Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fretrosexuals: Reconnecting can be fraught with peril

Published in the Portland Phoenix, the Boston Phoenix, and the Providence Phoenix

Some people really enjoy the potential of reconnecting with folks from the past, and I'm usually one of them. Through the wonder of the Internet, old friends and I have found each other. When I see such a request in my inbox on Facebook, I almost always immediately click "Confirm." Of course, those reunions haven't been sexual — just friendly. But the prospect of a reconnection with one person has left me conflicted.

More than a decade ago, my relationship with "Anne" ended. Ours was the longest either of us had been in to date, and we had seriously contemplated our future together (marriage, kids, house, all that stuff). Ultimately, though, it finished badly.

While from time to time I have wondered about what ever happened to her, I've never tried to get in touch with her, and she has never contacted me. We have a few friends in common, from whom I have heard ultra-brief updates every few years — "Saw Anne the other weekend" or whatever — and maybe she's gotten the same about me. But that was the extent of our "contact," if you can even call it that.

Then last fall, thanks in part to those friends in common, Anne popped up in my "People You May Know" box on Facebook. Of course, I looked at her profile: she's married, living near Boston, and her photo shows her with a big grin amid a group of friends. All that's great: time has healed many of my wounds (though, I find, not all). I don't wish her ill. I might even have a drink with her if we run into each other somewhere, to catch up. But I'm not proud of how I behaved all those years ago, and I don't want to revisit those times.

Beyond that, I don't suffer from the illusion that we have much in common any longer. (Apart from our memories of what happened between us, which are probably more similar than either of us might ever admit.)

Too much time has passed, and what I did in the years since would have happened very differently, if at all, had we stayed together. While I've now settled down and gotten married, the person I am today owes more to the fact that things ended with Anne and I got on with my life than to the fact that we ever were together.

So if we did run into each other again, and caught up over lunch or a drink, I wouldn't expect us to stay in touch, much less to become friends. And I (and our respective spouses) sure would be nothing less than astonished if we wound up in bed together.

Given all that, Facebook is more of a get-in-touch-and-stay-in-touch kind of site. Privacy settings aside, anyone who is a "friend" can see my status and other information as I update it. Distant though it is, I'm not sure if that's a level of connection I want with Anne.

So I decided not to initiate contact. After about a week went by, I assumed she had seen me in her "PYMK" box and made the same decision. Not so. Another week later, I got a friend request from her: a short, friendly note ending with "It's been a looooong time . . . "

Waiting game
That was at the end of September. It has now also been "a looooong time" since her friend request, and I still haven't clicked "Confirm" — or "Ignore."

But this dallying has only made matters worse. Every time someone sends me a friend request, I have to face Anne, lined up first in the "Friend Request" queue. And all the well-meaning friends I already have on Facebook deluge me with kajillions of pokes, thrown sheep, drinks, and other application requests — never knowing that every time they do, I have to face Anne then, too.

(Almost) every time I see Anne's request, the debate begins again. If I click "Confirm," then she'll be able to see photos, videos, notes from other friends, all kinds of stuff that I'm not sure I want to share with someone who's not, technically, a "friend."

On the other hand, if I ignore her request, then I'm putting up the Berlin Wall, severing completely a chunk of my past that, while hanging on only by the barest tendril, was still somehow a connection.

Then again, by virtue of the fact that I've taken this long to make any decision at all, Anne probably thinks I've long since clicked "Ignore," and has written me off. The terrible irony is that, as a result of Facebook, I've thought about her more — and more often — in these past few months than I had in the last decade.

One last wrinkle: if you're wondering whether my wife knows about all of this, the answer is yes. She actually brought up the bizarre topic of what do to about old loves in new media because she was wondering if an ex-boyfriend was ever going to show up online. To date, she hasn't had the pleasure.