In the 1960s, young Americans questioned social traditions one after another, like the feminist movement and celebrating sexual freedom. Today they have become the divorced generation. Click below to see how Facebook may actually be the cause of your divorce.
While the overall divorce rate in the U.S. has declined over the past 20 years, it has doubled for Americans aged 50 and over. No doubt, there have been a variety of causes, including empty nests, and midlife crises. But one force that is helping to fracture those marriages has received less attention: the people who were unprepared for an altered technological landscape that allows them to reconnect with long-lost love.
More than 80 percent of divorce attorneys recently surveyed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers said that in the past few years they have witnessed “an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence.”
Nancy Kalish, a professor of psychology, suspects that online connections may lead to growing numbers of “accidental affairs,” meaning they involve people who don’t set out to have a physical or emotional relationship outside their marriage. Kalish studies couples who reunite after years apart. Before there was an Internet, when someone wanted to track down a past love, he or she had to go through the effort of locating a friend or relative to make contact. “Unless they were single, divorced or widowed, they just didn’t typically do that,” Kalish said.
In the 21st century, old friends are virtually at our fingertips, and a seemingly harmless email sent to someone with the innocent intention of “catching up” can quickly go further. Many of those who engage in accidental affairs tell Kalish that they had happy marriages before they strayed.
“They still bear responsibility for the affairs, of course; no one made them write, call or meet in a hotel room. But these are probably people who would not have cheated years ago, even with a lost love.”
What makes the possibility of reconnection so alluring?
Our brains often romanticize the past. Recollecting people, places and experiences can affect our neurochemistry. The memory may also lead to a surge of serotonin, another neurotransmitter, and this can trigger obsessive thoughts. Finally, there is oxytocin. Recent research suggests that oxytocin fosters our sense of attachment to others and in many people also enhances positive memories of close relationships.
Powerful feelings don’t necessarily disappear after a breakup, even after many years. If those feelings drive the two people to arrange a meeting, still greater temptations may arise. A former lover’s voice, or even scent, can unleash many vivid memories. A reunion, even if meant to be platonic and lighthearted, may suddenly feel very intimate.
That isn’t to say that people can’t control their own actions when strong emotions are involved. It’s just that Internet reunions can be more challenging than people anticipate. A click of the mouse can end up rekindling an old flame that is difficult to put out.