Facebook, Welcome to The Coupledom: As if couples don’t have enough challenges, Facebook has surfaced to introduce the daily possibility of reunions with soul mates from 7th grade. Witness this New York Times piece on the wedding of Ann Patavino Vincola and Alan S. Votta who at 67, after previous marriages and decades apart, were blissfully joined together in holy matrimony. This happy ending was the outcome of Mr. Votta’s search for his childhood sweetheart utilizing the services of the 21st Century version of Yenta The Matchmaker, Facebook. It is common knowledge that the baby boomer generation has invaded the once private bastion of college age students with their usual vigor and ferocity. This new adventure for both boomers and their babies, who are now partners in their own Coupledoms, introduces a host of challenges that tap insecurities and old jealousies.
Digging Beneath The Surface: Recently a client complained that her husband was in contact with a childhood neighbor who found him on Facebook. Annoyed at her husband’s insistence that she be interested in all the details of their conversations, she made it clear to him that this was his childhood, not her’s. Her attitude left her husband feeling hurt and angry, and perhaps a bit bewildered as well. After some digging, what emerged was a misunderstanding of each other’s feelings and motives. Upon reflection, the wife recognized that she actually felt threatened that her husband might decide that he had made a mistake choosing her over someone from his background. Her husband expressed how hurt and rejected he felt by his wife’s indifference to his feelings. In fact, what was really meaningful for him was not his neighbor’s romantic interest in him, if that were even the case, but her memory of him as someone kind, giving and even playful, not the callous and uncaring boy that he recalled of himself. Once each understood the significance that the rekindled contact had for each of them, the anger and irritation dissipated. Openly sharing their vulnerabilities led to a more tender connection.
Facebook as a Tonic: Perhaps where Facebook can be most useful for the Coupledom is to help flush out insecurities and allow the couple to make deeper connections. When one member of the partnership hears from or locates a “friend” from the past, an electric current may run through the relationship that requires attention and communication. Digging beneath the feelings of anger and jealousy can shine a light on some important issues of insecurity and self-esteem. As in the example cited above, a relic of an old worry regarding their different backgrounds was projected onto the husband’s pleasure in the renewed contact with a childhood friend. His enjoyment and perhaps even pride stemmed from hearing about himself in a positive light. Perceiving his delight and desire to share information about these contacts as a sign of a possible romantic interest, or a reflection of something missing in herself, his wife responded with coldness and indifference.
Prevention: Over time, without understanding what was really behind each of their behaviors, this Coupledom could have suffered significant damage. Thinking his wife insensitive and uncaring might have pushed the husband into further contact with and “fantasies” of the girl from childhood; similarly his spouse may have nurtured increasing resentment and suspicion, emotions toxic to the Coupledom. Instead, admitting their fears and needs allowed the couple to feel closer and more caring towards each other.
When Facebook Walks Into Your Coupledom: No one is indifferent to the nostalgia of former loves, the flattery of past admirers and the attention of previously uninteresting peers. Searching for or being found by a “friend” on Facebook is a part of the new reality of Coupledom. What many are looking for is that connection to their younger selves. Contact with childhood chums and former crushes provides a mirror on their youthfulness. Partners who understand that need and show interest in the significance of these memories for their spouse have an effective and loving tool to cope with a very contemporary challenge. Sharing the “younger you” together may offer surprises and enrichment to the Coupledom.
©jill edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2010