Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Living in the Past

Back in 2004-ish I wrote a series of articles for a start-up website called RelationshipWellBeing.com. The site was intended to bring together a number of relationship "experts" to discuss aspects of, well, relationships. Amidst the psychologists and therapists there was I, talking about being single, dating, and breaking up from a young woman's point of view. My work got a pretty positive reaction even if the website did not reach the heights its team aspired towards. The site, after years of inactivity, has since gone offline and as a result so have my articles. In an effort to keep them online I am going to be reposting them here. After all, this did start off as a blog about singles' issues. Just bear in mind that these articles are a few years old and as such may not reflect some current situations in society, the online world, and my life.

This article was written before the rise of social networking sites. Facebook is probably the ultimate example of the points I am trying to make here. Of course, the user fees no longer apply, making digging through one's past all the more attractive since there is no financial cost involved. The emotional costs, however, remain the same.

Living in the Past

“Someone is trying to connect with you.”

“Find an old friend right now.”

“Search for anyone, anytime.”

Barely a day goes by without me receiving some sort of e-mail advertisement enticing me to look up someone from my past. For a fee, of course.

The purveyors of companies that do personal searches are making some very big assumptions. They are assuming there is actually someone for whom you would be willing to shell out the shekels just to track down. And in the event that there is some former friend you would want to reach out and touch, your shekels would go down the drain to learn that he or she is not interested in communicating with you.

Obviously though, for some people it is worth the risk, otherwise these companies would not be in business. While I haven’t done any scientific studies on this topic, most of the people who utilize such services are probably either looking for an old flame, or trying to reconnect with someone they had a crush on way back when.

One of the better-known purveyors of the past is an online service that allows one to hook up with old schoolmates. I admit that while it is very interesting to see the names of my old classmates all lined up and teasing for me to take a look, I have yet to bite the bullet and actually pay the required fee.

I find myself having to question my motives before I whip out my credit card. It is normal to wonder what happened to people that you knew, especially those who you presumably cared about. This is called natural curiosity. It’s also normal to see if that tramp who stole your boyfriend in high school married him or ended up pregnant and dumped. Or, if the class jock who thought he was such hot stuff and used to give you wedgies is now in rehab. This is called morbid curiosity.

I am willing to bet that the majority of people who utilize services that purvey a blast from the past, have secret hopes of picking up where they left off. People who are still single and, in times of loneliness or just extreme sentimentality, harken back to the good times they had with that special someone. We tend to romanticize the past – we focus on the aspects of long-lost relationships that were positive, and miss them. But we also have to remember that an ex is an ex for a reason.

Then there are those who have had a long-standing secret crush on someone. Perhaps they were too shy back in high school to voice their feelings. Or the person was taken, or otherwise not interested. But if you are still single, or single again, and finding a desire to reach out and touch someone from days gone by, ask yourself this question: Will it really improve your fragile state of mind any, to find out that the cute guy who sat next to you in grade eight is now married with three children? Is a priest? Is undergoing a gender reassignment?

Then again, closure is an important aspect of moving on.

Digging into the past can extend beyond the romantic sphere, and into our day-to-day social lives. A former teacher of mine once told the class that when a certain group of his friends get together, all they can talk about is high school. Yes, it is an important time of life, but for some reason something was holding these people back from talking about anything that occurred after senior prom. And I have to admit that I do tend to discuss my university days quite often. It was a time in my life when my attitudes and worldview took a major turn, my career was chosen, and I began to embark upon what became a string of romantic disasters. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Thanks to the Internet, checking up on someone is easy as long as the other person has some sort of online presence. A friend of mine who recently completed graduate school in journalism, told me that a popular pastime amongst the students was “Googling” their ex-boyfriends and girlfriends. But very few actually dared to make contact. Satisfying the urge to answer the question, “Where are they now?” was enough.

And if living in the past is distracting you from moving on, enough certainly is enough. Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting about failed relationships or long-lost friends. But if our hearts and minds are always in the past, then we will not have enough energy left to head towards the future.

Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her website is: www.MyNameIsPaula.com.

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