About a year ago, my husband started getting Facebook friend invitations from every girl he ever went to school with.
And it seemed as if half of them confessed crushes on him. These were girls frozen in his memory with teenaged breasts, AP English minds, and a sense that anything was possible. Like this one girl from seventh grade. She friended my husband on Facebook and then reminisced about the day his family moved away. She had put on her favorite dress, painted her nails purple, and worked up all her courage to hug him good-bye. "Isn't that SO funny," she wrote, "How silly we are as kids."
You'd think I'd be mad, or at least threatened by all this nostalgia. But I wasn't. For a split second at least, my husband was less familiar to me, and I mean that in a good way.
With so many people my age riding Facebook like a time-machine to our past lives and loves, you might expect the site would be breaking up marriages, or at least unleashing all sorts of digital infidelity. Some of that is happening.
But what I'm seeing among some fellow oldsters on Facebook is the opposite. We've got a new through-line to our former selves, and that's re-awakening a feeling of desire—and desirability—that might actually strengthen midlife monogamy.
Sure, it's dangerous. Once you've friended an ex, you get to glimpse all these evocative fragments. A photo of him in front of sand dunes, squinting into the sun. The revelation that her favorite quote is Nietzsche's "Without music, life would be a mistake." Here's this person maybe you fooled around with in your parents' bed, or pulled an all-nighter with to finish a take-home exam. Now you're flashing back to all that with a teething child upstairs and a mound of work and let's say you haven't had sex with your spouse in two weeks. The mix of nostalgia and surveillance is disorienting. But it can also create a digital spark longterm partners need. It can reconnect us with who we are by helping us remember who we once were... and who we wanted to be.
My friend Amy, who's been with her wife for 14 years, was trolling Facebook for her college boyfriend and came across a ticket stub for a 1980s Laurie Anderson concert she'd seen. "It was so bizarre," Amy told me, "You could see all the folds. It's just out of reach." She said, "You can't touch it, but you really are feeling it."
Really feeling something—anything—is a big deal for those of us who can automatic-pilot ourselves through work deadlines, playdate pick-ups, and grocery store runs. There's nothing like your partner's digital ex to remind you that the person you've come home to every night for the past fifteen years is so much more than a just a "friend."
Lissa Soep is a senior producer at Youth Radio.