Author Sarah Long ponders the benefits and dangers of firing up an old romance.  

Fifty is the age for calming down, isn’t it? The mortgage is decreasing, the kids have grown up and with a bit of luck, they might have even left home. So there you are, in your almost-paid-for house, sitting down to a quiet dinner for two, enjoying quality time with your spouse and trying not to notice how much noise he makes when he’s eating.

This can’t be a new thing, can it? So how come it’s only now beginning to really, really annoy you? Decades of family clamour have evaporated into silence broken only by the mastication sounds of your life partner’s jaws. Maybe you say something, and then maybe he’ll look offended and point out that you’ve got a bit of parsley stuck between your teeth and, let’s face it, neither of us is getting any more attractive as we grow older.   

If this sounds familiar, you won’t be surprised to learn that while divorce rates are falling in younger age groups, the over 50s are splitting up in ever increasing numbers, usually at the wife’s instigation. No longer trapped in a marriage she can’t afford to leave, and with half her life potentially ahead of her, she’s making a break for freedom.



"One in six Brits over 50 use Facebook to check out their old flames and 16 per cent of them post selfies for the express purpose of showing their exes how well they're ageing"



This can be viewed as an exciting opportunity, or as sad news for those of us who romantically adhere to the "till death us do part" school. On the plus side, it is women’s financial independence and increased life expectancy that gives them the choice. It's obviously a good thing, too, that if you no longer want to be with your partner, you can hope to find new love. Or—increasingly—new old love.

Have you noticed how many mid-lifers are regressing to giggling adolescence, desperate to share with you the story of rediscovering their childhood sweethearts? You may find this charming, but if you are of a sour disposition and looking for something to blame for this phenomenon, I have one word to say to you: Facebook.

Already reviled by some as a timewaster, criminal-enabler and vehicle for boasting, Facebook can now add homewrecker to the list of insults. According to a recent survey, one in six Brits over 50 use Facebook to check out their old flames and 16 per cent of them post selfies for the express purpose of showing their exes how well they're ageing. And we thought the young had a monopoly on preening narcissism.  



"Facebook is all about chumminess, not like the old days when you would lay your cards on the table as you placed a lonely heart ad coyly 'seeking friendship and maybe more'"



Back to that dinner for two, and you’ve moved on to the sofa and the boxed set. While your other half is snoring his way through the slow bits, you’ve got one eye on your phone, waiting to see if there’s any reply to that message you casually sent your high school sweetheart last night.

Nothing inappropriate, just catching up with an old friend, connecting globally the way Mark Zuckerberg dreamed we would. Then you see it, the little red icon telling us he’s replied, because you know it will be from him and your heart skips a beat as you’re plunged back into your teenage turmoil.

There's nothing new about middle aged people harking back nostalgically to their first love and wondering if he or she was The One Who Got Away. What is new is the ease with which you can now seek your prey. You don’t need to rely on a mutual friend to put you in touch, you don’t even need to attend a school reunion.

Instead you can present a snapshot of yourself from the best possible angle, build up a warm exchange of messages, sharing memories of the happy times you spent together, sending links to your favourite teenage anthems on YouTube. By the time you get to meet in the flesh, you practically ARE 17 again.

Ah yes, the meeting. That can go two ways, I hear. My friend X had not shared with her husband the details of her increasingly intimate online exchange with her ex-boyfriend. It had started off so innocently, Facebook is all about chumminess after all, not like the old days when you would lay your cards on the table as you placed a lonely heart ad coyly "seeking friendship and maybe more." But online chumminess soon morphed into the kind of emotional outpouring you reserve for those who know you best, and who knows you better than your first sweet love?

What’s more, in his photos, he looked exactly as she remembered, so it was with great excitement that she sat nursing her glass of wine in the appointed bar—and completely ignored the paunchy old bloke who came up to her with a sweaty eager grin, and brought her crashing back to reality—and creeping back gratefully to her husband.



"It seems old flames reunited can make the most lasting marriages"



On a happier note, my friend Y was newly single when she first heard out of the blue from her first-ever boyfriend, not seen since they were 16, and asked me my opinion on whether she should reply. "Of course not," I scoffed, "if you haven’t seen him for 35 years, it must be for a good reason." In his message to her, he mentioned he was about to marry for the second time.

By the time she replied, a year later, he was already divorced. When they eventually met at the airport, after two months of daily online courtship, they had rekindled their romance so convincingly that he swept her into his arms and has kept her there ever since.

Though he later admitted he hid behind a pillar in Arrivals to check her out first, before stepping forward with the flowers. It seems old flames reunited can make the most lasting marriages. It’s like being a teenager but better, said my friend, and you can’t argue with that. Even if you do decide to stick with the old model.


Sarah Long worked in publishing before giving it all up to move to Paris with her husband and three children. She is the author of And What Do You Do? and The Next Best Thing. Following several years of the Parisian experience, she now lives in London. Invisible Women by Sarah Long is published by Bonnier Zaffre.


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