10 Tips for 'Retrosexing' on Facebook
As their numbers of Facebook friends climb into the upper hundreds, many social networking users are narrowing their searches to old friends and former flames who, they hope to find, have grown more enticing over time. This practice is so common that Boston Phoenix reporter Deidre Fulton has coined a term for these vintage partner refurbishers: retrosexuals. The name has caught on like thrift-shopping in a recession, and the exploits of various retrosexuals have been documented in the pages of publications like the U.K.'s Daily Mail and Time magazine.
We've all looked up former heartthrobs online and wondered, what if? Well, that's sexy and intriguing and all -- but you'll need to tread the waters carefully. We read up on the subject and spoke to several social-networking-love-nauts to find out how these retro-hookups work, where the pitfalls arise, and how best to navigate the fish-stocked sea that is Facebook. Take a look.
1. Don't friend too fast.
Molly, a 26-year-old dancer from Boston, says every time a childhood friend of hers decides to join Facebook, she gets bombarded with friend requests from guys who had crushes on her in elementary school. If a former crush pops up on your "Suggestions" page, check their profile to make sure they haven't just joined up. If they have, wait a few weeks or even months before friending them. This will help you seem mildly flirty as opposed to obsessed. After all, it's already been how long? Better yet, your old-school crush may even friend you first, especially if they have just created a profile and are anxious to up their numbers.
2. Pick potential partners you wish you'd gotten to know better, not old lovers you already felt you knew too well.
Bethany, a 29-year-old social worker from Rhode Island, recently became engaged to Andy, a lawyer, with whom she reconnected over Facebook. "We weren't old flames, we had a fling at summer camp, but we weren't 'together' back then," she says of their romantic past. If the anecdotes and trends reported in Time and the Boston Phoenix articles are to be believed, Beth and her future hubby's original lack of quality time is a key factor in why their relationship proved permanent the second go-round. As Andy puts it: "I felt like there was unfinished business. I really liked her, but never got to see it through because of time and circumstance." The most promising reunions seem to be the ones between old acquaintances who felt sparks but never had the chance to see it through (versus rekindling a bad relationship that ended for a good reason).
3. Think nostalgia, not recent history.
In other words, go way back if you're going to get with someone from your past. Summer camp is a memory lane worth wandering in search of possible partners, as is early education. Just steer clear of anyone who's dumped you in the past year. As Fulton writes in the Boston Phoenix, it's okay to have ex-sex, "but not sordid, desperate, we-just-broke-up-last-week-and-I'm-so-lonely ex-sex. More like, hey-let's-try-this-again ex-sex. Or, old-habits-die-hard-for-a-reason ex-sex." The more time that has elapsed since you last saw your target, the more room there is for them to blow you away with how much they've changed, and the less emotional risk there is if they haven't (or, God forbid, have changed for the worse).
4. Sleeping with your ex isn't retrosexing; it's just sleeping with your ex.
No matter how much time has passed, if you refer to the person you're checking out online as an ex, instead of your "first kiss," or person who "took your virginity in high school," then consider yourself warned. Of course, anything is possible, but if you have any remaining emotional attachment to this person, make sure you enter the situation with the same level of caution as you would a pit of rabid vipers. Otherwise, you could end up a "fretrosexual."
5. Just because the captain of the football team was squeaky clean in high school, doesn't mean you should let him score a field goal without proving himself now.
It makes perfect sense that you would trust someone you once knew more than you would a total stranger. Bethany took her time. "Our courtship paralleled online dating because we chatted on Facebook, swapped e-mail addresses, progressed to G-chat, moved to texting and phone calling, and then finally planned a visit," she says. "He was in Maine at the time, so I went up there because it was July and beautiful. But I would never have gone on a bus to see someone that I didn't already know." Even so, Bethany was smart. Now that she and Andy are engaged, she jokes about how she had an emergency contact who knew where she was when she went to visit him. Because, hey, who knows what can happen to a person in eight years, no matter how charming they were as a co-counselor.
6. Investigating unfinished business is better than settling old scores.
We all wonder what happened to our first loves. This innocent curiosity is superior to, say, deciding to try and sleep with every single girl who turned you down back then to show them just how wrong they were about your pocket protector. Jessamine, 31, who is a Chinese-American grad student in Chicago, went on an awful date with Jason, a boy she found mildly interesting in high school but never spoke to at the time. "I think within the first 20 minutes of the date he was saying, 'Oh, you're just the alterna-chick Asian girl who only dates white guys'," she says. "I felt like he was trying to put me in my place. He didn't even like me as a person; he just want to bag the girl he liked in high school." Don't be rude like Jason. Stick to seeking out people in whom you have a genuinely interest, even in a casual way. Stay away from kids who picked on you, old foes, or people you are just trying to impress. No one likes a belt-notcher, even in cyberspace.
7. Family members of former flings and best friends' exes should stay off limits.
The new Facebook family members applications give you a chance to view pictures of all your former love's relatives, so it might be logical to think that -- now that your ex is married -- checking out the rest of the family tree might be fruitful. There are plenty of landmines in this seemingly hot scenario, however. The newly-Facebooked parents of your ex could follow your flirtation from afar, or, worse, leave comments regarding the situation on that cute cousin's Wall. If you were close to your ex, then it's hurtful to hook up with a sibling or relative; if you were just casual lovers, then it's just plain creepy. (Remember that special kind of crazy you thought only your ex possessed?) By doing all this, you're also limiting your future options for retrosexing should your old one-and-only ever become available again. Remember, respect the same taboos online as you would in real life, unless you are willing to risk the consequences of becoming a "regretrosexual."
8. Only fools fool around on social networks.
None of the interviewees that inspired this tip would allow us to quote them, which should tell you something about how doomed you are if you carry your infidelities into the era of social networks. This particular pitfall seems to apply especially to the older crowd -- those of you with significant others you're sure will never check Facebook, because they rarely even turn on the computer when you're not around. Well, guess what? Even Mom and Dad are on Facebook now, so be careful about your online profile, status, and friending habits. Even if your spouse or partner is still living in the Dark Ages, guess who's not: your kids. That's right, those little buggers are the ones who made social networking sites so popular in the first place. If you don't have offspring, an acquaintance of your longtime partner is still bound to notice that you've changed your status to single, or that you've friended a hot old flame, and will surely start the chain of gossip that leads to your discovery. So, if you must have affairs, please conduct them the classic way, in secret. What to do if you happen to be happily married and the-one-that-couldn't-commit all those years ago invites you to get a late drink? Proceed with caution, stay aloof ("nice to hear from you -- take care!"), or ignore the request -- unless you've been looking for that elusive escape route all along.
9. Think outside the county line.
Setting up consecutive dates with three guys from your hometown in the same weekend to see if any of them are still up your alley is awesome -- but only if you don't still live in that same small town. Similarly, mining your old college crew for potential missed mates is a good strategy, as long as you don't hang with that same crew every weekend. Most of our retrosexuals' successes have occurred in big cities or have involved some initial travel. So be adventurous. Take the train that extra stop to see whatever happened to so-and-so.
10. It's never to late to track down an ex.
Boomers, take heart. While you're the group most susceptible to retrosexing-related casualties, you're also the generation that's had the most lasting match-ups. "You used to have to wait for high school reunions and then just hope he would show up," says Cathy, a 60-year-old arts administrator who fell back in love with her high school sweetheart after 35 years. "I had been married and had children, and he had been looking for me all those years. I'd changed my name to my married name, so I was hard to find, but as the Internet got stronger he eventually tracked down my sister and reached me through her. It's amazing." The happy couple have been living together in San Antonio for the past six years.