Elise Garber married the first boy she ever kissed. She met him at an Outward Boundstyle summer-camp program when she was 15, she "sort of dated" him for the summer, and then, like most teenage romances, it ended. Twenty-two years later, they met again on Facebook.
"I don't know why I looked him up," says the 37-year-old former advertising-agency executive in Chicago. Garber was showing a co-worker how Facebook works, and to demonstrate the search function a feature that allows users to search for the names of people they know she entered Harlan Robins, the name of the first boy she kissed. At the prodding of her co-worker, Garber sent Robins a message. And then she waited. Would he respond? Would he accept her friend request? Was it weird to contact an old summer-camp boyfriend?
As Facebook users have begun to skew older the website is now as popular with 30-, 40- and 50-somethings as with the college students who pioneered it they have found ways to reconnect with one another. And who better to get in touch with than an old flame? "Facebook makes it easier for you to take that first step of finding someone again," explains Rainer Romero-Canyas, a psychology research scientist at Columbia University. "It has finally provided a way for people to reach out to someone without fear of rejection." The Boston Phoenix even coined a term, retrosexuals, for people who are taking the plunge into recycled love.
"It was like opening a time capsule," says Drew Peterson, a 34-year-old former IT worker from Long Island, New York. Peterson's retrosexual experience occurred a few years ago when he found his high school girlfriend on MySpace "You know, before it became the cyberghetto of the Internet." The two dated during junior and senior year of high school; the last time the two saw each other was on the day they graduated. Sixteen years later, they exchanged MySpace messages, and then Peterson flew from New York to San Francisco to see what had become of the woman who had once captured his teenage heart. "I knew it wasn't going to turn out like some Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy," Peterson says. "I just wanted to see her again." The pair still got along, although this time just as friends.
Most retrosexual experiences seem to spring from an intense, almost uncontrollable mixture of nostalgia and interest. "You get a thrill out of finding an old girlfriend just to see if she still likes you," says W. Keith Campbell, a University of Georgia psychology professor and co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic. "You're curious to see what she looks like, and it's easy to fantasize about alternative courses your life might have taken." It's the same feeling that compels people to attend high school reunions. In a way, these meet-ups are the same thing, especially for people like Los Angeles film developer Jillian Stein, 30, who traveled to her hometown of Tampa, Fla., and had three Facebook- and MySpace-inspired reunions within 72 hours.