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Could Facebook Destroy Your Marriage?

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    Ian Kerner

We all know how the story goes: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl—blah, blah, blah. Save that version for Hollywood. How about this one? Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy grows up and marries someone else. But then Boy rekindles the friendship with his former flame on Facebook—and ends up totally wrecking his marriage.

I’m hearing this real-life story more often: A tale of high school sweethearts trying to go “back to the future,” only to realize they should have been content to leave those memories in that old shoebox in storage.

In the end, we’re only human. We all romanticize the past, men and women alike. And no memories are more potent than those first youthful fumblings. We tend to remember the good parts and forget the bad. Until the advent of Facebook, though, most of us were compelled to leave the past in the past and move on. But now exes of all stripes—high school sweethearts, college lovers, former hookups—are popping up on Facebook.

And I’m no exception. In the past few years, I’ve heard from at least three exes who wanted to be my Facebook friend or found my website and e-mailed me out of the blue. And while it’s ever-so tempting to accept these friend requests, or to fire back a quick “of course I remember you” e-mail, I haven’t done so. That was then; this is now. And in those rare instances where I have accepted an ex as a Facebook friend, or written back, I’ve informed my wife and let her read every correspondence. Not because she doesn’t trust me, but because we have nothing to hide. Once you have something to hide, that’s where the trouble begins.

So are you spending more time Facebooking with a former fling than face-timing with your partner? Being in a long-term relationship isn't easy. To do it well, a couple must maintain a high degree of transparency and dependability. For example, at any given time, my wife can text me, e-mail me, ping me, call me on the cell, try me on the home line, or sometimes just walk into the next room and tap me on the shoulder if she’s feeling particularly energetic. It’s safe to say we pretty much know each other’s move, which admittedly doesn’t always make for the most exciting relationship. 

While relationships require transparency and dependability, sexual attraction thrives on the opposite: unpredictability and mystery. Therein lies the relationship rub: how do we share everything with our partners and yet also remain mysterious and unpredictable? By working at it, and not turning to the Internet for our thrills.

When two people strike up an e-mail or Facebook relationship, it’s easy to begin idealizing each other and blur the line between fantasy and reality. An intense sense of intimacy is quickly fostered. The instant gratification of these technologies stimulates reward centers in the brain, and it’s easy to find oneself craving the quick hit of an instant connection or lamenting its absence. Even without the senses driving attraction, the mind goes into overdrive and imagines that this is the perfect person and the perfect relationship. And when an ex is involved, the stakes and temptations are even higher. It’s all too easy to let the past hijack the present.

Here’s something else interesting: As a sex therapist, I tend to hear a lot about people’s sexual habits, both when they’re with their partner and when they’re on their own. In terms of self-pleasuring, there was a time not so long ago when most men used their imaginations to fuel their fantasies and guys would scour their own erotic histories for “memorable moments” in order to get their fingers to do the walking. But today, the Internet offers so much intense visual stimulation and variety, and makes gratification so easy, that most men have forgotten how to use their sexual imaginations or simply are too lazy. It’s like the difference between reading and watching TV. 

However, men who are Facebooking with their exes and falling in love all over again are often skipping the computer when it comes to self-pleasuring and going back those potent formative memories to get themselves off. That’s how strong the past is – even stronger than Internet porn!

Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you find you’re thinking more and more about the past, and getting to the point where you’re fantasizing about what it would be like to be with that person again, it’s time to unplug your computer—get back to your lover

For more info, please visit me at Good in Bed.

Ian Kerner is a sex therapist and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books including "She Comes First"and "Love in the Time of Colic." He is the founder of Good in Bed, and lives with his wife and two sons in New York City.