Thursday, December 28, 2006

Internet makes ‘lost loves’ easier to find

Todd and Janelle went to neighboring high schools in northern California, in rural towns where teens cruised the roads in big-wheeled, jacked-up trucks.

Todd, though, drove a silver Porsche.

They met at McDonald’s — "love at first sight with a side of fries," she said.

During a date at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, Janelle recalled, a stranger issued the couple a "kissing violation."

"He thanked us for spreading infectious happiness."

But Todd had enlisted in the Army, and his final assignment would take him to Korea.

Determined to keep their love alive, Janelle drove him to the airport in 1986. She wrote him every day, but word reached Todd that she was dating others. Although the gossip was false, Todd withdrew.

"I was devastated," Janelle said, "but I went on."

She became engaged to someone else. The night before her wedding, she pored through photos in her "Todd box," praying that he’d show up and whisk her away.

In 1997, Janelle’s marriage unraveled. Seeking comfort, she returned home to see her parents. She had a terrible feeling that something bad had happened to Todd, so she went through her photos again.

Later that week, she searched for Todd on the Internet — and found him in Los Angeles.

"Somehow, I managed to leave a message," she said. "Two days later, when I heard his voice, my heart melted."

Finding a lost love used to require a host of phone books, a private detective or luck.

Today, old lovers can type a name into Google.

Most romantic reunions, said Nancy Kalish, a psychologist at California State University, involve first or early loves — relationships between one’s teens and early 20s.

An expert in rekindled romance, Kalish said lost-andfound romances are surprisingly successful, provided both partners are not otherwise attached when they reconnect.

In her initial sample of 1,000 lost-and-found lovers ages 18 to 95, almost three-quarters remained together after a decade of study. When these past lovers married each other, their divorce rate after four years was no more than 1.5 percent.

Usually, second marriages are relatively fragile: In the public at large, about a fourth of all couples who remarry get divorced again within five years.

"Many of the couples (who rekindled their ties) grew up together or shared friends and values," Kalish said. "They spent formative years together and became each other’s standard for all romances since."

For all the power and resilience of rekindled romance, however, Kalish has discovered a dark side: More of the encounters are unplanned, and many of these people are swept away by feelings they didn’t know they still had, placing marriages — even good marriages — at risk.

In her latest sample, more than 60 percent of lost-love reunions involved affairs.

Her most compelling finding: the cataclysmic power of rekindled love. Although most ordinary affairs don’t break up marriages, reunions with first or early loves are more risky.

Some of the people she met during her research had been willing to forfeit everything — their children, friendships, businesses — to be together.

Such romances might be so indelible and so intense because they are forged in the hormonal fire of the teenage brain.

Those reunited with a first or early love after years are "simultaneously bombarded with the giddy, explosive, highly sexual but ephemeral chemicals of new love coupled with the profoundly satisfying, deeply relaxing chemicals of long-term love," she said.

That makes sense to psychiatrist Thomas Lewis, author of A General Theory of Love.

"The adolescent brain is exposed to heightened levels of testosterone and progesterone, the steroid sex hormones involved in sexual intensity," he says.

Of the 1,600 lost-love reunions she studied during 2004-05, about 62 percent involved affairs (compared with 30 percent in previous years).

Most spouses don’t realize the risk when a partner announces that first e-mail from a highschool friend: If the friend is of the opposite sex, she says, alarm bells should go off.

Likewise: "If you’re married, think long and hard before contacting that first love. Your life may be forever changed."

Dating, Sex & Friendship: An Open and Honest Guide to Healthy Relationships