling in love over three days as antithetical to who she is. “I’m a logical, rational person who pushes men off with sex when they get too serious too soon. I let myself go with him … but he’s married.”

The weekend, she says, was a moment in time. These days, she offers marital advice along with her love and friendship—and plans no future with him.

  Kendall

Kendall, 50, is happily married with no children. She’s been on Facebook about two years and has 118 friends comprised of people she knows from “elementary and high school, college, various jobs, and yes—one or two old boyfriends looooong since paired off, married and gone. Our relationships, to whatever degree of communication there is, are entirely platonic—100 percent!”

In the frankest of terms, Kendall simply “doesn’t go in for that shit,” although she actually met her husband through an online dating service. “I’m not at all against the idea of connecting online, social networking site or otherwise,” she says, “but I don’t think it’s a healthy way to work out kinks in your marriage… I don’t mind some conversation about good times past, but when that starts heading in the flirty direction I cap it immediately.”

Kendall loves Facebook because it makes staying in touch with people easy, but draws the line with the sexy drives down Memory Lane. “It’s immature. It’s not respectful of my marriage—Or theirs, if there is one. And as far as old beaus go, I mean, we broke up for a reason, right? Clearly, we didn’t miss out on true love.”

  Brat Pack Denouement

And my friend request?

That Dickensian ghost emerging from the Hughesian ether of my high school existence? I accepted. The patter was as comfortable as ever—if more mature—the chemistry still palpable. It was exciting and fun. Gratifying, even.

He remembered conversations and inside jokes I’d completely forgotten, and as we both reminisced about our “semi-unconsummated torrid affair” and caught up on where we’d been—work, love, devastating loss on both sides—this boy I’d so elevated in my adolescence, now a man, elevated the woman I’d become with his poignant recollections.

And the impetus for all of this talk was that collage, which, it turns out, he had come to treasure as the years rolled past. I’d forgotten I made that, too, actually. Funny how high school seems so epic when it’s happening.

As for Eliza, she’s philosophical. “I’m sure there are marriages going up in flames, but there are also beautiful stories of long-lost loves, friends and relatives finding one another. It all depends on the road you’re on today—whether it’s worth the risk of ‘What if?’”

Would she open Pandora’s Box again? “No,” she says, pausing. “Well, not for anyone else but him.”

Kendall, ever the pragmatist, may be on her way to a career writing fortune cookies. “Sure it’s fun to talk about the past and revisit a little. I just wouldn’t recommend living in it. A lot can go by in front of you when you’re busy looking back.”

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Comments

Rob Pape  

collages live on forever. that's the take home message.

05/07/2010

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