Thursday, May 13, 2010

E-Flames

Dear Jocelyn,
Social media websites (like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and others) have made it easy to reconnect with people. With great ease, many of one's old friends can reestablish contact, including those that were not always "just friends." Considering that all of one's activities and speech need to convey loyalty to one's present spouse, what guidelines would you suggest for interacting with "old flames" that now just seem rather friendly?
     -Online reunion attendee


Dear Attendee,
Indeed, social networking sites have made it possible to be "friends" with just about everyone—family members, real friends, acquaintances, someone you met on a bus once, and of course, exes.  While this strange new world seems like it requires new rules, remember that the same wisdom that guides you in "real life" also applies to online activities.  For instance, are you and your spouse friends with ex-flames?  Do you occasionally go out with them or see them?  If so, it seems perfectly appropriate to accept friendships from other ex-girlfriends or boyfriends.  However, factors such as how the relationship ended or the former level of intimacy can complicate matters.

I propose the following guidelines:
1) Share with your spouse any friendly overtures, such as friend requests or private messages, from former romantic partners.  Ask if they have any problem with you responding to them.  If they say no, simply don't respond—after all, the feelings of your spouse should be more important to you than the feelings of an old beau.
2) Keep online chats and messaging to a minimum.  Long messages back and forth for weeks or months between you and the girl you dated in college is akin to calling her up several times a week and chatting for an hour.  While a few private messages are probably not harmful, it is best to keep all communication public—by that, I mean posting on the person's wall or profile.  This way, there is no hint of secrecy or intimacy.  Whatever you post is there for the world (and your spouse) to see.
3) If the former inamorata persists in messaging you and connecting in a private manner, take advantage of the impersonality of the Internet.  Simply brush them off with short replies, or say you do not have the time to respond to lengthy messages.

The most important thing is to consider the feelings of both you and your spouse. If both of you are comfortable with what is going on and you do not sense the awakening of old attractions, then that is what matters.  But just as you ought to take precautions with opposite-sex friendships in the real world, so should you be careful when renewing friendships online.
     -Jocelyn

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